MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The last time either West Virginia or Texas Tech won a football game, tree leaves had barely started turning their autumn hues. Now both teams enter Saturday’s game at Milan Puskar Stadium desperately trying to pick up a win before those leaves disappear altogether.
“This is a game between two teams that are going to be really hungry for a win,” noted West Virginia coach Neal Brown.
Both programs are going through growing pains under new coaches.
“You’ve got two first-year head coaches trying to change cultures and you have two teams fighting to play hard,” said Texas Tech coach Matt Wells.
The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) have not played at home since Oct. 12 and has not won since beating Kansas on Sept. 21 — a four-game skid. WVU nearly snapped that streak at No. 11 Baylor a week ago, but some crucial miscues on offense and special teams were too much to overcome in a 17-14 defeat.
“Offensively, we got whipped up front,” Brown said. “We didn’t play well enough to win at any position. We just continue to beat ourselves.”
Because of 48 lost yards on two errant snaps, West Virginia rushed for only 14 yards against Baylor — the worst single-game showing for the Mountaineers in 23 years.
Texas Tech (3-5, 1-4) is mired in a three-game losing streak dating to its Oct. 5 win over Oklahoma State.
The Red Raiders had a bye last week following a doozy of a loss to Kansas. Texas Tech blocked the Jayhawks’ game-winning field goal attempt, but Douglas Coleman fumbled an attempted return of the block back to Kansas. Given a second chance, KU’s Liam Jones hit a 32-yarder as time expired for the 37-34 win.
“We’ve got a renewed focus and energy,” Wells said. “I like the way our guys practiced this week.”
The quarterback situation bears watching for both teams.
Jett Duffey is expected to make his sixth-straight start in place of the oft-injured Alan Bowman. Duffey also replaced Bowman against WVU a year ago when Bowman suffered a collapsed lung after getting sandwiched by two Mountaineers. Duffey exploited WVU for a career-high 86 rushing yards as the Red Raiders rallied within a touchdown after facing a 35-10 halftime deficit.
Brown and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning are also preparing for the possibility of Bowman, who is throwing again after missing more than a month with a shoulder injury.
There’s also a chance the Mountaineers will finish the game with a different quarterback than the one who starts.
With the season in its final four-game stretch, junior Jarret Doege has the green light to play and still preserve his redshirt status. Doege, whose brother Seth played at Texas Tech when Brown was the team’s offensive coordinator from 2010-12, transferred from Bowling Green this summer.
Brown has already named Doege the backup quarterback, sending Jack Allison into the transfer portal. If starter Austin Kendall gets off to a slow start, Brown made it clear that he is willing to play Doege this week.
“Quarterback is like all our positions,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get better.”
Texas Tech may have a new coach, but it still has a Texas Tech defense. The Red Raiders are 110th nationally against the pass and 122nd overall allowing an average of 6.6 yards per play.
However, offenses cannot afford to be careless. Texas Tech has 14 takeaways, including 11 interceptions. If the Mountaineers can keep the ball out of harm’s way, they should win.
Red zone stops
Just one may be enough.
West Virginia and Texas Tech are the Big 12’s two worst red zone defenses. Opponents have scored touchdowns on 68.75 percent of their trips inside the 20 against the Mountaineers, while Texas Tech’s opponents have scored touchdowns on 68 percent of their red zone trips.
Last week’s goal-line stand at Baylor could be a sign the tide is turning for West Virginia, though.
Both teams are coming off losses that were ultimately decided on blocked field goals.
West Virginia’s chance to tie Baylor was lost when an untimely delay of game set the Mountaineers back five yards for a 48-yarder the Bears blocked. Texas Tech somehow lost after blocking the would-be game-winner at Kansas.
These are the kinds of losses that can either motivate a team for its next game, or deflate the remainder of the season. We’ll see where each of these teams stands coming out of similar disappointments.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 34, Texas Tech 14