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#9 West Virginia vs Kansas Preview: Season 126, Episode 5 - Gold Rush

The Mountaineers look to keep their momentum going with a visit from the perennial Big 12 cellar-dwelling Kansas Jayhawks - do they have what it takes to survive a Gold Rush in Morgantown? Spoiler alert: No. No they do not.

When/Where

Date: October 6, 2018

Time: 12:00pm EST

Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV

How to Watch/Listen

TV: ESPN2

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 IMGon TuneIn Radio.

Gambler’s Corner

Spread: WVU -28.5

O/U: 61.5

UniWatch

West Virginia:

I get it with the gold rush and all, but that's a LOT of gold.

Know Your Enemy

Series History: (5-1). The Mountaineers have thankfully fared very well against Kansas since joining the Big 12, but that lone loss still festers.

2018 Record: 2-3. Kansas started the season with a bad loss against Nichols State, but actually responded very nicely with back-to-back wins over Central Michigan and Rutgers. They've since fallen back to earth, but there are signs that these Jayhawks may be a bit friskier than in years past.

Head Coach: David Beaty. Beaty’s now in his fourth season at Kansas, and has actually produced some pretty decent individual talent there during that time. However, the blips of team success have predictably been few and far between. It’s just not an easy place to win.

Offensive Coordinator: Doug Meacham. Meacham is now in his second year leading the Jayhawk offense after spending the previous three seasons as co-OC at TCU. Meacham appears to have developed some nice talent at the skill positions this year, but has yet to find a QB who can consistently get them the ball.

Defensive Coordinator: Clint Bowen. Bowen is in his fifth year running the show in Lawrence, but is actually in his 20th year on the staff and 23rd year in the program overall. His unit is actually showing signs of life this year, leading the country with 14 takeaways.

By the Numbers

Welcome to “By the Numbers”!

First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.

Second, definitions for the uninitiated:

Big Play Differential = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)

Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin

NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position

The fact that the Jayhawks stand out in Net Field Position and TO Margin suggests to me that, whatever else they may be, they’re well coached. You can also see, however, that despite leading the country in TO margin, their Toxic Differential is actually worse than ours due to an abysmal Big Play Differential. So far this year, Kansas is allowing big plays on over 15% of their snaps, which is probably bad news considering our offense’s propensity for generating them. If we’re able to consistently gash them, this one could be over quickly.

When we have the ball..

Players to watch: DL Daniel Wise, LB Joe Dineen, LB Keith Loneker, NB Bryce Torneden, S Mike Lee

Defining success: Go for the throat early

Based on traditional statistics, the Jayhawks haven’t actually been all that bad this year. They’ve been poor against the run (177 ypg, 93rd nationally), but are in the middle of the road overall with regards to points (24.2, 57th) and total yards allowed (380, 66th).

As for the pieces they return, Joe Dineen and Daniel Wise are both back and are again two of the better individual performers in the conference. Dineen especially has been excellent, picking up right where he left off after a 2nd team All-American campaign a year ago to again lead the Jayhawks with over 13 tackles per game. Transfer Keith Loneker has been making plenty of plays as Dineen’s running mate in the middle, and defensive backs Bryce Torneden and Mike Lee have been very solid, as well. The problem for the Jayhawks has been the rest of group around that core. There simply isn’t much depth behind that top-end talent, and that’s left a number of holes at all three levels that their opponents have been only too happy to exploit.

The key, in my mind, is to jump on them early. As I just mentioned, the Jayhawks give up more than their share of big plays, and as you’ll see in a moment, their offense is not exactly built to play catch up either. Considering that, we should be throwing haymakers from the game’s opening drive. If we’re able to hit a few big plays early and jump out to a 14 or 21-point lead, this one could be over before halftime, and there’s nothing I enjoy more than stress-free W’s.

When they have the ball...

Players to watch: RB Pooka Williams, RB Khalil Herbert, WR Steven Sims Jr

Defining success: Swarm Pooka

The Jayhawks return a couple of nice pieces on offense, as well, but the talent gap between their best and the rest is again their downfall.

At quarterback, junior Carter Stanley will get the start with Miles Kendrick again missing out due to injury, but it’s not yet clear whether we should view this as a positive or a negative. Stanley has actually been their best passer statistically this year with 289 yards and 3 TD’s on 75% completions in limited action, and while he’s not an overly effective runner, his willingness to do so certainly means that it’s something for us to be aware of tomorrow.

As for their receivers, Steven Sims is dangerous in the open field and they have a couple of other guys who appear to be decent, but there’s nobody to take the lid off the defense, and even if there was, there’s no evidence that they have a quarterback who’s capable of consistently getting them the ball.

Considering that, I expect our focus to be very much geared towards stopping their surprisingly legit running game. Khalil Herbert’s name will undoubtedly trigger a few fans after his 291-yard outburst against us a year ago, and he’s been very solid again this year, but it’s actually been freshman Pooka Williams who’s star has shone the brightest. Williams has burst onto the scene to average 118 yards per game on an electric 7.9 yards per carry, and his 8 20+ yard runs rank 3rd nationally, which is all the more impressive considering their dearth of weapons elsewhere. Stopping him will take a disciplined team effort, but I’m confident that our improved defensive front and overall team speed leave us well-suited to the task. If we’re able to swarm Pooka and Herbert, especially on early downs, their lack of a downfield passing attack will surely allow Gibby to remove the shackles from his #Dawgs and let them go head-hunting, and that’s when our group is at its havoc-wreaking best.

Special Teams

Defining success: Hold them to FG’s if they get to the red zone

The Jayhawks special teams numbers appear to be in the middle of the conference almost across the board. One area where they’re outright bad though is place kicking. Gabriel Rui has converted on all 15 of his extra points, but has made just 5 of his 10 field goal attempts. That makes it imperative that we stand up and keep them out of the end zone on those occasions when they’re able to drive it to our end of the field.

Closing Argument/Prediction

I mentioned earlier that this Kansas team appears to be a bit friskier than usual, and I meant that. They return several very good players from last year’s team on both sides of the ball, and the addition of Pooka Williams has given them one of the better 1-2 combos in the conference at running back. However, let’s be honest here - friskier than usual doesn’t mean frisky enough to make this a game. We’re 29-point favorites for a reason.

West Virginia 55 Kansas 17