Date: November 16th, 2019
Time: 3:30pm EST
Venue: Bill Snyder Family Stadium - Manhattan, KS
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Streaming: ESPN 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: West Virginia +14
I didn't expect us to be good this year, but I also didn't expect us to be 2-touchdown dawgs at Kansas State.
Blue domes, white shirts, white britches. We don't wear it often, but I have some very fond memories of us in this kit. I still have a signed photo of Quincy Wilson hurdling Brandon Merriweather at my parent's house, and I rolled with Geno and the Boys in '12 when we walked out of Austin with dreams of a Natty.
White helmets, purple shirts, silver pantaloons. I dig the helmets. Kansas State has done as good a job as anybody at remaining true to their traditonal home/away roots while still subtly accessorizing enough to keep things feeling modern.
KNOW THE ENEMY
Series History: (4-5). It took us a little while to get the Kansas State monkey off our backs upon joining the Big 12, but we've won three on the trot since doing so.
2019 Record: (6-3). Despite knocking off Oklahoma, the Wildcats are just 3-3 in the conference and were well-beaten by Baylor and Oklahoma State. I suppose it's also worth mentioning that they're 4-1 in the Little Apple.
Head Coach: Chris Kleiman. Kleiman arrives at K-State following one of the more successful 5-year stints in college football history at North Dakota State. He won four titles in five years and capped it with a perfect 15-0 championship campaign in 2018. Early signs in Manhattan are that those titles weren't flukes.
Offensive Coordinator: Courtney Messingham. Messingham follows Kleiman to Kansas State after spending the previous two seasons as his OC at North Dakota State.
Defensive Coordinator: Scottie Hazelton. Hazelton comes to Manhattan following two years helming top 30 defenses in Wyoming.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: QB Austin Kendall, QB Jarret Doege, RB Leddie Brown, WR Sam James, WR George Campbell, WR Ali Jennings
Kansas State players to watch: LB Elijah Sullivan, LB Daquon Patton, S Denzel Goolsby, DE Reggie Walker, DT Trey Dishon
The K-State defense has made their bacon over the last decade as a bend-but-don't-break bunch that waits for their opponents to make mistakes before capitalizing. They've managed to remain true to form this year despite the new coaching staff, ranking 2nd in the conference in scoring D, 5th in total, and most importantly 3rd in turnover margin. They don't do anything crazy, they just do what they do well.
Some of the names will be familiar. Seniors Trey Dishon and Reggie Walker are back up front and are both on pace for postseason All-Conference recognition, while linebackers Elijah Sullivan and Daquon Patton return and have combined for 74 tackles through 9 games. The best of the bunch though is probably three-year starter Denzel Goolsby in the secondary, who ranks second on the team in tackles and will generally be a nuisance this afternoon. However, the Wildcats are also getting some nice contributions from newcomers. Freshmen Wayne Jones and Daniel Green are 3rd and 6th on the team in tackles, respectively, while sophomore Wyatt Hubert has broken out to lead the team with 7.5 TFL and 5 sacks.
Defining success: Play somebody besides Austin
Football often comes down to who's able to execute and create big plays on the few instances each game when you're able to manufacture the exact situation and/or matchup that you want. That's why I'm fairly convinced at this point that regardless of gameplan, we won't consistently successful offensively until we make a change at QB. Austin Kendall simply hasn't been able to consistently take advantage of those big play opportunities when we've had them this year, which has allowed teams to stack the box against us and effectively neuter any semblance of a running game that might create more space for us in an intermediate play-action game. It's a vicious cycle. It's been demoralizing as a fan to watch Sam James repeatedly win his individual matchups only to be thrown covered or missed completely, so I can only imagine how it feels to be living it. I don't know. I'd like to think we can consistently move the ball on a team that's allowing 6.4 yards per play, but I just don't see it happening with Austin at QB.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL...
WVU players to watch: DT Dante Stills, NT Darius Stills, LB Josh Chandler, FS Tykee Smith
Kansas State players to watch: QB Skylar Thompson, RB James Gilbert, RB Harry Trotter, WR Dalton Schoen
The Wildcats probably haven't been as good offensively as their record might suggest, especially if you only watched the 48-41 victory against Oklahoma. That's the only time they've topped 40 in Big 12 play, and overall they rank just 6th in the conference in scoring offense and 9th in total, though their 379 yards per game are a clean 50 ahead of our own per-game average at the bottom. They're also one of the the only teams that's been close to as bad as us at generating explosive plays, though "close" in this case is again relative. However, those numbers do not mean that they don't do certain things really well.
Everything starts with QB Skylar Thompson, who's still probably more dangerous with his legs than his arm in his third year as a starter. He's reduced his mistakes and has thrown just one interception this year, but everything they do offensively is still built around QB power and read and the passes that grow off of those two plays.
As for their skill guys, James Gilbert is the backfield workhorse and averages about 80 yards per game on almost 15 carries, but really they rotate three guys who all do a pretty good job with the ball in their hands. Out wide Dalton Schoen returns as the leading receiver, but freshman Malik Knowles has emerged as a viable big play threat and is averaging north of 17 yards per catch with 3 touchdowns on the year.
Defining success: Stop the run
Those of you who thought we might've finally been out of the Purple Wizard's shadow were sorely mistaken - the "we'll take our 3-4 yards and then line up and do it again" mentality is very much alive and well in Manhattan. The Wildcats have been almost 65% run this year and have four guys (including Thompson) who're averaging between 4 and 6 yards per carry on more than 6 carries this year. That means that the priority is stopping run, and particularly stopping the QB power and zone read plays that they've had so much success with over the years. If we stop that we have a much better chance of stopping their excellent play-action and RPO packages that build off of it.
State's special teams have been well above average for as long as we've been playing them and that's no different this year. Their kicker's only missed once, they've taken a kickoff back to the house, and they're 8th nationally in yards allowed per kick return. However, unlike in years passed our own special teams units have been performing at a high level and have been a consistent bright spot for most of this season, so I expect us to at least break even in the third phase.
I have a confession to make, gang. I've never really thought that Kansas State was any good. Even when they actually were good I never thought they were that good. I just always felt like they were too dependent on their opponents messing up to be successful, and though said opponent often acquiesced, I always kinda looked down on them for that. I found it boring, especially in contrast to the "we're going to go out in a (hopefully) blaze of glory that you've probably never seen before" rollercoaster that Dana Holgorsen had us on these last 8 years, and I never really respected them for it. And so you'll understand if I don't really buy it this year, even though they're "good" despite the fact that their opponents have outgained them by almost a yard per play on the season.
I'm not convinced we can win a football game unless our offense plays better, and I'm not convinced that can happen with Austin Kendall at this point, but I'm also not convinced that Kansas State is an unbeatable football team if our offense shows any signs of a pulse. I expect it to be a low-scoring affair based on the way both defenses have played this year, but I think we toss Doege in with enough time to make a difference this week. Bowl run: engage.
West Virginia 31-21 Kansas State