MANHATTAN — Tommy Tuberville and Texas Tech sure took a lot of the head-scratching out of how to slow down No. 17 West Virginia. Just in time for fourth-ranked Kansas State, too.
The Wildcats head to Morgantown on Saturday with a pretty good blueprint for success.
The difficulty is in trying to follow it.
“There might be philosophical thoughts in regards to how you defend Geno Smith and how you function on special teams that you say, ‘Maybe within our own schemes, we can do something,’” said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who should be facing an ornery group of Mountaineers.
This was supposed to be a matchup of top-5 teams with national championship implications, let alone Big 12 title implications, until the Red Rai ders threw a giant sombrero in those plans.
Seth Doege was 32 of 42 for 499 yards and six touchdowns against the Mountaineers last Saturday. Texas Tech had 18 plays of 15 yards or more in the 49-14 romp, while the Red Raiders defense managed to hold West Virginia to 2 for 7 on fourth-down conversions.
Smith had just 275 yards passing and a touchdown, not even close to the ridiculous numbers that he had going in: 81.4 percent completions for nearly 400 yards per game.
Even the less-respected West Virginia ground game, led by Andrew Buie, had trouble finding room in Lubbock. The Mountaineers managed only 3.7 yards per carry, almost a full yard less than they had the previous week, when they outscored Texas 48-45 on the road.
“It was embarrassing. Guys were disappointed. It’s no fun for anybody,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “And so we got in here, I didn’t sugarcoat anything. It wasn’t a positive session. It wasn’t, ‘It’s going to be OK. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s not what we did. Our job is to coach them and tell them what reality is.”
The reality is the Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) struggled on offense for the first time all season against a defense that was able to get off the field on fourth down.
They couldn’t spring the big play with wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedmon Bailey like they had in piling up 70 points in a victory over Baylor in their first foray into the Big 12.
They couldn’t get off the field on defense, either.
That may be the biggest key to the success of Texas Tech, Snyder said.
“Part of it is their quarterback is extremely talented as well,” Snyder said of Doege, who carved up the Mountaineers on a windswept day in West Texas. “It was kind of a matchup that tended to favor Texas Tech in regards to the passing game.”
Kansas State doesn’t have someone who can sling it all over the field like Doege, which Snyder is quick to concede, so there may not be much to glean from last weekend in that respect.
But the Mountaineers haven’t faced anyone like the Wildcats’ Collin Klein, either.
The run-first battering ram has rushed for 510 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, and that comes on the heels of a breakout year in which he piled up 1,141 yards and 27 TDs on the ground.
Klein’s also shown some newfound ability to get the ball downfield through the air, too, throwing for 1,074 yards and seven touchdowns against just two interceptions this season. Klein’s completion percentage of 66.9 is nearly 10 percent better than last season.
“You watch him on tape and you go, ‘We have to stop the run,’” Holgorsen said. “We’ll work hard on trying to stop the run, and you want to make them pass. You look at him back there throwing the ball, it doesn’t look very good, but it goes exactly where you want it to go.”
West Virginia is allowing more than 37 points per game and has the nation’s eighth-worst defense in big part because it has the third-worst pass defense in major college football, allowing nearly 400 yards per game.
“There are a lot of great offenses out there that they’ve played,” Klein said, when asked why the Mountaineers’ pass defense has been so porous. “Who knows exactly what the reasons are, but we just have to focus on putting together our plan and executing it on Saturday.”
You can bet that means taking a close look at what Texas Tech did so well.
“They’re in a little different spot than they expected to be going into this ballgame,” Klein admitted, “but we know we’re going to get their best shot regardless.”