The stats and final score of last year’s drubbing at the hands of Texas Tech had been hung by the chimney with care.
In a matter of speaking, anyway, as WVU football players had been reminded of the loss all week.
“They’ve had our number,” is the way WVU head football coach Neal Brown saw it. “For whatever reason, this team has had our number.”
On Saturday, it was the Mountaineers who made their own number by ending a four-game losing streak against Texas Tech following a 20-13 victory in front of 50,071 fans inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
It was West Virginia’s first win against the Red Raiders (1-3, 0-1 Big 12) under Brown.
“We were embarrassed last year in Lubbock (Texas),” Brown said of the 48-10 loss against the Red Raiders in 2022. “Our guys heard about it all week. Our guys were getting patted on the back all week by everyone else for beating Pitt. All I was telling them was let’s turn on the film last year in Lubbock.”
What they saw was a disaster.
“Texas Tech did whatever they wanted to last year,” said WVU safety Aubrey Burks, who finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups on Saturday.
It was WVU’s defense that flipped the script this time around.
A year away from being ragged on for poor play, the Mountaineers’ defense has now turned into their source for winning.
“Our defense played well,” Brown said. “I trust those guys. I took a lot of heat in the offseason, they did, we did, but I knew we had a plan.
“We had a plan, and we play good defense. Whether it was at Troy or here, we play good defense. We know what it looks like.”
What it looked like Saturday was WVU (3-1, 1-0) limiting Texas Tech to just 56 yards in the first half and then coming up with a fourth-down stop in the end zone to preserve the victory with just 19 seconds remaining in the game.
“We just had to close it up,” said WVU linebacker Trey Lathan, who led WVU with eight tackles and also forced a fumble. “The game was in our hands and we just wanted to get off the field as fast as possible.”
WVU did it with four plays that told the story of the game.
With Texas Tech trailing 20-13, the Red Raiders had driven to the WVU 11-yard line with basically four cracks to tie the game.
Texas Tech quarterback Behren Morton, who came into the game for an injured Tyler Shough late in the first quarter, misfired on first down.
On second down, WVU defensive back Beanie Bishop knocked a pass safely away in the end zone.
On third down, WVU escaped or maybe even got a little lucky when Texas Tech tight end Jayden York was wide open in the back of the end zone, but Morton’s pass was a little high and slipped through York’s hands.
“It was just a miscommunication from me and Andrew Wilson,” Burks said. “That’s something we have to take a look at and make sure we get fixed.”
On fourth down, WVU sent safety Marcis Floyd off the edge and Floyd was able to supply enough pressure to Morton to cause his final pass to fall short and really near no one in the end zone.
It was the type of situation that brought out the worst in the Mountaineers last season.
A year later, WVU’s defense has been the star so far.
“For the most part, all the guys who are playing played last year,” Brown said. “It’s the same guys. We added some pieces, but it’s the same guys. We’re just playing better. We’re doing a better job schematically. We’re playing better.”
WVU survived without starting quarterback Garrett Greene, who suffered a tough ankle injury in last week’s win against Pitt.
In his first collegiate start, Nicco Marchiol completed 12 of 21 for just
78 yards, but his 9-yard TD pass to Kole Taylor gave the Mountaineers a 20-10 lead with 7:33 left in the game.
“I thought Nicco did some good things,” Brown said. “For a guy making his first start in really poor weather, wet, I thought he did a pretty good job. We’ve got to be better around him.”
Texas Tech cut it to 20-13 with a 34-yard field goal and then held WVU to a three-and-out.
That gave the Red Raiders the ball back on their own 28 with
Morton and running back Tahj Brooks — he finished with 149 yards on
25 attempts — drove Tech down the field for a chance to tie the game, until WVU’s defense finally had enough.
“Not surprised our guys played well defensively,” Brown said. “They had a good answer to the challenge.”