MORGANTOWN-Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding No. 5 West Virginia's 48-45 win over then-No. 11 Texas was the performance of a defensive unit that, while ranked near the bottom in the Big 12 in every category, made just enough plays to help the Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) leave Austin still unbeaten.
"I definitely feel like we have a lot more confidence as a defense following that game," said redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce. "We are improving. Our run defense is getting an identity and we are making teams more one-dimensional."
One-dimensional is right.
In WVU's three-point win over the Longhorns, Bruce and Company held their hosts to a total of 135 yards net rushing on 39 attempts. Senior quarterback David Ash was able to complete 22-of-29 attempts for 269 yards and one score. But, the unit was able to hold Texas scoreless in the fourth quarter until the final 15 seconds despite a Geno Smith fumble that was recovered by the Longhorns' Chris Whaley at the WVU 12 with 7:37 left in the game and the Mountaineers leading by three, 41-38.
"We knew that it was our time to step up and make plays," said Bruce.
And, make plays the defense did. Two rushes by Joe Bergeron, who finished with 45 yards on 17 carries and four touchdowns, netted only three yards and forced Ash to go to the air on third down. Things went from bad to worse for the senior signal caller on the play as a bad snap sent Ash scurrying for the loose ball and by the time he reached it, WVU's Pat Miller had gotten to him for a 16-yard loss.
West Virginia-Texas Tech Preview
No. 5 West Virginia (5-0)
at Texas Tech (4-1), 3:30 p.m. (ABC/ESPN)
Line: West Virginia by 3.
Series Record: West Virginia leads 1-0.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Already in the discussion to win the Big 12 in their first year in the conference, the Mountaineers can't afford to take the game against Texas Tech lightly. Next up for West Virginia after Saturday's contest in Lubbock is a home game against No. 6 Kansas State that could prove pivotal in deciding the Big 12 champion.
West Virginia QB Geno Smith vs. the Red Raiders' top-rated pass defense. Those Tech defensive numbers were built against some spotty early season competition. The Red Raiders didn't fare quite as well last week against Landy Jones and Oklahoma. Smith, with 24 touchdowns and no interceptions, will test a Texas Tech defense that's giving up just 117 yards passing per game. Jones had 259 last week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
West Virginia: RB Andrew Buie will look to keep the Red Raiders' defense guessing after he gained 207 yards in the Mountaineers' 48-45 win at Texas last week. Success from Buie, who also caught three passes for 66 yards, could make it easier for Smith to more effectively attack Texas Tech's secondary.
Texas Tech: QB Seth Doege's accuracy and possibly his confidence have fallen off the past two weeks, evidenced in part by his five interceptions - half what he threw all last season. Fortunate for him and the Red Raiders' receivers that West Virginia doesn't defend the pass too well, giving up 336 yards a game to rank near the bottom nationally.
The loss forced the hosts to attempt a 41-yard field goal by Penn State transfer Anthony Fera, but the kick went wide right of its mark and the momentum that had been built by the Longhorns' second fumble recovery quickly went onto the sidelines of the visitors.
"That was a big series for us," said the linebacker, who is second in the Big 12 with 10.6 tackles per game. "We knew that if we could get the ball back to our offense, they would do something good with it."
And, that is exactly what Smith and Company did as the senior signal-caller drove the old gold and blue 76 yards in eight plays-the last five resulting in Andrew Buie's second touchdown of the game-to up the Mountianeers' lead to 10, 48-38, with only 1:18 left in the game.
Now, Bruce wants to do the same thing to a Red Raiders' offense featuring running back Kenny Williams, who is ranked seventh in the Big 12 with an average of 69 yards rushing per game, and a quarterback named Seth Doege.
"From what I've seen on film, they (Williams and Doege) are pretty good," said Bruce. "If we can just stop the run, then that will make him (Doege) have to pass and that will make it easier on us."
Doege, also a senior, is third in the conference with an average of 278.4 yards per game, but seventh in passing efficiency (153.8 percent) and has thrown six interceptions in the Red Raiders' first five games.
"I think we can put some pressure on him. If we can do that, then he won't be as accurate. The key is that when we blitz, that we make sure that we have every lane covered so that he has nowhere to go and has to throw the football under pressure."
A plan utilized by the Sooners from Oklahoma as they forced the Tech quarterback to throw three picks en route to a 41-20 victory last Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium.
* The night before WVU's 70-63 victory over Baylor in the Mountaineers' Big 12 opener, Bruce and his roommates watched "Men in Black 3" starring Will Smith. The movie of choice prior to the Texas game was "Ted" featuring a stuffed teddy bear that came to life. What movie will Bruce watch this Friday night?
"I don't know," said the player. "We'll just have to look at the menu at the hotel and see what's playing."
* The game will be televised by ABC with Sean McDonough doing the play-by-play, former-Ohio State All-American Chris Spielman the analysis and Quint Kessenich roaming the sidelines.
* WVU is 11-4 against schools which are members of the Big 12 Conference-1-0 against Texas Tech. The two schools first met in 1938 in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, and the Mountaineers emerged with a 7-6 win.
* The Mountaineers have run a total of 381 plays, 165 coming on the ground and 216 through the air. The rushing game has totaled 820 yards for an average of 5.0 yards per carry and nine touchdowns. The passing attack has totaled 2,034 yards and 25 touchdowns and an average of 11.8 yards per completion.
* WVU ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 in passing efficiency (196.0 percent), second in pass offense (406.8 ypg) and third in both scoring offense (54.2 ppg) and total offense (570.8 ypg).
* Texas Tech ranks No. 1 in total defense (210.0 ypg), rushing defense (92.6 ypg) and pass defense (117.4 ypg) and is second in pass defense efficiency (94.8 percent).
* Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville is 0-1 against the Mountaineers. He was the head coach at Auburn in 2008, when his Tigers dropped a 34-17 decision to WVU at Mountaineer Field.