Photo: Michael C. Johnson-USA Today Sports

MORGANTOWN, W.V.- In one of the Big 12’s many intriguing matchups this Saturday, Texas Tech will square off with West Virginia in Morgantown. Over one month into the season, the two teams appear fairly well matched on paper. Texas Tech just entered the AP Poll at No. 24 this week after a drought that spanned back to 2013, while West Virginia fell out of the Top 25 after a close loss last week at TCU.

Despite a somewhat disappointing 3-2 record, West Virginia’s two losses were close games to bona fide Top 15 teams. The Mountaineers fell in their season opener to No. 15 Virginia Tech 24-31, and lost by the same score to No. 6 TCU last Saturday. Essentially, West Virginia is a few key plays away from a 5-0 start and likely being ranked in the Top 10.

Texas Tech, on the other hand, has surprised many with their strong 4-1 start. They have notched victories over Arizona State and Houston, blew out Kansas last week, and their only loss was a close game with No. 14 Oklahoma State.

The two teams have matched up five times since West Virginia joined the Big 12. Texas Tech got the better of the Mountaineers in 2012 and 2013, but WVU has since rattled of three straight victories.

The key to this game will probably be Texas Tech’s ability to run the ball. They have been inconsistent at best so far this season, but have indeed shown flashes. Last week on the road against Kansas, they ran the ball 52 times for 313 yards, good enough for 6 yards per carry. But when they’ve struggled to get going on the ground and strike a balance offensively – such as in the loss to Oklahoma State – the offense has consistently stalled out on drives and failed to put up points like we’re accustomed to seeing with Kingsbury’s offense.

The Red Raiders may have reason for optimism against West Virginia, however. The Mountaineers let Kansas run the ball 50 times for an astounding 367 yards. Against other Power Five competition, WVU gave up 234 rushing yards against Virginia Tech and 170 last week against TCU.

Texas Tech doesn’t need 300+ rushing yards like Kansas to win, but 175-200 would likely set up the Red Raiders for a strong day offensively.

The Texas Tech defense has made headlines for improving as a unit from the last few years. They’ve done a good job so far of limiting big plays and mitigating the damage done by opposing teams’ ground game. WVU quarterback Will Grier will likely complete a good amount of short to intermediate throws against this defense, but if Tech can limit big plays, apply pressure in the pocket, and force some turnovers, they might have a chance.

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