Football primer: 5 questions for West Virginia-TCU

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A fistful of questions as No. 9 West Virginia (7-1, 5-1) turns the stadium “True Blue” for its date with TCU (4-5, 2-4) on Saturday:

What’s the recipe for avoiding a let-down?

Beating Texas 42-41 proved the Mountaineers could handle last-minute drama. Now they have to summon energy against a team with a losing record.

TCU opened as a 13-point underdog, a line that since shifted to 11.5, and Gary Patterson’s guys are only 2-7 against the spread. (Their last cover? That 40-28 loss to Ohio State on Sept. 15.)

Series history reminds us TCU claimed a pair of one-point wins in Morgantown in 2012 and 2014, both on the final snap. This game doesn’t figure to be as evenly matched, providing Dana Holgorsen has his team prepped. He hasn’t dropped a game a game as a double-digit favorite since Louisville in 2011.

Remember those dastardly officials?

West Virginia fans seethed over Yodny Cajuste’s ejection last week — the consummate overreaction by an official. And the “horns down” signal flashed by David Sills typically goes unpunished by other Texas opponents.

For real, unadulterated outrage, nothing trumps last season’s offensive pass interference call attributed to Sills at TCU. The cornerback who by all rights should have been flagged on that late-game play, Tony James, is working as a backup this season.

What’s aching TCU’s offense?

TCU’s scoring output of 26.6 points per game ranks 86th nationally and eighth in the Big 12. Shawn Robinson’s turnovers were problematic, and things really declined when his shoulder injury proved to be season-ending.

As a consolation prize, the Frogs own the nation’s second-longest streak since being shutout — 329 games, dating back to 1991.

After Kyle Hicks graduated, running back Darius Anderson was in line for a big season. Instead he’s on pace for a career-low in yards per carry and his touchdowns have dried up. The goal-line opportunities also have vanished for 6-foot-3 Sewo Olonilua, who vaulted in for a third-down score against WVU last season.

Four-star recruit Jalen Reagor has a team-leading 48 catches, and the sophomore’s production has soared since the QB spot fell into the lap of Penn transfer Michael Collins. Reagor has 11 catches for 269 yards the past two weeks, with touchdowns of 56 yards vs. Kansas and 67 yards vs. K-State.

“Reagor, he’s as good of a receiver as we’ve seen all year and as fast as a receiver we’ve seen all year,” Holgorsen said.

KaVontae Turpin made a few splash plays offensively before being dismissed two weeks ago, but those special-teams returns were where his explosiveness typically surfaced. (He’ll be noticeably absent against WVU, whose coverage units on kicks and punts rank among the worst in the Big 12.)

How inexperienced is TCU?

Want a stat that illuminates the maturity gap between these teams? Try freshman participation.

Fifteen have seen action for West Virginia this season, compared to 29 for the Frogs.

Are the CFP hopes legit?

ESPN analytics gives West Virginia a 5-percent chance of cracking the College Football Playoff. Jerry Palm forecasts a Big 12 runner-up finish and a Peach Bowl berth. SBNation’s Jason Kirk predicts the same.

The models and guesswork currently aren’t favorable, but so what? Surviving that elimination game in Austin cleared WVU for the next hurdle. Overcome four more and the Dec. 2 rankings will carry the real drama