Something just wasn’t quite right on Monday’s Big 12 conference call.
There was Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury talking about the Red Raiders’ defense.
There was WVU’s Dana Holgorsen talking about the Mountaineers’ defense.
In a good way.
Odd, perhaps, considering the recent failures of both schools’ defense. Yet take a look at this Saturday’s opponents’ D now, Ma.
West Virginia’s defense is No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense (304-yard average) and scoring (12.3 points). OK, and yes Tech is still at the bottom of the league in total defense, but check out what the Red Raiders did last week at Stillwater against then-No. 15 Oklahoma State. Tech won 41-17. Yes, 17. The Cowboys were in third-and-8 situations 11 of 13 times. They converted three.
“I think it’s assignment football,” Kingsbury said. “Guys are doing their jobs and making teams earn it instead of giving up big plays or trying to do too much. That’s developed over the last couple of years. Freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors. We still have a long way to go, but we’re making strides and that’s encouraging.”
Linebacker Dakota Allen is leading Tech by averaging 6.2 tackles a game.
“I know from first-hand experience you don’t fix the defense overnight,” Holgorsen said. “They’ve recruited better and have a philosophy and scheme they believe in. Their players have bought into it and are playing hard. Their talent appears to be better.”
WVU linebacker David Long is the Big 12’s fourth-leading tackler, averaging 10.7.
“They’re improved in all three phases,” Kingsbury said. “Coach (Tony) Gibson has always done a tremendous job defensively. He’s developed a culture there. Very aggressive defense. Plays physical. Multiple looks. Playing at a high level. Nobody has scored on them.”
One could almost call Saturday’s noon ET game in Lubbock a “friendly.” At least when you look at the coaching staffs and talk to Holgorsen.
WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital is the brother of Tech defensive coordinator Zac. And get this: Holgorsen and Kingsbury once shared a two-bedroom apartment while on the University of Houston coaching staff.
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Holgorsen said. “We go way back. Going into these types of situations, you just don’t think that way. We’ll think about it long after we retire. Maybe we’ll like each other again and go on vacation again.”
The Mountaineer coach chuckled.
“It’s a hard thing about our profession,” he restarted. “You develop so many good friendships. When you’re in the same conference and competing against each other, it makes it kind of tough.
“I wish them well in every game but one. This happens to be the one.”
WVU quarterback Will Grier has been – deservedly so – in the Heisman Trophy talk so far. In regard to passing efficiency, he’s No. 2 nationally to Tua Tagovailoa. In completion percentage (74.7), he’s No. 3.
Yet when it comes to Big 12 stats, Tech QB Alan Bowman is No. 1 in total offense (387.2), while Grier is No. 2 (370). In passing yards per game, Bowman is also No. 1 (389.2) and Grier is No. 2 (372.3).
“He’s being coached by one of the best that’s ever done it,” Holgorsen said of Tech’s 6-3, 210-pound freshman. “Not surprising at all. The kid was a good player in high school. If you get coached up by Kliff then you’re going to be ready to go.”
“He was a four-year starter at Grapevine High School, which is a big high school in our state (of Texas),” Kingsbury said. “I knew he had some moxie. He’s very accustomed to playing in a similar spread offense with similar concepts. Very quick learner. So he had a lot of the intangibles that you look for to play early.”
Tech lost 47-27 to Mississippi, then defeated Lamar, Houston and Oklahoma State. WVU has defeated Tennessee, Youngstown State and Kansas State behind Grier. Eleven Mountaineers have caught passes so far.
“I’m pretty satisfied right now when it comes to that,” Holgorsen said. “Will’s job is to distribute the ball as he sees fit and as we coach him to do. And he’s doing a spectacular job now. We have star power with three guys (David Sills, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms) who have been making plays, but then we’ve been trying to get other guys involved as well. I didn’t think we did a good job of that last year.”
“Week in and week out Jake (Spavital) will have a great game plan,” Kingsbury said. “He’ll have a bunch of new wrinkles. They have dynamic skill – as good as anyone in the country across the board. We’ll have our hands full.”
On Monday, Holgorsen was asked about the new redshirt rule, which allows players up to four games of action before being ineligible. “I think it’s very, very, very positive for student-athletes, there’s no doubt about that,” said the WVU coach. “We’ve played a couple kids early and kind of put them on the shelf to save as long as we need as the year goes on.”
WVU heads into the ESPN2 Saturday game ranked No. 12 in both major polls.
Ex-Mountaineer receiver Jovon Durante, now at Florida Atlantic, is No. 25 nationally with 298 receiving yards.
Texas Tech’s win at Oklahoma State was its first since 2001.
My thoughts about my first game in the stands in 38 years? (I attended WVU’s win against Kansas State.) Well, in sum, I loved the fellowship. I hated the porta potties outside the stadium. I loved the seats (closer than the press box). I hated the beer lines. (No beer hawkers in the stands?) Overall though, it’s cool to be back.