In a Big 12 Conference becoming known more and more for its wacky video-game-like scores, No. 20 West Virginia is off to a 4-0 start thanks to, gasp, defense.
The Mountaineers certainly won't be confused with the 1986 Chicago Bears on that side of the ball, but they gave up just a combined 27 points in wins over Missouri (26-11) and Kansas State (17-16). They rank third in the Big 12 in scoring defense (20 points per game), pass defense (227.2 yards per game) and total defense (418.5 yards per game).
But now comes the stiffest test of the season for West Virginia (4-0, 1-0) as it travels to Texas Tech (3-2, 1-1) on Saturday (noon ET, FS1).
The Red Raiders lead the nation in passing yards per game (544) and are second to only Louisville in both scoring (55.2 points per game) and total offense (649.8 yards per game).
Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the nation in passing yards per game (454.8) and total offense (487.2 yards per game). Despite being bothered by a sore shoulder, he has completed 166 of 228 passes for 2,274 yards, 20 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Whew! Good thing the Mountaineers had an extra week to get ready for this one. In their past nine games at Jones Stadium, the Red Raiders have averaged 60.1 points and 668.1 yards.
"They're so unique with what they're doing," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's not really a secret what they're doing, it's just that Mahomes is so good at keeping things alive. They play so fast and score so many points that it's challenging."
Since Mahomes took over the starting job last year, Texas Tech has scored at least 52 points and gained at least 607 yards in every home game.
The best defense for West Virginia could be a prolific offense. The Mountaineers have shown they can make big plays at times in the first four games, but they really haven't had that open-your-eyes outing, the game in which they go for a half-hundred or more.
This will have to be that game, because it is unrealistic to count on the defense to hold down Mahomes. West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard might not have to outplay him, but he has to come close to matching him and avoid the mistakes that would give the Red Raiders extra possessions.
"When you get into these games like Texas Tech, you better score more, so that probably means you need to take a few more chances, maybe go for it on fourth down more and try and get touchdowns instead of field goals," Holgorsen said.
One way for the Mountaineers to reduce the impact that Texas Tech's offense could have is to run the ball often and well. Junior college transfer Justin Crawford has become the team's leading rusher as senior Rushel Shell has managed just 35 yards in each of the past two games. The Red Raiders are allowing 179.4 rushing yards per game, so opponent can run on them, and if West Virginia's veteran offensive line can execute, Crawford and Shell could put up good numbers.
Howard is quietly ninth in FBS in total offense through four games with 344.5 yards per game, yet there is a feeling he can probably be more efficient.
Howard has tossed an interception in each game this year, but it hasn't come back to haunt the Mountaineers yet. This will be a good week for Howard to eliminate turnovers because if he can, the Texas Tech defense is pliable enough that West Virginia should post some healthy numbers.
Wide receiver Shelton Gibson has been Howard's top target, averaging 24.1 yards per catch. Gibson has caught 19 passes, and his average of 114.5 yards per game ranks third in the Big 12 and ninth in FBS. He will be going against a Red Raiders defense that is yielding more than 265 passing yards per game.
Safety Kyzir White has been a nice addition to the Mountaineers' defense, collecting 24 tackles in his first four games. White had an impactful game against Kansas State last Saturday with six stops, a sack and a pass breakup. He figures to have plenty of action this week against Texas Tech's pass-happy attack, which will come at West Virginia from every imaginable angle.
Mahomes was questionable last week due to a sore shoulder, then started and threw for 504 yards in a 44-38 loss at Kansas State. He also surrendered a pick-six, and the team struggled to pick up yardage in key spots late in the game.
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said that Mahomes appeared to be bothered again by his injured shoulder late in that contest but doesn't expect that to be a factor on Saturday.
"I think he pushed it to be out there this past week. A lot of guys would not have played in that game," Kingsbury said. "He wanted to play, and threw it really well. So it will just continue to get better and better."