MORGANTOWN — When TCU visits Morgantown on Saturday to take on No. 7 West Virginia University, it will be with a squad of the walking wounded.
According to TCU head coach Gary Patterson, around 35 Horned Frogs have missed four or more games this season. The number of players ruled out for the season is approaching 20, including star defensive tackle Ross Blacklock and starting quarterback Shawn Robinson. Seven different safeties have missed time this season, including usual starters Innis Gaines and Niko Small.
Now TCU (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) is faced with needing two wins in its final three games to become bowl eligible. The Horned Frogs expect to have their hands full with WVU (7-1, 5-1 Big 12) and the Mountaineers’ high-powered passing attack when the teams meet at Milan Puskar Stadium (noon, FS1).
“I don’t know if we’ve played anybody to this point that throws like they do,” Patterson said. “It’s probably hard for (opponents) to game plan because you don’t have the same safeties every week playing the same position. So there’s some advantages to (having too many injuries), I suppose.”
West Virginia returns home to face TCU one week after one of the more thrilling victories of the head coach Dana Holgorsen era. WVU redshirt senior quarterback Will Grier hit receiver Gary Jennings with an inch-perfect, 33-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute to play, then scrambled for a 2-point conversion to give the Mountaineers a 42-41 comeback win against Texas at Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
Grier finished that game with 346 passing yards and three touchdowns through the air as conference and national honors came his way this week in the aftermath. Grier, for what it’s worth, said he appreciates the honors but is focused on what is ahead – namely preparing for the Horned Frogs.
“It’s great,” Grier said of the attention. “It’s an honor for the school and for the program. It’s something that’s good in a lot of ways, but it’s not a focus of mine. My focus has to be what it has been all year: It’s 100 percent on being 1-0 this week. We’ve moved on, and we’re focused on a good TCU team.”
Jennings, who missed practice last week leading into the Texas game and saw limited albeit very productive action against the Longhorns, said he didn’t think the win last week would cause anyone to overlook a somewhat down TCU team this week.
Expect to see a few Mountaineers return to action this week after missing time with injuries this season.
Linebackers Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns have both been out since spring knee injuries, and both could make their 2018 debuts this week against TCU. Qualls and Ferns both returned to practice last week, but needed some time to get back up to speed. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said he expects them to get in the game this week.
“They’re available this week,” Gibson said. “We knew last week was about getting back into it. We didn’t travel those guys. We knew we needed to get them in here. This week, they’re in the plan. It’s full speed ahead. It’s good to get some guys back.
“It could give our guys a play or snap to get a breather, number one. We’re not going to change our scheme or do anything different. Those guys are a Mike linebacker and a Sam linebacker, which adds some depth. That is needed.”
TCU (4-5, 2-4) at No. 7 West Virginia (7-1, 5-1)
Milan Puskar Stadium
Radio: WWQB 102.3-FM