Mountaineers face stern test with TCU defense
CHARLESTON — It is no secret that when the West Virginia University offense is humming, the passing game is among the best, if not the best, in the country.
That group will get put to the test at noon Saturday when TCU visits Morgantown to take on the No. 7 Mountaineers (7-1, 5-1 Big 12). The Horned Frogs (4-5, 2-4) will bring with them one of the Big 12′s top defenses and the No. 1 pass defense in the league.
“It will probably be the stiffest test we’ve had to date for our offense,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday. “They just do a really good job on that side. We know that, we respect that and we’re looking forward to playing against them.”
TCU has been through some rough patches during the 2018 season. Yet when things are going well, it usually has been the case of the defense carrying the team.
Take TCU’s last two games, for example. Two weeks ago, the Frogs gave up 27 points to lowly Kansas and lost to the Jayhawks. Last week, the defense held Kansas State to just 14 points, which was enough to preserve a narrow win.
“We are 112-5 when holding (opposing teams) to 17 points or less,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson said during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “We’ve been in close ball games and low scoring games. We’ve done a good job.”
That good job starts up front for the Frogs, where they have a pair of defensive ends forming a potent pass rush duo in seniors Ben Banogu and L.J. Collier. Those two have combined for 11.5 quarterback sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. When they can put pressure on the quarterback, it makes life easier for the second-and third-level defenders.
“That dude (Banogu) is really good, and the other end, No. 91, Collier, is really good,” Holgorsen said.
Banogu and Collier played the Mountaineers tough last season, but one player WVU won’t have to worry about this time around is sophomore defensive tackle Ross Black-lock — a Big 12 Defensive Co-Freshman of the Year in 2017. Blacklock went down with an Achilles injury in August and was lost for the season. Sophomore Corey Bethley and redshirt freshman Terrell Cooper form the rest of the stout Frogs’ front.
“The same two guys that we faced last year, minus a guy,” Holgorsen said. “Inside, they lose Blacklock early in the year, who is spectacular, but they have two other guys that are just as good inside.”
Injuries like the one to Blacklock have been an issue for TCU this season. Safety Innis Gaines is out with a leg injury, while safety Niko Small and linebackers Ty Summers are questionable for Saturday’s game in Morgantown. Despite that, the Horned Frogs have been able to find success.
Linebacker sophomore linebacker Garret Wallow leads the team with 54 tackles while senior linebacker Arico Evans is third with 48 tackles. On the back end, the Horned Frogs aren’t forcing many interceptions — the team has four total — but they have been solid in the secondary still.
Holgorsen called Patterson the best defensive coordinator in the country and said his team is in for a fight no matter who lines up for TCU.
“It doesn’t matter who is playing these spots in a Gary Patterson defense,” Holgorsen said. “It doesn’t matter who the bodies are, they’re going to be coached up. They’re going to be sound with their technique, they’re going to play hard, they’re going to be where they’re supposed to be.”
TCU (4-5, 2-4) at No. 7 WVU (7-1, 5-1)
WHEN: Noon Saturday
WHERE: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown
RADIO: WWQB 102.3-FM