By JOHN RABY
West Virginia defensive coordinator Keith Patterson hopes to keep Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro out of the end zone when the Red Raiders make their first visit to the Mountain State.
Amaro caught five passes for a personal-best 156 yards and one touchdown in a 49-14 win over West Virginia last year in Lubbock, Texas.
Now that the Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) are on their own turf Saturday against the 16th-ranked Red Raiders (6-0, 3-0), they want to make sure that Amaro doesn’t have a career day against them again.
The 6-foot-5 junior leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions and is third with 606 yards receiving. He poses many challenges that include a streak of five straight games with at least eight catches.
“First of all, it’s his size and his ability to run,” Patterson said. “He bodies up on you, so even though you have good position, he can go over the top of you and catch the football. He’s very physical. He’s a great blocker.”
Prior to this season, Amaro hadn’t caught more than five passes in a game. Halfway through the season, he’s on pace to become the first Texas Tech receiver to average 100 yards per game since Michael Crabtree left for the NFL after the 2008 season.
Amaro must stay healthy to do that. Last year he left the West Virginia game with a spleen injury after taking a hard hit that sidelined him for the remainder of the regular season.
“I know that I’m going to get hit a lot,” Amaro said. “I know there are a lot of defenders around me, usually every time I catch the ball.”
West Virginia’s defense is allowing nearly 8 yards per completion, the worst in the Big 12, and will have more than just Amaro to defend on Saturday. With Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb sharing the load, Texas Tech’s 203 completions are second nationally to Washington State’s 236.
Texas Tech wide receiver Eric Ward is second in the conference with 34 receptions and Jakeem Grant is fifth with 30. Eight different receivers have caught touchdown passes, led by Brad Marquez’s five.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t need a reminder of what Texas Tech’s receivers can do. He oversaw the Red Raiders receiving corps as an assistant coach from 2000-07 and watched Seth Doege throw for six TDs against the Mountaineers last year.
While 1,000-yard receiver Darrin Moore, who caught three scoring passes in that game and finished with 92 receptions for the year, is gone, Amaro has stepped in to nearly double his own production from a year ago.
Holgorsen believes Amaro should be ready for next year’s NFL draft.
“I do not know how to stop him,” Holgorsen said. “You try to double cover him but that opens up room for some other good skill guys as well. He poses a lot of problems, and they have done a good job at utilizing him to get first downs and open up things for some other people.”
Amaro sees Texas Tech’s longest road trip of the season Saturday as a fun opportunity and not a potential trap with games looming in the next two weeks against No. 18 Oklahoma and No. 21 Oklahoma State.
“It’s not going to make a difference where we’re playing at,” he said.
“I think everyone gets a little more excited to play on the road, but I think we’ll be perfectly fine.”