The Texas Longhorns football team is already on the way to Morgantown via Pittsburgh, so it's time to finalize the previewing of the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers with five things that Texas fans should know about Saturday's opponent.
1. Clint Trickett earned a comparison to Case McCoy from Mack Brown this week
Is that an insult or a compliment to Trickett? The West Virginia starter is a little bit more physically gifted than McCoy, perhaps, with better arm strength, but he's not much of a runner and his physical dimensions are similar (listed at 6'2, 180 pounds).
Unlike McCoy, however, whose handle of the Texas offense has allowed him to consistently get the Horns into the right plays in the running game, the word on Trickett is that he still doesn't quite command the West Virginia offense at a high level.
The numbers are not particularly impressive for Trickett either -- he has five touchdowns against five interceptions, is completing 52.1% of his passes at 6.34 yards per attempt, and has an adjusted QBR of 67.2, a number that is a little higher than expected given those numbers. He's also been sacked 10 times.
At times, Trickett has flashed the toughness and moxie often associated with McCoy. Against Oklahoma State, a big hit caused a shoulder injury that temporarily forced him to leave the game. Despite the hit severely sapping his less-than-elite arm strength, Trickett battled through the pain and was able to guide his team to victory.
2. There are playmakers at every level of the West Virginia defense
The turnover margin isn't that pretty for West Virginia this year (+2), a result of 21 giveaways nearly evenly split between interceptions and fumbles. Fortunately for head coach Dana Holgorsen, the defense has been picking up the slack for the offense, forcing 23 turnovers (tied for seventh nationally), thanks to a ball-hawking secondary and a knack for stripping the football.
It's not all coming from one level of the defense, either -- there are players at each level who can make game-changing plays.
A late addition to the 2013 class from Georgia Military College, outside linebacker Brandon Golson is a pass-rushing specialist at 6'2, 220 pounds who can also use his speed to disrupt running plays if left unblocked on the back side. A big coup for West Virginia in recruiting, Golson had previously committed to South Carolina and Arizona prior to joining the Mountaineers class. On the season, he has 6.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and four forced fumbles.
At the second level, linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski is one of those physical Pennsylvania linebackers who looks like he should be playing for the Nittany Lions, but fits in the coal-mining country of West Virginia. He has 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception to his credit.
In the secondary, Karl Joseph is the enforcer intent on making Texas wide receivers pay for catching the ball in intermediate areas. Already a two-year starter as a sophomore, Joseph is also an exceptional open-field tackler -- 43 of his 50 tackles are of the solo variety.
The player Case McCoy really needs to watch out for is Darwin Cook. The team's leading tackler from his safety position, Cook has four interceptions on the season, having recorded the only interception thrown by Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, a pass that he returned 53 yards for a touchdown, exactly the type of play that could help propel a West Virginia upset on Saturday evening.
3. The defensive line is a stout group
Nose tackle Shaq Powell isn't much of a pass rusher and doesn't make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but he's the type of strong, space-occupying run stopper that Texas center Dominic Espinosa has struggled with over the years and defensive end Will Clarke is a massive person at 6'7 and 273 pounds and is much more disruptive than Powell, with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks.
It's also a group that does a nice job of occupying blockers to keep the linebackers clean and able to make plays -- this will be one of the stronger challenges this season for the Texas offensive line to create running room for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown.
4. The loss of wide receiver Ronald Carswell hurts the Mountaineers
The former Alabama Crimson Tide wideout was suspended indefinitely this week and will not be with the team for the rest of the season. Carswell didn't play last week against TCU after providing the deep threat for a West Virginia offense that has been pretty average in producing plays of 20 or more yards this season -- that's also the number of yards that Carswell averaged per catch this season to lead the team and rank fourth in the conference.
As a result, the Mountaineers will have to lean more heavily on junior college transfer Kevin White, the team's third-leading receiver and biggest target at 6'3, and freshman Daikiel Shorts, the team's leading receiver.
5. Charles Sims is probably the greatest threat to the Texas defense
The Houston transfer is looking forward to playing the Longhorns this weekend and presents a dangerous threat to Texas. Mack Brown believes that Sims is a pro prospect and at 215 pounds now, that's a legitimate belief.
Sims' weight gives him a nice blend of speed and power and the Houston Westbury product is one of those running backs with feet that fire like pistons, giving him the ability to cut and accelerate with alacrity because of his short strides. Also a threat in the passing game, don't be surprised if West Virginia tries to hit Sims on a wheel route or two to take advantage of Steve Edmond, who has been lucky not to give up at least two touchdowns on such plays in recent weeks.