MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Because no other Big 12 defense closely mimics West Virginia’s 3-3-5, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson can only guess at how each new opponent will try to attack. That makes for crucial early-game adjustments.
In the case of Iowa State’s defense, however, Gibson has seen enough similarities to draw some educated conclusions. And here was a pretty telling conclusion from two weeks ago: Iowa State 24, Texas 0.
“They shut the run down and got after Texas,” Gibson said. “Iowa State is probably a fair comparison for us, because they play a little bit of the odd front, so I like watching what they do.”
During recent game-week film studies, Gibson saw the Cyclones torched by TCU (621 yards) and Texas Tech (776 yards). Yet Iowa State threw up a wall against the Longhorns (204 yards), who crossed midfield only once in the first 58 minutes.
That output in Ames was almost unfathomable considering Iowa State has yielded more than 36 points per game against other opponents. Charlie Strong might have been moved to change play-callers after the shutout, if not for having already tried that following a 38-3 loss at Notre Dame. (He took the duties from quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and passed them to receivers coach Jay Norvell.)
How could this be the same outfit that trumped Oklahoma? Norvell called out his players for having a tendency “to drift at times,” a point of frustration for a group deeper on potential than production.
West Virginia’s defense appears set up for a better Saturday than the previous three years where Texas averaged 41 points.
“They play kind of a unique scheme,” Norvell said. “We’ve played odd-front teams in Oklahoma and Iowa State, but these guys are a little different because they stack three backers in the box and they play an eight-man front. So you’ve really got to be sharp up front with your offensive line combination and get off on blocks.”
In three true road games this season, Texas has produced far more punts (24) than points (10), creating or resulting from quarterback instability. Redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard became the starter in Week 2, though Tyrone Swoopes continues to operate the “18-wheeler” red-zone package and replaced Heard outright in losses at TCU and Iowa State.
Heard’s elusiveness on the perimeter is a concern, while the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Swoopes exploits defenders straight-on. Neither has enjoyed sustained success.
“(Heard) is a young guy so he still has things to learn,” said Swoopes, settling into a backup role. “He’s had some good games and some not good games.”
Heard’s best outing—which was overshadowed by a missed PAT in the 45-44 loss to Cal on Sept. 19—featured 364 yards passing and another 163 rushing with three touchdowns. Rather typical of the sputtering Texas offense, Heard has not rushed for another score since.
Last week’s game against Kansas—perhaps rather typical of the sputtering Jayhawks defense—saw Heard fling an 84-yard touchdown to John Burt. That became a 59-20 win and Heard’s 204 yards passing on 13 completions were his second-highest totals this season.
“It’s a lot of up-and-down fights,” Heard said. “We just have to fight and find ourselves.”