Mountaineers hoping to ground high-flying Red Raiders

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Updated: 10/16/2013 10:54 am

Morgantown, WV (SportsNetwork.com) - The 16th-ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders take their perfect record on the road, as they visit the West Virginia Mountaineers for a Big 12 Conference clash on Saturday afternoon.

Texas Tech is 6-0 on the season, 3-0 in conference, and Kliff Kingsbury is the first coach in school history to win each of his first six games. The Red Raiders have been one of the more potent offensive teams in the country in recent years, and while the team is once again lethal on offense, it's the Tech defense that has surprised by being one of the very best in the Big 12 this season. The Red Raiders survived a challenge from visiting Iowa State last weekend, winning 42-35.

Despite a less than perfect performance in his eyes, Kingsbury was pleased to come out of the Iowa State game unscathed.

"I was just excited about the win. Anytime you lose a turnover battle 3-0 and pretty much get dominated on special teams and still win the game by two touchdowns, you have a chance to have a pretty good team. That was exciting they found a way to win, but lots of areas to improve upon."

As for West Virginia, it is an even 3-3 on the year, but two of its losses have come against conference foes Oklahoma and Baylor. The Mountaineers were idle last week, affording them some extra time to heal the wounds of embarrassment after suffering a 73-42 loss to the Bears in Waco on Oct. 5. Baylor is the nation's top scoring team. Still, WVU has only one win over a quality opponent this season, that coming in a 30-21 defeat of visiting Oklahoma State on Sept. 28.

Texas Tech is making its first trip to the state of West Virginia, and the all-time series between the two is knotted at a game apiece.

At 41.8 points and 544.0 yards per game, the Texas Tech offense has been clicking right along under the direction of Kingsbury and his staff. A standout QB during his playing days at Tech, Kingsbury has coached up a couple of freshmen in Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb, the former serving as the team's primary starter until suffering a knee injury against Kansas. Webb made his first career start last week against Iowa State, and put forth an impressive effort in completing 35-of-56 passes for 415 yards, three TDs and one interception. Tight end Jace Amaro was his favorite target, hauling in nine balls for 143 yards, while Jakeem Grant turned his five grabs into 90 yards and a score. The Tech ground attack was paced by three guys who each had at least 80 yards, and DeAndre Washington, SaDale Foster and Kenny Williams all had a rushing TD as well.

Prior to getting hurt, Mayfield had converted 65.7 percent of his passes for 1,488 yards with eight TDs and five INTs, while Webb checks in at 56.3 percent for 965 yards, nine scores and five picks as well. Amaro paces the receiving corps with 47 catches for 606 yards, but he has found the end zone only once. Eric Ward and Grant each have three receiving TDs, while Brad Marquez has caught five scoring strikes. Washington and Williams both have four rushing TDs, but neither has run for more than 207 yards, and both average less than four yards per carry.

Texas Tech outgained Iowa State, 666-311, with the Cyclones being held to just 168 yards on 15 pass completions. The Red Raiders failed to force a turnover in the game, but posted a pair of sacks and allowed ISU just a 5-of-18 success rate on third-down conversion attempts. Kerry Hyder paced the Tech defense with nine tackles, eight of which were solo efforts, and Branden Jackson made half of his five stops behind the line of scrimmage.

As mentioned, the Red Raiders have performed exceptionally well on defense this season, allowing just 17.3 ppg to rank second in the Big 12. They are tops in stopping the run (113.2 ypg), but sit seventh against the pass (231.7 ypg). They also lead the league in third-down conversion percentage defense (.282), while ranking second in both sacks (16) and red zone defense (.588). Will Smith leads the club with 38 tackles, which includes a team-high 2.5 sacks. Hyder has nine of the team's 47 TFL (7.8 per game).

West Virginia ranks near the bottom of the Big 12 in both scoring offense (24.0 ppg) and scoring defense (28.5 ppg), but closer to the middle in both rushing (147.5 ypg) and passing (245.3 ypg). Charles Sims has been the team's workhorse in the backfield, amassing 480 yards and scoring four TDs on 97 carries, while Dreamius Smith has turned his 57 totes into 282 yards and two scores. No receiver has more than 218 yards (Daikiel Shorts), as quarterbacks Paul Millard (.612, 581 yards, three TDs, one INT), Clint Trickett (.412, 470 yards, two TDs, three INTs) and Ford Childress (.571, 421 yards, three TDs, three INTs) have been largely ineffective.

The 73 points and 864 total yards surrendered to Baylor a couple of weeks ago has clearly skewed the Mountaineers' defensive numbers, and in fact the yardage total and eight rushing TDs the Bears generated were the most ever against a WVU defense. The Mountaineers have been particularly lax against the run this season, permitting 210.2 ypg and a dozen TDs, the first stat ranking the team ninth in the 10-team conference, and the latter tied for last. Slow starts have been the unit's downfall this year, as it has given up a total of 130 points in the first half, and only 41 in the second. Jared Barber heads the club with 41 tackles, just one better than Darwin Cook, who has four INTs -- which is half of the team's total. Will Clark and Brandon Golson each have three sacks, but the team as a whole has just nine.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke during the bye week about the current state of his team, and what the expectations are moving forward.

"I knew we were going to be a work in progress. I knew it, and everybody knew it. I wanted it to come together quicker. I wish I was sitting here after six games saying that we know who we are, where we're at and where we're going. That's not the current situation, and it's not anyone's fault."

He continued, "We are going to try and put ourselves in the best situation we possibly can. If it doesn't work, we need to do it again, and again and again until it works out. You can't use a magic wand or put some sort of a spell over them to make that stuff work. You just have to play. You need reps, time and practice. It's a hard game, and we've played good teams. It is what it is."

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