By TOM BONE
LUBBOCK, Texas —
Dana Holgorsen won’t be nostalgic Saturday when he brings his No. 5 Mountaineers to Texas Tech, where he and Mike Leach drove opponents batty with their dizzying pass-heavy offense.
“All those feelings and emotions have gone away a long time ago,” the Mountaineers second-year coach said of his eight years in Lubbock. “I’m not going to think twice about it.”
Holgorsen’s thoughts will be on how to keep his Mountaineers unbeaten as they try to stay in the hunt for the Big 12 title in their first year in the conference. Much of that will depend on the performance of quarterback Geno Smith, who comes into the game with 24 touchdowns, 1,996 yards and no interceptions. He’s completed 81 percent of his 204 pass attempts this season.
West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) got out of Austin last week with a 48-45 victory over Texas, with Smith throwing for 268 yards and four touchdowns. The Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1) are hoping to rebound after falling 41-20 to Oklahoma in a game that saw quarterback Seth Doege throw three interceptions.
Smith and one of his favorite receivers, Tavon Austin, make West Virginia’s offense look a little like backyard football, said D.J. Johnson, a safety on Texas Tech’s top-ranked pass defense.
“They really understand each other as far as receiver-quarterback,” the senior said. “So what we’re really going to have to do is make them eliminate his key receivers and make him take more time to really figure out what he’s going to have to do. So take away those first reads, those initial reads, and give our D-line and linebackers time to get there and make plays.”
Smith holds the Red Raiders’ defense in high regard and knows the crowd will be as boisterous or more than last weekend’s in Austin.
“They really make things complex with the way they react to the ball,” the 6-foot-3 senior said of Texas Tech’s defense. “They do a great job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and reacting to the ball.”
Red Raiders defenders can’t focus solely on Smith. Mountaineers running back Andrew Buie gained 207 yards on 31 carries and added 66 passing yards against Texas.
Holgorsen said Buie is handling his duties well.
“The concern is the wear and tear,” Holgorsen said. “He carried it 31 times, and he got hit 31 times. He blocks, which is hard, and he runs routes, which is taxing. The wear and tear is something to be concerned with, which is why we need to get Dustin (Garrison) healthy and Shawne (Alston) healthy.
Alston injured his right thigh earlier this season and Garrison has eight carries for 42 yards this year after having knee surgery during the offseason.
Red Raiders coach Tommy Tuberville knows the defense will have its hands full with Buie.
“They’ve got a very good running back that is kind of a dual-threat that you don’t normally see on a team that has that much speed at wide receiver,” he said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders.”
Texas Tech’s offense hasn’t clicked the past two weeks like it had against lesser opponents earlier this season. Accuracy was lacking from Doege, who didn’t throw a TD pass against Oklahoma and has five interceptions the past two weeks. That’s half the number he had all last season.
Doege is the first to say he’s got to step it up Saturday to keep pace with the Mountaineers, who are averaging 52 points a game.
“We need to be a threat every single time we step out on to the field, regardless of the score, regardless the time of the game,” he said. “It’s not realistic that you’re going to score every time you have it, but that’s the mindset we have.”
Holgorsen said he’s trying to downplay Smith’s interception streak.
“We talk about completions and putting the ball where you need to put the ball,” Holgorsen said. “When the ball is in the air, it’s up to the receiver to attack it and makes sure it is ours.”
Tuberville, who earlier this year said West Virginia would be the front-runner to win the Big 12, wants his team on Saturday to return to the attitude it had at the beginning of the season.
“We’ve got to have fun,” he said. “Because once you start losing the fun attitude, it gets a lot more difficult.”