The Big 12 is best known for offense, but its best team is winning with defense.
West Virginia, off to a 6-0 start and into the top 10, has become a playoff contender by going against the grain. While most of the conference is trying to win shootouts, the Mountaineers are winning blowouts.
The latest lopsided victory came on Saturday against TCU, 34-10. Before that, it was a 48-17 dismantling of Texas Tech in Lubbock. There is only one Big 12 team allowing an average of less than 24 points in conference games this season: West Virginia, which is allowing 14.3.
It’s hard to imagine this is the same team that mirrored Texas Tech when it joined the Big 12 four years ago — all offense, no defense. The Mountaineers have come a long way since their first conference game in 2012, a 70-63 victory over Baylor that featured 1,507 yards of offense.
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“That was a long time ago,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “I am trying to remember what happened there. That was a hard deal. I knew we weren’t in a very good place on defense. The next week we beat Texas (48-45). Those are tough games to play in, tough games to recover from. We have changed a lot of things around here to try and prevent some of those games.”
The Mountaineers remain strong enough on offense to win shootouts, but they would rather play at their own pace. That’s the sign of a balanced team, capable of winning in many different ways. They have a good offense, they have an even better defense, and they are sound on special teams.
That combination has done wonders in Morgantown. Holgorsen began the year on the hot seat. Now, he appears on his way to winning Big 12 Coach of the Year. West Virginia began the season unranked. Now it is No. 10.
A challenging road game awaits at Oklahoma State this weekend, but if it can survive that trip the schedule sets up nicely for a potential conference championship run. No. 16 Oklahoma and No. 8 Baylor, the two other Big 12 teams with undefeated conference records, visit Morgantown.
West Virginia flashed championship-caliber potential late last season, winning five of the final six games and playing solid defense along the way. Now it has arrived.
“The point people are missing is we had really good players last year, the ball just didn’t bounce our way against a brutal schedule,” Holgorsen said. “(The defense) looks the same to me. I said that in camp. I’m glad to see everyone else is starting to take notice.”
Look at that box score
Oklahoma beat Texas Tech in one of the wildest games of the season on Saturday. The Sooners won 66-59, a final score that produced too many eye-popping stats to mention. Some highlights:
▪ Texas Tech and Oklahoma broke the NCAA record for combined offensive yards with 1,708.
▪ Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes attempted a record 88 passes for 734 yards and five touchdowns.
▪ Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 545 yards and seven touchdowns.
▪ Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon had 377 yards of total offense and five touchdowns.
When it was over, both offenses were exhausted and both defenses were demoralized. The Big 12 honored Mahomes and Mixon as its co-offensive players of the week. It’s a shame they couldn’t split the award three ways to include Mayfield.
This could be a tricky week for the Big 12’s undefeated teams. Both will play on the road.
No. 8 Baylor will travel to Texas for its first challenging away game of the season. The Longhorns are 3-0 at home. No. 10 West Virginia is at Oklahoma State, which is 4-1 at home.
Big 12 honors Willis
Kansas State senior defensive end Jordan Willis was named Big 12 defensive player of the week on Monday, following his strong game against Texas. Willis, who leads the Big 12 in sacks and tackles for loss, finished with seven tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
1. West Virginia (6-0, 3-0 Big 12): Mountaineers starting to look like legitimate playoff contenders.
2. Baylor (6-0, 3-0): Back-loaded portion of Bears’ schedule begins this weekend at Texas.
3. Oklahoma (5-2, 4-0): Baker Mayfield was even better than Patrick Mahomes in Saturday’s epic shootout.
4. Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1): Could play spoiler to West Virginia this weekend in Stillwater.
5. Kansas State (4-3, 2-2): Wildcats are favored against Iowa State and might be favored against Oklahoma State.
6. TCU (4-3, 2-2): Starting to look like a down year for Gary Patterson.
7. Texas (3-4, 1-3): Charlie Strong may need to win out to get another year in Austin.
8. Texas Tech (3-4, 1-3): This offense is fun to watch, but the defense is nauseating.
9. Iowa State (1-6, 0-4): Cyclones have lost eight straight to K-State. Will a new coach make a difference?
10. Kansas (1-6, 0-4): Basketball exhibition games begin this week.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett