By MICKEY FURFARI
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith knows he will be greatly tested in Saturday’s Big 12 battle against Texas Tech.
While he is No. 1 nationally in passing yards per game (399.2) and in passing touchdowns (24), the Red Raiders rank No. 1 in pass defense and No. 2 in total defense.
“This is one of those times where I am excited to get on the field and face the challenge,” said Smith, who turned 22 on Wednesday.
The No. 5-ranked Mountaineers, 5-0 and 2-0 in the Big 12, are a slight favorite to defeat the Red Raiders, 4-1 and 1-1, when they clash at 3:30 p.m. in Lubbock, Texas.
A crowd of about 60,000 is expected. WVU has won its last nine games.
Tech is giving up only 117.4 passing yards per game. It also has allowed just four passing touchdowns.
The Red Raiders have five interceptions and have recovered four of eight fumbles.
In total defense, Texas Tech is No. 1 in the country with an average yield of 210.0 yards per game compared to 463.0 yards per game by West Virginia.
Any way you want to look at it, statistically, Texas Tech is most dominant by far on defense.
The Red Raiders have allowed 84 points to 175, 65 first downs to 117, net rushing 92.6 yards per game to West Virginia’s 124.0 and net passing 117.4 to 339.0 yards per game.
Smith, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior from Miami, has completed 166 of 204 passes for 1,996 yards and 24 touchdowns in five games.
Seth Doege, Tech’s senior quarterback, ranks third in the Big 12. He has completed 127 of 183 passes for 1,392 yards and seven touchdowns. He has thrown six interceptions.
Senior Tavon Austin and junior Stedman Bailey, both of WVU, still are 1-2 among Big 12 pass receivers. Austin has 58 receptions for 662 yards and eight touchdowns and Bailey 49 catches for 710 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Tech’s top two pass-catchers are Eric Ward (20-258-4) and Darrin Moore (20-222-4).
Sophomore Andrew Buie is the Mountaineers’ leading rusher with 433 yards on 88 carries and has scored five times. Kenny Williams, also a sophomore, leads Tech with 83 rushing attempts, 395 yards and two scores.
Austin, a senior WVU standout, again is the national all-purpose yards leader with an average of 206.2 yards per game.
Smith, a Heisman Trophy candidate, thinks the Red Raiders have a really good defense as he noted on film.
“Every game has its own story, and I expect them to be tough,” he said. “On the road, it is kind of similar to what we faced at Texas with a hostile crowd.
“It should be a good game.”
Isaiah Bruce, West Virginia’s leading tackler as a freshman, is second in the Big 12 with 53 stops — one less than league leader Bryce Hager of Baylor (54).
Bruce said, “We have set goals. I think it’s (no more than) 14 points a game. We haven’t reached that (total yield) yet this year.
“But we are trying to accomplish that. In game one, we probably missed 20-something tackles, something crazy like that. As the weeks count on, we increased our focus on open-field tackling and making those plays…”
WVU senior cornerback Pat Miller noted the Red Raiders play physical. He said, “They take their shots down field as well. They’ve always had a good offense.
“We just have to be ready for the challenge.”