Football, Local Sports, Sports, WVU Sports

West Virginia’s defense bends then comes up big against Texas Tech

LUBBOCK, Texas – On paper, it looks like just another typical game between West Virginia and Texas Tech: A 42-34 Mountaineers win in which the teams surpassed 50 first downs and nearly 1,000 yards.

It was not.

Without some crucial plays from its defense, West Virginia’s mood on the flight home likely would be one of devastation as the Red Raiders nearly worked their way back from a 35-10 halftime deficit.

The most telling number?

West Virginia’s defense outscored its own offense 7-0 in the second half. The lone second-half touchdown came courtesy of cornerback Keith Washington’s game-breaking and soul-crushing 51-yard interception return with 2:58 remaining.

“I was relieved after they got that pick-six,” said West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “At that point, I was about to go three tight ends and just going to see if we could run the clock out.”

WVU’s offense ran aground in the second half. After gaining 382 yards and going 6 of 8 on third downs before halftime, the Mountaineers were limited to 15 rushing yards and went 1-for-6 on third down following the break.

But thanks to Washington, there was no need to go to a power set and see if that trend could be reversed. Texas Tech went from moving the ball to midfield with a chance to tie to utter devastation after he read Red Raiders backup quarterback Jett Duffey’s telegraphed throw and took it to the house.

“It was just a poor throw,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “He just threw it too low… he threw it right to them, which we can’t do.”

Washington concurred.

“He just threw it straight to me,” he said. “And I made a play.”

It was not Washington’s lone game-altering moment. Some 10 minutes prior, he broke up a third-down slant intended for Texas Tech receiver Antoine Wesley in the end zone. The Red Raiders settled for a 27-yard field goal that cut WVU’s lead to 35-20.

It was one of three pass breakups for Washington, who was making his first career start. Like the rest of the secondary, Washington had to step up once cornerback Josh Norwood was ejected for a targeting foul early in the second half.

“[Derrek] Pitts came in and played well. Hakeem Bailey did some good things,” Gibson said. “And obviously, right now I think Keith Washington is our defensive MVP.”

The play of WVU’s cornerbacks doesn’t even take into account the performance of safety Kenny Robinson, who had the first two-interception game of his career.

A previous stop inside the 10 proved just as crucial, though there was no way of telling it was a significant moment at the time it happened.

A 14-play, 76-yard Texas Tech drive was halted at the WVU 7-yard line early in the second quarter thanks to consecutive tackles for loss from Josh Norwood and David Long. The Red Raiders settled for a 25-yard field goal that cut their deficit to 18 points. The Mountaineers finished with nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage, just shy of their average of 10.3 per game.

“Once they get into the red zone, we try to think ‘We have to hold them to a field goal or get a turnover.’ Holding them to a field goal is big,” Robinson said with a laugh, “because three points is less than seven.”