West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia can’t afford to be tortilla-flat at Texas Tech

October 11, 2014: Quarterback Clint Trickett of West Virginia University fumbles the ball during a sack from Andre Ross (92) of Texas Tech University during the 1st quarter of the West Virginia Mountaneer's 37-34 victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Tx.
Isaac Villalobos/Icon Sportswire

Tyler Orlosky, the solid senior center on West Virginia’s experienced offensive line, is one of the few players on the roster who remember the Mountaineers’ first trip to Lubbock.

“It’s definitely the only place I got a soft-shell tortilla thrown at me,” he said this week.

For those unfamiliar with the tradition, Red Raiders fans – students in particular – started throwing tortillas like Frisbees. In 2001, a penalty was instituted to prevent the tortillas from winding up on the field.

For West Virginia, though, the worry isn’t so much about having a food item sail toward its bench. The first Big 12 trip to Lubbock in 2012 was a forgettable disaster. The Mountaineers were 5-0 and ranked No. 5. Quarterback Geno Smith along with receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey had WVU’s offense operating at peak efficiency.

“We went down there and (quarterback) Geno (Smith) was supposed to win the Heisman,” Orlosky said. “That was the end of his campaign.”

Indeed. Texas Tech, then coached by Tommy Tuberville, smacked the Mountaineers, 49-14. After that outcome, WVU stumbled to a 6-6 regular-season finish.

Saturday’s game (11 a.m. CST, FS1) gives No. 20 West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) a chance to further prove itself a serious contender for the Big 12 championship.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury are good friends who both ascribe to similar offensive styles. While a scoreboard-breaking game is expected, the Mountaineers have been “struggling” to score.

Despite ranking 16th in the FBS in total offense, West Virginia is averaging 29 points per game, which ranks the ‘Eers 66th nationally and eighth in the Big 12.

“We’re moving the ball, we’re averaging a lot of yards, (but) we’ve got to score more – period,” Holgorsen said.

The statistic that illustrates West Virginia’s lack of scoring is its 44 percent success in the red zone. The Mountaineers have just eight touchdowns on 18 trips inside the opponent’s 20.

“We just haven’t been able to convert,” Orlosky said. “I think it has to do with our ability to make plays in space, and when we get down there we’re not able to make those same plays. Teams have been outplaying us in the red zone and that’s something we can’t allow to happen.”

Scoring could be crucial against a team that loves playing at home. The Red Raiders have set an NCAA record by scoring 50 or more points in nine consecutive games at Jones AT&T Stadium. (Yale held the record – which it set in 1887-88). Going back to last season, in its last nine home games Texas Tech is 60.1 points and 668.1 yards.

The Red Raiders’ production drop-off (35.7 points and 529.9 yards) in their last nine road/neutral site games was evident in their last game. Texas Tech dominated the statistical categories but lost at Kansas State, 44-38, thanks to the Wildcats returning an interception and a kickoff for touchdowns.

K-State’s defense harassed Red Raider quarterback Patrick Mahomes with blitz pressure in the second half. Keeping Mahomes off balance might be the only way to slow the junior, who leads the nation in passing yardage.

Kingsbury is wary of West Virginia’s confusing 3-3-5 defensive scheme employed by defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

“Defensively I think Coach Gibson is one of the best in the country at playing spread offenses, always has a really good plan,” Kingsbury said.

“He brings pressure, drops eight a bunch, does a good job taking away your run game, and I’ve been really impressed with him. Year in year out of the he does a tremendous job versus us.”

With West Virginia and Oklahoma visiting Lubbock the next two weeks, Texas Tech (3-2, 1-1) has an opportunity to assert itself in the Big 12 race.

“It’s definitely a place to take note of and understand not to underestimate them,” Orlosky said of the Red Raiders. “They are a good team, and it’s a tough environment to win in.”

Especially when you have to keep an eye out for flying tortillas.

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