|Surprising No. 24 Texas Tech runs to West Virginia|
There are a lot of surprising things about Texas Tech this season, none quite as stunning as the No. 24 Red Raiders' proficiency for running the ball and taking some pressure off their vaunted Air Raid attack.
That newfound success will be challenged when Texas Tech, a ranked team for the first time since November 2013, travels for a key Big 12 battle with West Virginia on Saturday. Kickoff is at noon ET at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
The Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) head to West Virginia on the heels of a dominating 65-19 win Saturday at Kansas, a team that played the Mountaineers much closer a week earlier.
Texas Tech was also ranked prior to its 2013 meeting at West Virginia, when the Red Raiders secured a 37-27 victory in Morgantown. The 4-1 start equals their best record since that 2013 season, when the Red Raiders won seven consecutive games to start the year.
Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury has spoken at length this year about Texas Tech's desire to run the ball effectively, and so far, he is following through.
Texas Tech gashed Kansas for 313 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, its top rushing total since amassing 325 yards against New Mexico in 2012. Justin Stockton racked up 161 of those yards, and Desmond Nisby pitched in with four touchdown runs.
The Red Raiders threw for 290 yards, marking just the second time since moving to a high-flying passing offense in 2000 that Tech had more rushing yards than passing yards in a game. The other occurrence came in 2010 against Oklahoma.
"Texas Tech's numbers are up," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Their runs per game are up. Their yards per rush are way up. It looks like something they're focusing on. It's concerning because they do such a good job throwing the ball and then, you add that, it's more challenging."
Texas Tech defeated Eastern Washington (56-10), Arizona State (52-45) and Houston (27-24) in addition to Kansas, while losing 41-34 at home to then-No. 15 Oklahoma State.
Texas Tech isn't looking at this game as a test of where the program stands. The Red Raiders still have TCU, Oklahoma and Texas on the upcoming schedule.
"When you talk about Oklahoma State and the University of Houston and Arizona State, those are some quality teams that we've played," Kingsbury said.
West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) lost to then-No. 21 Virginia Tech and, last week, to then-No. 8 TCU by identical 31-24 scores. Both games went down to the final seconds with the ball in the hands of Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier.
Grier passed for 366 yards with three scores and an interception in the loss to the Horned Frogs. He is the first West Virginia quarterback to throw for at least 300 yards in each of his first five career games.
West Virginia wants to run the ball. With senior Justin Crawford (111 yards on 19 carries against TCU), the Mountaineers have the chance to get meaningful yards on every snap and control the game, although their four-game streak of running for at least 200 yards ended at TCU. Backup Kennedy McKoy had just 12 yards on seven carries, and Martell Pettaway had 10 yards on five totes.
"When (Crawford) was out, we weren't very effective," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said after the Mountaineers' loss to TCU. "We need to find some other answers when we have to pull him out."
The Mountaineers ended a four-game losing streak to Texas Tech in 2015 by beating the Red Raiders 31-26 in Morgantown. Texas Tech, in fact, hasn't won in the series -- led 4-2 by the Mountaineers -- since West Virginia's 4-8 season in 2013.
"We've had good defensive players that have been able to make plays the last couple of years," Holgorsen said. "Hopefully we can do the same this Saturday. It's going to be every bit as challenging."
Last year in Lubbock, the Mountaineers rolled to an easy 48-17 victory that had Kingsbury shaking his head.
"West Virginia is a team we've struggled with," Kingsbury said. "There's no doubt they've gotten after us the last couple of years, and we need to play better, otherwise we'll go up there and get embarrassed. We've been working hard at it and hopefully we can be more competitive this season."
West Virginia has lost nine games in a row to Top 25 teams.