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West Virginia and Kansas Square Off In Big 12 Opener

The Mountaineers travel to Lawrence as heavy favorites against the Jayhawks.

Getty Images - Justin K Aller

Dana Holgorsen’s 2-1 Mountaineers head to Lawrence for a dance with David Beaty’s 1-2 Kansas Jayhawks in both squads’ Big 12 opener. The big story in this one is simple: Big 12 football is back. Kansas is looking to rebound after a disappointing performance against Ohio, and West Virginia is itching to play a quality opponent. Last week the Mountaineers were a bit sloppy en route to a pounding of FCS Delaware State. In the words of Coach Holgorsen, the “exhibition season” is over, and a trip to Dallas is officially on the line. Expectations in Morgantown and Lawrence are vastly different, but Saturday is a crucial step for both programs.

Date/Time:  September 23, 2017; 12:00 p.m. EST
Where: Memorial Stadium; Lawrence, Kansas
Forecast: Partly Cloudy, 90
Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Line: WVU -21.5

West Virginia Mountaineers (2-1)

West Virginia just did not look very good against Delaware State. They turned the ball over far too often. They dropped passes. They even allowed the Hornets a big play leading to an early touchdown. All that being said, the game was never in doubt. The winner was obvious when both squads stepped off the bus. West Virginia was ready to turn the page and move on to Big 12 play and that was apparent.

Once they got rolling, though, West Virginia looked like the same team who hung 49 on East Carolina in one half. Marcus Simms is becoming a lethal kick returner and deep ball threat. Justin Crawford is not getting many carries, but he’s still running for over 100 yards. Turnovers aside, Will Grier continued showing why he must be considered one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. The offensive line is continuing to gel and should continue putting together an impressive season. David Sills V, Gary Jennings, Ka’Raun White, and Marcus Simms have proven that WVU’s receiving corps may not be deep, but it is immensely talented.

Questions remain on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary has been porous, but there is still a bit of settling taking place with the line-up. Mike Daniels has played pretty well at corner, and freshman Kenny Robinson, who has shown promise thus far, will likely get his second start at corner. The Mountaineers hope redshirt junior Toyous Avery will be back to help steady the secondary. The young Dylan Tonkery continue to impress at linebacker. Quite simply, this West Virginia defense needs its swagger back. Recently the Mountaineers have had one of the best defenses in the Big 12, and they acted like it. This iteration of Tony Gibson’s squad is looking to get some of that swagger back, and they have a good opportunity to do so on Saturday afternoon.

Kansas Jayhawks (1-2)

We really hoped Kansas would be better this year. They looked solid against SEMO. Then they fell to the Chippewas (Big 12 killers) by 18 points. A trip to Athens, Ohio, in week three gave Beaty’s squad a golden opportunity to snag an elusive road victory against a quality (but beatable) opponent. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks quickly found themselves in an 18-point hole that they could not quite overcome, falling to the Bobcats by a score of 30 to 42.

If you’re a Kansas fan looking for some good news, your Jayhawks did not turn the ball over as much as they have in the past against Ohio. Peyton Bender threw a couple of touchdowns to cap a solid stat-line, going 30-47 for 343 yards with only one interception. In fact Bender has thrown for over 300 yards in each Jayhawk contest this season. That said, Bender has looked somewhat indecisive at some points, and has a lot of room for improvement. He also has to get a little more help from his offensive line. Bender was sacked five times last Saturday. Khalil Herbert looked really good last Saturday, gaining 140 yards on 19 carries, with two of those carries ending in six points. The Jayhawks have used a variety of receivers thus far, and that trend looks to continue throughout the season.

The defense just does not look very good. They gave up 45 points in week two and 42 in week three. There are a litany of issues here, but they simply have to start making some plays. If I’m Kansas, this worries me more than anything.

Keys to the Game for WVU

Play With Swagger – This is for you, defense. West Virginia has athletes on that side of the ball. Everyone knew there would be some adjustments that had to be made and that this unit likely would take some time to gel. They looked pretty good against Tech. They obviously got the job done against Delaware State and ECU, but they did not look dominant. This unit will continue to make some mistakes, but if they can get their edge back, look for them to start hitting hard and making plays again.

Start Fast – WVU started stupid fast against ECU. They had a miserable start against Delaware State. If WVU had started better at FedEx Field in their opener, we’re probably talking about a top-15, 3-0 West Virginia squad right now.

Don’t Be Dumb – West Virginia is more talented than Kansas. That’s not an insult, it’s just reality. The Jayhawks likely don’t win unless WVU makes a lot of mistakes. Hold on to the ball and make good decisions.

Keys to the Game for KU

Sling It – Bender has an arm, and West Virginia’s secondary is suspect. If I’m Coach Beaty, I look to attack that secondary as early and often as I can. Yes, there are some playmakers back there for West Virginia, but they’ve given up some big plays, and Kansas has enough playmakers to make them pay.

Eat Up Clock – You really don’t want West Virginia’s offense on the field. If Khalil Herbert can get some carries and move the chains, this KU offense should be able to run some clock. The longer their drives, the better shot Kansas has to win this game.

Win Special Teams – Okay this one is kind of silly, but WVU’s special teams have been suspect. Nothing gets the home crowd going like a big kick return, and upsets do not happen without some big plays. A well-timed kick return could swing momentum

Game Prediction

West Virginia started the season with Virginia Tech, but thankfully for the Mountaineers, they do not start the conference season with a team from Oklahoma. Kansas may have a little more upside than they did a year ago, but I think they are a bit over-matched. The West Virginia offense is just too much. The Jayhawk defense has given us no reason to think they can come close to slowing down what may wind up being one of the best, most well-rounded offenses in the country. West Virginia has to improve defensively. Kansas should score some points, but look for West Virginia to win and cover the spread pretty easily.

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