Kansas State and West Virginia meet again in what’s been a pretty competitive series since the Mountaineers entered the conference. The last three meetings have been decided by a combined seven points, with WVU winning the most recent two games.
The Wildcats might have two wins so far this season, but they haven’t looked good doing it. The task doesn’t get any easier in week four.
The Mountaineers have had an electric start both on offense and defense this season, and have shown to be a legit Big 12 contender through just two games. Furthermore, hurricane Florence shut down the Mountaineer’s week three game versus NC State; giving them some extra time to prepare for this one.
It’s a huge conference opener for both teams and the victor will be in a good place as the season continues.
West Virginia enters Big 12 play with lofty expectations for this season. At this point, anything short of a Big 12 title game appearance will seem like a disappointment.
Their offense is full of talent the likes of Will Grier and receivers David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. And as expected, the offense has been unreal as the Mountaineers have scored on 71.6 percent of their possessions. That’s pretty good. In fact, it’s the best in the country.
It all starts with Heisman contender Will Grier under center. Grier has been electric so far and with his receiving corps, he should be able to keep up that pace. David Sills has been as good as last season and the emergence of Gary Jennings as a touchdown machine, paired with the explosiveness of Marcus Simms and TJ Simmons makes WVUs’ passing attack lethal.
The running back by committee has also worked out well. True freshman Leddie Brown has been a yard machine in his first glimpse of game time, and Martell Pettaway seems like a consistently solid running back. Kennedy McKoy has also been impressive in his limited time, and despite not getting as much playing time as people thought he would in the preseason, he has contributed as much as anyone.
The defense is a question mark, but so far this season, Tony Gibson’s unit has mixed in some 4-2-5 as linebacker depth has been a concern, and they have lived in their opponents’ backfield. The Mountaineers have been racking up tackles for losses this year, and were in the top ten in the nation before falling a game behind the norm this past week.
David Long is a great off-the-ball linebacker that can get into the back field when Gibson dials up pressure. The defensive line has been abusing offensive lines so far, and transfers Kenny Bigelow and Jabril Robinson have made their impact felt. However, the secondary has yet to really prove themselves. Hakeem Bailey struggled in the season opener against Tennessee, and against Youngstown State, the secondary got beat a couple times down the field. If the Mountaineers want to achieve the magical season fans hope this year will be, then the defense needs to prove themselves, and Kansas State is the perfect opportunity to do that.
Kansas State is 2-1, but both wins have been cupcakes and the loss was an embarrassing one to Mississippi State on their home field. To keep it real, the Wildcats have looked bad so far, and if they aren’t careful, may end up in the Big 12’s basement.
The Wildcat’s passing game has been a big issue. Quarterback Skylar Thompson is still a work in progress; to put it kindly. The good news is that last week was a significant improvement over the week before. The bad news is that South Dakota isn’t exactly Mississippi State, and even against an FCS opponent, he only completed 57 percent of his passes.
In the great Wildcat teams under coach Snyder, they have shown they don’t need the guy with the best arm, though. They need a field general. A guy that isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and fight for every yard. Is Thompson that guy? Time will tell, but he’s mobile and is capable of getting yards the hard way. But right now, he’s not going to go out and win the game for them. That’s okay. They just need him to manage the game, and limit the mistakes.
The strength of the offense is their ground game. I mean, this is Kansas State we’re talking about, so that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Alex Barnes is a solid running back, and has looked decent this season. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, which most coaches would be more than happy with.
Unfortunately, there’s more problems on the other side of the ball. The defense is struggling, which you don’t say very often about a Snyder team. But they’ve been gashed on the ground, and the pass defense hasn’t been much better. Pair that with the Wildcats turning the ball over twice a game, and it’s unusual sloppy Bill Snyder football.
Kansas State is in a rough spot. After three weeks, they have looked like possibly the worst team in the conference, and this game isn’t a good one to try to quiet the haters. They need to play with a fire and prove themselves against the Mountaineers.
West Virginia Keys To The Game
Go To The Well – When Grier is on his game, it’s going to be hard to beat the Mountaineers. Grier is a Heisman favorite for a reason. His arm is electric, and some of the throws he makes are Kurt Warner-like. Grier doesn’t need to be great in this one, but anytime a team has this caliber of a quarterback, he’s always a key to a game.
Win Turnover Battle – Kansas State usually is a very careful team and is typically on the receiving end of the turnover battle, but this year has been the opposite. Kansas State has seven fumbles already and hasn’t been forcing much. West Virginia is the better team, and if they don’t give K State extra chances they should be fine.
Create Pressure – Kansas State wants to run the ball and slow the game down. The best way for WVU to not allow that is by stopping the run on first down, and forcing the Wildcats into passing situations. The Wildcat’s offensive line is good, but it has been under-performing lately. The Mountaineer’s defensive line needs to keep that trend going. The extra week of rest won’t hurt either.
K-State Keys To The Game
Win Up Front – This is simple. It’s the reverse of WVU’s third key point. The Wildcats offensive line was viewed as a strength this preseason, but it has not been as good as advertised so far. In order for WVUs’ defense to be successful they rely on pressure, and if Kansas State can hold that in check, then the offense should be able to move the ball.
Don’t Give Up The Big Play – Youngstown State found some success by keeping two deep safeties on every play and making Grier be patient and wait; something he doesn’t seem to like to do. Kansas State has much better players, and if they choose that game plan, they can see better results in keeping the game’s best player in check.
Limit Possessions – If both teams get 10 possessions in this game, Kansas State isn’t going to win. They need to make this a shorter game, and limit WVUs’ scoring opportunities. Maybe create an extra possession with a turnover and run down the clock, as long as the lethal WVU offense is sitting on the bench, Kansas State is doing something right.
The Mountaineers are the better team in this one. I think the bye week helps them more than it hurts them and they’ll be ready for this one. Kansas State has just too many holes and West Virginia will use a rowdy home crowd and the athletic advantage to take control of this one. Grier is too good and will have a big game. The last time these two teams met in Morgantown Kansas State missed a field goal late to fall by one point, I don’t think it’s really ever that close in this one. WVU wins and covers.