When West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference, a trip to Morgantown shaped up to be foreign territory for virtually everyone in the Texas Tech football program — everyone except Branden Jackson, that is.
The Tech defensive end grew up in McKeesport, Pa., from which Morgantown is just a short drive south. He rooted for the Mountaineers, appreciated their rowdy fans and, this week, is the go-to guy among his Tech teammates for what to expect.
“I told them they’re going to smell beer from the time we get off the plane to the time we hit the stadium,” Jackson said with a smile Monday. “Their fans are going to be loud. They’re going to be rude. They’re going to be crazy, but I think they’ve got one of the best stadiums to play in on the road. It’s really going to test us.”
No. 16 Tech (6-0, 3-0 in the Big 12) puts its unbeaten record on the line at 11 a.m. Saturday against West Virginia (3-3, 1-2), which has been up and down this season.
Jackson was nationally recruited three years ago, and his final choice came down to Tech over Oregon. He said he had been to Morgantown so many times that he didn’t feel the need to use one of his official visits to tour the WVU campus.
“West Virginia recruited me,” he said. “Class act. Loved the program. Loved what they had. I’d rather come to Tech. That’s what I did.
“I’ve been there many a time. It’s right down the road. I (had) gone to passing camps, things like that. So I knew everything they had to offer.”
For the Mountaineers, not being able to keep Jackson close to home looks like a painful recruiting loss. The 6-foot-4, 248-pound defensive end has blossomed in his sophomore season for the Red Raiders, playing the best football of his young career just as he prepares to go back home.
Jackson has a sack in each of the last two games, and ranks second on the team to Kerry Hyder with five tackles for loss among his 16 stops. For much of the season, Jackson split a defensive end spot with senior Dartwan Bush, forming one of the best 1-2 combos on the defense. However, in Saturday’s 42-35 victory against Iowa State, Jackson started at end and Bush at tackle.
“(Defensive line coach) John Scott has done a great job with him,” defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt said. “I think competition, especially at his spot with Dartwan Bush early, (helped). Once he bought in and started having success, I know the sack at KU last week was a big thing for him, and then he turns right around and has another one. He’s playing with a lot of energy, a lot of confidence, and he’s really stepping up vocally for us as a leader as well.”
Saturday’s game is homecoming for West Virginia. Jackson said it’s his homecoming, too, and he’s more excited than usual because it’ll be the first time for his family to see him in person playing for the Red Raiders.
“Before I got recruited, I was a West Virginia fan by default,” Jackson said. “It was just because of how live their crowd was, really. I just love the way their fans were always into it. They’re kind of ... not the underdog, but Penn State, they kind of run the show up there. It was West Virginia by default.”
Though West Virginia is experiencing a bit of a down year trying to recover from the departures of three prolific skill-position players, the Mountaineers are still unbeaten in three home games so far.
And if the atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium is anything like Jackson remembers, it’ll be difficult for the opposing team. He said he’s been to games, and “I know how they burn couches and all that.”
Tech prides itself on the turnout and rowdiness of its student crowd, and Jackson said the Mountaineers’ students are right up there.
“Our student section gets pretty live,” Jackson said. “They’re always into the game, but West Virginia, their student section is ridiculous. It’s going to be like having an extra player on their offense right behind you. And they’ll do their research. They’ll know our dog’s name, our best friend’s name, what gets under our skin. So it’ll be pretty cool.”
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