In 2019, the West Virginia Mountaineers were reeling, having lost five in a row, when they traveled to Manhattan, Kansas to take on the Kansas State Wildcats and first year coach Chris Klieman, who took over for purple wizard Bill Snyder. Neal Brown started Jarrett Doege against the Wildcats and the Mountaineers looked like a real football team for the first time since they played the N.C. State Wolfpack in September. Running back Leddie Brown ran for 62 yards, which isn’t explicitly amazing, but he did it on only 13 carries for 4.8 yards per carry. His 62 yards were the most by a running back since McKoy ran 73 against the Kansas Jayhawks, the first conference game of the season. His 62 yards were also the third-most on the season.
Strangely, this is a game that the stats say we should have lost. The Wildcats had more total yards, owned the time of possession, converted 2/3rds of their third-downs, ran for over 100 yards and ran the ball 38 times and had fewer penalties. The one place the Mountaineers won was the turnover battle, where they caused two turnovers - both interceptions by quarterback Skylar Thompson.
For the Wildcats, their major losses start upfront on the offensive line where they lose four starters from an experienced offensive line that helped the Wildcats maintain their grind-it-out style from the Bill Snyder era.
Also gone is leading rusher James Gilbert, who tallied 737 yards and 6 touchdowns in his senior year. Going with him is his backup, Jordon Brown who added over 300 yards on the ground. Leading receiver Dalton Schoen is gone after hauling in 500 yards and leading the team with 4 receiving touchdowns.
On defense, the Wildcats have a few more players to replace as they several players on the defensive line including Jordan Mittie, Joe Davies and Trey Dishon. Defensive end Reggie Walker is gone and so are his 2 sacks.
At linebacker, Da’Quan Patton leaves the team and takes his 58 tackles, 2 knocked down passes and 2 interceptions with him. The backfield was hit the hardest with the loss of Denzel Goolsby, who was second on the team with 64 tackles while intercepting two passes.
It starts with quarterback Skylar Thompson, who led the team with 2,300 yards passing and 12 passing touchdowns. Thompson continued the tradition of dual threat quarterbacks at Kansas State and added 400 yards on the ground to go with 11 touchdowns.
With the losses of Gilbert and Brown, Harry Trotter and Tyler Burns will be tasked with taking the reins on the running game. They only had less than 100 combined carries but aren’t exactly green. Redshirt freshman Malik Knowles was second on the team in reception and receiving yards. He’ll be Thompson’s main receiving threat but he’ll joined by Joshua Youngblood, a young speedster who electrified in his few chances last season.
On defense, linebacker Elijah Sullivan comes back after leading the team in tackles. He’ll be joined by Cody Fletcher and likely Daniel Green.
In the backfield, Wayne Jones returns to lead the secondary and he’ll be joined by Jahron McPherson.
The loss of defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton is a relatively big blow to a team that looked solid and didn’t play the standard Big 12 defense of “let them score so we can score”. The Wildcats were close to knocking off the Mountaineers last year. They’ll have to travel to Morgantown and I’m predicting the Mountaineers are able to make it to a bowl, so they’ll need to win this game.
Mountaineers 24 - Wildcats 17