(Photo credit: Annie Rice/Avalanche-Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Texas Tech and West Virginia launch the Big 12 Conference season Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va., with each side looking to build modest momentum after wins last week.
The Red Raiders (1-2) got into the win column with a dominant-as-expected 41-3 trouncing of FCS foe Tarleton State, while the Mountaineers prevailed in their nonconference rivalry showdown, 17-6 against Pitt.
Getting started on the right foot in league play is the goal with some interesting subplots involved.
For Texas Tech, last week was cathartic after the season began with losses at Wyoming and to 13th-ranked Oregon. Facing the Mountaineers represents a chance to redirect a season that began with the Red Raiders generating preseason buzz as a dark horse contender in the Big 12.
Texas Tech's offense is living up to the billing, but turnovers have been a concern. Tyler Shough has thrown for 742 yards and seven touchdowns, but his four interceptions are the most in the Big 12.
Shough's inconsistency has invited chatter about trying backup Behren Morton. Morton played the entire second half against Tarleton State and guided the offense on three consecutive scoring drives before he was picked off in the fourth quarter.
Last season when three QBs started for Texas Tech because of an injury to Shough, Morton started against WVU and dissected the Mountaineers for 325 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-10 romp.
Second-year Red Raiders coach Joey McGuire preemptively tackled any notion of a quarterback controversy in his postgame comments.
"Tyler Shough is our starter, and he'll be starting against West Virginia," McGuire said. "That's not an issue or a question. You can ask me about it again. I'm going to say the same thing. I just want everybody to know that."
West Virginia's quarterback situation isn't as cut-and-dried.
Starter Garrett Greene suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter last week and didn't return. Mountaineers coach Neal Brown said Monday that he was not able to practice, and his status is unknown. Redshirt freshman Nicco Marchiol replaced Greene vs. Pitt and was 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards.
"We've got to prepare for both guys," McGuire said. "We're lucky that they're similar. (Marchiol) did a really good job of coming in that Pitt game. That game, in that area, is as big a game as there is. You could tell he could handle the pressure."
Brown said his team is confident in their younger signal-caller. His playing time against Pitt was the most extensive of his career. He played most of the second half in a 24-19 win against Oklahoma State last season.
"Our expectation is that if he plays, we'll be really good on offense," Brown said.
Which will be necessary if Texas Tech gets cranked up like it did last season against WVU.
On the way to a fourth win in a row in the series, the Red Raiders torched the Mountaineers for 594 yards and a huge second half. The 38-point win was the biggest by either team since WVU joined the Big 12.
Besides Morton, Tahj Brooks rushed for 107 yards and Zavier White caught eight passes for 139 yards. Those two are back and have helped Texas Tech average 434.3 total yards a game.
"Last year against them was as bad a performance as I've ever been part of," said Brown, a former assistant coach at Texas Tech. "They really controlled the line of scrimmage on us."
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for WVU, having a healthy C.J. Donaldson available is a key. Donaldson rushed for 102 yards against Pitt before he exited with an injury. If he is healthy and the Mountaineers have to rely on Marchiol, Texas Tech's defense is likely to get a steady diet of the big sophomore out of the backfield.
--Field Level Media