Date: November 11th, 2017
Time: 3:30pm EST
Venue: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas
Streaming: WatchESPN or the WatchESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: Kansas State -2.5 (Oddshark)
The Mountaineers are rocking white-white-blue this weekend. I'm a big fan of this color scheme, but I’d love if we could mix the State throwback helmet in there every now and then with the plain white one. The blue facemask would look fantastic with the blue britches. Solid combo overall though.
Kansas State is one of the few teams that hasn’t succumbed to having a different uniform combo for every day of the year. They are the home team, and therefore will be wearing silver-purple-silver. Refreshingly traditional.
Know the Enemy
Series History: The Mountaineers trail in the all-time series 5 to 2, but finally got the Big 12 monkey off their backs with a 17-16 win last year in Morgantown.
Record: (5-4). Kansas State has been very up and down this year. They started the season with two big wins over inferior competition, but followed them with a loss to Vanderbilt. They're also 3-3 in conference play, and have both a close 7-point loss to Oklahoma and a 10-point win against Kansas. Fairly hard to get a read on them.
Head Coach: Bill Snyder. There’s not a whole lot that needs to be said about what Bill Snyder has accomplished at Kansas State; the stadium is named after him for God’s sake.
Offensive Coordinator: Dana Dimel. Dimel is in the 9th year of his third stint at State. He does a masterful job of putting his guys in positions to succeed.
Defensive Coordinator: Tom Hayes. Hayes has over 40 years of coaching experience at various schools, but is in just his 6th year in his current role at State. His defenses are some of the most opportunistic in the conference, ranking second in takeaways since he took over.
By the Numbers
As a reminder, I define explosive plays as runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards based on data found on cfbstats.com.
- Explosive Play % is calculated by dividing the number of explosive plays generated (or allowed) by the total number of plays run (or faced).
- Big Play Differential is the number of explosive plays generated minus the number of explosive plays allowed.
- Toxic Differential is simply Big Play Differential plus Turnover Margin.
Kansas State’s radar looks a lot like what we’ve come to expect from them since joining the Big 12 - they don’t gain that many yards offensively and are willing to give up their share on defense, but they’re excellent at preventing big plays and taking care of the ball. This week’s test will very much mirror last week’s.
When we have the ball
Players to watch: CB DJ Reed, DE Reggie Walker, DT Will Geary, DT Trey Dishon, SS Denzel Goolsby
New year, same old Kansas State defense. The Wildcats return six starters and several more contributors from the unit that led the Big 12 in both scoring and total defense in 2016, but unfortunately the five they're replacing includes Dante Barnett, Elijah Lee, Charmeachealle Moore, and Jordan Willis, who most of you will recognize as the four best defenders they've had there over the last few years. As such, they've regressed slighty this year, but there's no question that they still have a bunch of talent and experience on that side of the ball.
They're led up front by 2016 Big 12 Freshman of the Year Reggie Walker at end while Will Geary and Trey Dishon hold it down on the inside. As a group they haven't been quite as disruptive as they were last year with Willis, but they're still extremely stout and are allowing just 126 yards per game on the ground (3rd in the Big 12) on 3.6 yards per carry (4th).
On the back end, corner DJ Reed returns as the reigning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and is accompanied by safety Kendall Adams and Duke Shelley. Denzel Goolsby is the lone new starter of the group, but has been extremely active from his strong safety spot and ranks third on the team in tackles.
Linebacker has seen the most turnover from a year ago, but the aptly named Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby have stepped in admirably for the departed Lee and Moore. These two are career special teamers but have seized their opportunity and are leading the team in tackles as seniors.
Key to the game: Take what they give us to set up shots downfield
Strategically they'll be similar to Iowa State (though they play with four down linemen instead of three) - they play conservatively on the back end, keep everything in front of them, and make you grind out drives. Considering the similarities in the two schemes, I expect us to take a long look at what worked last week and recylce as much of it as we can.
We'll definitely look to establish the run again, though as I mentioned earlier we should expect tough sledding against that front 7. The key to the game though will probably again be our ability to stay patient and connect on those short to intermediate routes. If we can do that effectively, I think it'll open up some opportunities for big plays downfield. Kansas State is allowing big passing plays on just 8.7% of their opponents' throws, but still has the worst pass defense in the conference and has allowed three straight 400+ yard games through the air. Sills, Jennings, and White should have no problem finding space underneath, and if Will can stay disciplined we should be able to move it on them every bit as well as we did on Iowa State a week ago.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Skylar Thompson, RB Alex Barnes, WR Byron Pringle, WR Dalton Schoen, WR Isaiah Zuber
State enters Saturday's game ranked 9th in the conference in total offense and 6th in scoring, which is right about where they've been over the last three years. There's hasn't been a whole lot of variation in what they've looked like over that time either - tight shotgun formations and quarterbacks involved in the running game.
This week that guy is Skylar Thompson, a redshirt freshman making his first career start after injuries to Jesse Ertz and Alex Delton. We don't know a whole lot about Thompson, other than that he was a relatively highly rated recruit and looks exactly like a K-State quarterback. He's definitely green, but State's fans don't seem to view his involvement as the sky falling so we probably shouldn't be surprised if he ends up being good.
We know a little more about the guys he's throwing to. Byron Pringle and Isaiah Zuber should be familiar to Mountaineer fans, as both made plays against us in last year's contest. The new guy is Dalton Schoen, who together with Pringle forms one of the better big play duos in the conference. Zuber operates more out of the slot and leads the team in catches, but both of those other guys average over 20 yards per reception.
On the ground, the main threats besides the quarterback are Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack. Barnes didn't play against us last year, but came on strong down the stretch and has put together a pretty solid sophomore campaign, averaging 65 yards per game on 5.8 yards per carry. Warmack has been around a bit longer and acts as their change of pace guy, the lightning to Barnes' thunder. Neither of them seem to be overwhelmingly talented, but both have been able to be very effective in State's system.
Key to the game: Force Thompson to beat us with his arm
You know that State is going to look to establish the run, and they're not going to stop unless we force them to. They're more than happy to take their 4 yards and then line up to do it again on the next play. We can't let them get into that rhythm, making the key defensively stopping the run and making Thompson beat us with his arm. Those receivers are legit, but Thompson has only thrown 16 passes this year - if we're able to get him in some 3rd and long situations and put some heat in his face then I like our chances.
Players to watch: PR/KR DJ Reed
I'm sure I don't need to remind any of you about the role special teams played in our defeat the last time we went down there, but just to emphasize: Kansas State's are very good. Statistically they're at or near the top of the conference pretty much across the board, and they've already won two games this year thanks in large part to the third phase. We have to be extra sound this week. Coverage teams have to stay in their lanes and make sure tackles, and blockers have to keep them away from our kickers. I'll have an aneurysm if we let DJ Reed pull a Morgan F****** Burns on us.
Feels like we're saying it every week, but this is one we have to win. It is especially true this week though considering that Kansas State’s football team is not better than ours. I repeat, this football team is not better than us. Not that that's stopped them from beating us before, but I'm hopeful that last year put a stop to that nonsense.
Seriously though, we're facing a third-string QB making his first career start and our defense looks like they might be finding themselves a bit - no excuse not to go down there and take care of business.
West Virginia 31 Kansas State 16