MORGANTOWN — After the euphoria comes the work.
West Virginia still controls its destiny to reach the Big 12 championship game, but that control will be relinquished if the Mountaineers (7-1, 5-1 Big 12) fail to take care of business against TCU on Saturday. While injuries and a significant suspension have left the Horned Frogs (4-5, 2-4) a shell of the team that entered the year poised to return to the Big 12 title game, West Virginia’s veterans have seen enough to know they still pose a threat.
Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier says that a Gary Patterson-constructed defense will always make life difficult.
“I have the utmost respect for Gary Patterson,” Grier said of TCU’s 18th-year head coach. “He gets those guys ready to play. He makes it tough on offenses. It’s a huge challenge and it always will be. It doesn’t matter what year it is – it will always be a challenge to play one of his defenses.”
With the exception of 2013, TCU has ranked in the top four in the Big 12 in passing defense and scoring defense each year since it joined the conference with West Virginia. Patterson’s 4-2-5 scheme has helped put the brakes on spread offenses throughout his tenure.
“There’s so many moving parts that go into it,” Grier said. “They make adjustments on the fly and they match very well. They’re not just dropping and sitting in open grass. They match guys and they get hands-on. They make you earn everything you get.”
Statistically, TCU’s defense is the second-best in the Big 12 behind Iowa State, allowing 4.86 yards per play. But the Frogs aren’t doing much to help themselves. TCU has picked off only four passes this season, which ranks last in the Big 12 and 111th nationally.
TCU has the opposite problem when it comes to being on the giving end of interceptions. The Frogs have been picked off 11 times, though eight were thrown by injured starter Shawn Robinson.
Robinson’s replacement is Mike Collins, the rare Ivy League-to-Big 12 transfer who came to TCU via Penn. Collins is completing 54.6 percent of his throws, bringing TCU’s completion rate down to 82nd nationally.
But when the Frogs do hit, they are more than capable of turning those completions into big plays. According to the S&P+ advanced stats system, TCU rates 32nd nationally for its rate of explosive plays on passing downs.
That’s because even without star KaVontae Turpin, who was kicked off the team following a pair of arrests, the Frogs still have a ton of speed on the outside. WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson still believes TCU is the fastest team the Mountaineers have faced this year.
“Offensively, up to this point, this is the fastest team we’ve played,” Gibson said. “They have guys that can run. No. 1 [Jalen Reagor] can run, No. 4 [Taye Barber] can run, No. 12 [Derius Davis] can run. So, they’re skilled.”