Breaking Down the WVU-TCU Matchup By Position
Is TCU too much for West Virginia?
By Franklin Markel
The Mountaineers are back in the Top 25 rankings and face a big road test on Saturday in Fort Worth. The eighth-ranked TCU Horned Frogs are undefeated and have been dominating all season. Both these teams are coming off a bye week, and with ESPN’s College Gameday coming into town this game should be intense. Here is where the Mountaineers and Horned Frogs have their advantages:
West Virginia Advantages
TCU offense has improved their game this season because of the growth of their returning quarterback, Kenny Hill, while West Virginia’s winning season is a result of a transfer leading the team. Will Grier has been lights out this season, passing for 1,374 yards and 13 Touchdowns in just four games. He’s also emerged as a running threat last time out vs Kansas, piling up two rushing touchdowns. Hill, a Texas A&M transfer, has passed for 965 yards and nine TDs this season. Both these teams have gunslingers behind center who can win games, but the Mountaineers have the slight advantage.
I can already tell this is going to be an unpopular opinion. West Virginia held Peyton Bender to 197 yards, despite his video-game-like numbers against other opponents. He only threw one TD and threw two interceptions, and on 32 attempts, he only completed 17. Behind the great starts from Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White this group is off to great start. As for TCU, the best QB they faced, Mason Rudolph, put up 398 yards and two touchdowns. The leaders of the DB group are safety Niko Small and CB Nick Orr. Orr was second team Big 12 last season and Small won the defensive MVP in the Bowl game vs Georgia. This is a very good TCU unit but so far this season I’ve been more impressed with the Mountaineers D-backs.
This was a close battle. West Virginia has been great running the ball this season behind the performance of Justin Crawford. He’s had 100-plus yards in every game this season and has scored six times. The additional yards of Kennedy McCoy and Martell Pettaway make a three-headed machine in the backfield for the Mountaineers. For TCU, the leader is Kyle Hicks. He missed the season opener, half of the SMU game, and was out for the OSU game. He is back but is not 100 percent vs WVU this Saturday. The kid getting most of the carries in his absence is Darius Anderson. He had 160 rushing yards vs Oklahoma State and three touchdowns in that game as well. When Hicks went down TCU’s running game was in question but a star in Anderson has emerged and that 1-2 punch is deadly. These two teams have deep, talented backfields but TCU has the slight advantage.
The WVU wide receivers continue on a great campaign this season. David Sills V has eight touchdowns already and over 300 yards. Gary Jennings has had two 100+ yard games and since his return Marcus Simms has three TDs and 211 yards in only three games. For TCU, Taj Williams started 10 games last year but has disappeared this season and has yet to catch a pass. Their leading pass catcher is Jalen Reagor with 151 yards. This is a WR unit that does not have a star, but the depth is where they have their advantage over West Virginia. It’s close, but TCU has more pass catchers.
The West Virginia offensive line has been very productive this season. Grier has only been sacked four times, he’s had time to throw and the running game has been easy yards. The line has also stayed healthy so far which is important. The TCU offensive line is in the exact same spot. The whole TCU team has stayed healthy and the OL has given Kenny Hill time and the RBs holes to run. Center Patrick Morris started 11 games last year and didn’t miss a snap in nine of those. Guard Matt Pryor started 13 last season and tackle Joseph Noteboom started 13 as well. This is a very talented, experienced line for TCU. It has the advantage over WV.
This is probably West Virginia’s weakest group. They haven’t stopped the run well this year and Kansas, who was in the bottom 10 percent of rushing offenses, torched the Mountaineers for 367 yards on the ground in Lawrence. On the other sideline the Horned Frogs have stopped the run game pretty well this year. They held Arkansas to 129 yards and Oklahoma State to 101. This is behind senior Matt Boesen and junior LJ Collier, both preseason third team Big 12. This is a very strong group for TCU and part of a very strong defense for Gary Patterson. The DL battle goes to the Horned Frogs by a landslide.
The Mountaineers Linebackers can get a lot better Saturday, if a “questionable” David Long returns after sitting out the first four with a knee injury. In his absence it’s been Xavier Preston and Al-Rasheed Benton who have been making plays all season. As for the Horned Frogs, the TCU linebacker unit is one of the best in the country. Senior Travin Howard led the team in tackles in the OSU game and Montrel Wilson makes plays despite only being a sophomore. This is an athletic, experienced, talented unit for TCU and they have a big advantage.
It’s the fifth game of the season and the West Virginia’s special teams unit still has a lot of questions to answer. Simms ran back three kicks for 62 yards and Mike Molina was 8-8 with point afters. He didn’t attempt a field goal in the Kansas game. A big concern is punter Billey Kinney. He had five punts last week for a 36 yard average per kick, still a question mark for this team. As for TCU special teams, they have the Big 12’s best kick returner in KaVontae Turpin. Sophmore kicker Jonathan Song was 3-3 kicking last week and punter Adam Nunez averages 45 yards a kick. The TCU ST are better than WV and have less concerns. Advantage TCU.
This is big time football, No. 23 West Virginia and No. 8 TCU. TCU puts its undefeated record on the line and they should keep it. WVU will put up a fight and if they are able to hang around, they can put TCU in a position they haven’t been in all season and maybe sneak away with a win. West Virginia has lost by one point to TCU in the past couple of years. I don’t expect it to be that close but the Mountaineers will make it interesting: 28-23, TCU.