MORGANTOWN - Does West Virginia's defense have a prayer of being able to hold the Texas offense in check?
For that matter, can the Mountaineers hold anyone to reasonable point totals over the course of the last eight weeks of the season?
Face it, aside from a potential injury to one of the stars of its high-powered offense, that is going to be by far the most significant factor in determining West Virginia's success this season.
A huge clue to the answer should come Saturday night in Austin, Texas, when the No. 8 Mountaineers (4-0) face No. 11 Texas (4-0) in a 7 p.m. game televised by Fox.
The West Virginia offense will move the ball and score points. That's almost a given, no matter the quality of the defense. Yes, the Mountaineers will face their stiffest challenge yet in a Texas defense overstocked with five-star recruits, but the Longhorns aren't likely to pose more problems than did LSU a year ago. WVU gained 533 yards and 28 first downs against the Tigers.
Ditto the rest of the teams in the Big 12, which for all its gaudy offensive numbers in recent years is also the league where defenses surrender all those gaudy offensive numbers.
But at some point the defenses have to win, even if it's just a handful of possessions. That means winning some one-on-one battles - anywhere.
"Everyone sees the one-on-one battles on the back end because that's where touchdowns are scored or not scored,'' West Virginia defensive line coach Erik Slaughter said. "But nobody notices the one-on-one battles up front. You win some of those and it makes things a lot easier for the defense as a whole.''
In West Virginia's most recent game, the Mountaineers won very few of those back-end matchups. It's why Baylor was able to pile up 700 yards of total offense and score 63 points. Yes, it all became a moot point when WVU's offense one-upped the Bears with 807 yards and 70 points, but that's not going to happen every week.
The way Slaughter figures it, though, if his guys up front can win a few more battles, well, the job of the back-end players will be made a little easier. Getting pressure on the quarterback and stuffing the run game to make opponents more one-dimensional would make a huge difference.
"Think about a nose tackle against a guard or center, or an end against an offensive tackle,'' Slaughter aid. "Those are one-on-one matchups that are just as important as a cornerback on a wide receiver. We've got to win those matchups, too.''