West Virginia football is back on the field after its bye week for a road trip to Fort Worth to face the TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday in Big 12 conference action. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
The Mountaineers (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) are hunting for their first Big 12 win of the season after a disappointing three-game stretch to open their league slate. Their first two losses were each decided by a field goal, but a trip to Baylor on Oct. 9 got out of hand as they fell to the Bears 45-20.
TCU (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) hasn’t had much more success than their upcoming visitors as they struggle on the defensive side of the ball. The Horned Frogs have competed in some shootouts this season as they have yet to keep a power five team under 31 points this season.
That’s unique for longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson, who has consistently led the Big 12 in defense since his program joined the league in 2011.
Still, that hasn’t prevented the Mountaineers from finding success against TCU. WVU is on a three-game win streak against the Horned Frogs, most recently earning a 24-6 victory in Morgantown in 2020. All-time, the Mountaineers lead TCU 6-4 in a series that dates back to 1984.
Beyond their tough start to the Big 12 slate, Neal Brown and his team have one troubling monkey on their back — a road losing streak that dates back nearly two full seasons. WVU hasn’t won a road game since their last trip to TCU’s Amon G. Carter Stadium on Nov. 29, 2019, when Jarret Doege led the Mountaineers to a 20-17 victory in the final minutes, capped off by a 35-yard connection to Isaiah Esdale for the victory.
In his second trip to Fort Worth as the WVU coach, Brown is looking to stay unbeaten against Patterson while snapping that woeful trend.
Here are some of the biggest storylines that will play out in Fort Worth:
Can West Virginia’s defense get back on its feet?
Jordan Lesley’s defensive unit was one of the best in the country statistically until they traveled to Waco. Had that game never happened, the Mountaineers would be at the top of the league in rush defense, second in scoring defense and third in total defense. Baylor did its best to knock them down the statistical rankings as they put up 45 points and 525 yards on WVU.
“We had a run there where we played at a pretty high level at times, and we lost that, really, in the last game and a half of the game before,” Lesley said.
In the bye week, which both coaches and players said came at an opportune time, Lesley focused on getting back to the basics with his unit. He noticed physical and emotional exhaustion among his players during the Baylor game after his team took three losses by a combined 12 points, so he felt it was important to recharge in the bye, while striking a balance and improving at the same time.
WVU hasn’t had the strongest pass defense all season, but they did stop the run quite well. They have a challenge against the Horned Frogs, though, who boast the second-best rushing attack in the Big 12 with a pair of talented running backs in Zach Evans and Kendre Miller.
Doege expected to start, but Brown will give Greene some burn
Brown said that “everything was on the table” for potential change during the bye week, but no wholesale changes were made to the depth chart. This, of course, included the quarterback position, as Doege is expected to get his seventh start of the season this week.
Garrett Greene, the Mountaineers’ shifty back-up, has gotten quite a bit of attention as he provides a different look for the offense. He has made plays with his legs — as it stands, the sophomore is the team’s second-leading rusher with 230 yards and four touchdowns — a massive shift from Doege, who is a pocket passer.
This disparity in play styles has led to some issues for the offense, though, as the Mountaineers are forced to call different ends of the playbook depending on who is calling the signals. Doege is currently the Big 12’s leader in passing yards per game, which give Brown a little more comfort in going down the field through the air. Greene, on the other hand, has yet to complete a pass over 30 yards in 20 attempts.
Brown hopes to see some growth from Greene in the pass game moving forward before he gives him the keys to the Mountaineer air attack.
“Garrett’s gotta continue to grow,” Brown said. “The deal is with Garrett, our receivers have been our most productive piece of our offense, and Garrett’s gotta continue his ability to get them the ball. That’s where he’s gotta show the most growth.”
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU. Game day starts with the Gold and Blue Nation crew as an all-new episode of The Neal Brown Show airs on West Virginia Nexstar stations at 9 a.m. ET, followed by a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay at 10 a.m. ET. MGD continues at 11 a.m. ET on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.