This year continues to prove eccentric. Normally, a mid-October conference game features teams in their sixth games. By now, those teams normally would have built unique identities. This season, however, October 17 represents just the fourth game for both West Virginia and Kansas. As a result, both teams must answer lingering questions. We examine the knowns and unknowns, as we are previewing Kansas in advance of the Mountaineers’ weekend tilt with the Jayhawks. Kickoff takes place at 12:00 this Saturday. Thankfully, West Virginia welcomes fans–at limited capacity–for the first time this season. Fox will televise the game.
In Les Miles’ second season in Lawrence, Kansas remains, well, Kansas. The Jayhawks fly into Morgantown sporting a familiar 0-3 record. In losses to Coastal Carolina, Baylor, and Oklahoma State, Kansas managed only 44 total points. And they average less than 300 total yards.
Previewing Kansas’ Quarterback
Speaking of Miles, the Jayhawks’ coach is “questionable” with an ongoing COVID infection. Kansas features another Miles, however, in starting quarterback Miles Kendrick. Kendrick “pulled away” from his fellow quarterbacks over the past three weeks. Good thing, too. After all, he is the only Jayhawk quarterback with a touchdown to his credit this season. Well, he totaled two, to be exact. Both of those came in a 38-23 loss to Coastal Carolina.
Previewing Kansas’ Skill Players
Surprisingly, Kansas’ backfield has a leading rusher not named Pooka Williams. Indeed, sophomore Velton Gardner tallied a few more yards (seven) that Williams on four fewer carries. Both backs, however, have two scores a piece. Among the receivers, Kwamie Lassiter and Andrew Parchment each have a touchdown. And, as scoring goes, that’s it for the Jayhawks. So far, these are the playmakers.
Previewing Kansas’ Questions
Can the Jayhawks turn the corner? Well, that depends largely on the offensive line. Did the unit improve after the bye week? After all, teams win or lose in the trenches, something Mountaineer fans know well these days. On the other hand, line play has not been all-conference in Lawrence for many years.
Where is Pooka? Despite poor line play generally, Williams rattled off two straight 1,000-yard seasons in 2018 and 2019. This season, however, opposing teams largely contained Williams’ explosiveness. Williams developed quite a reputation the last two years for gaining big chunks every few carries. This season, however, Williams has broken only has a handful of runs of more than ten yards. His longest run last week went for only eight.
Will Kansas’ defense show up? The unit surrendered 44 points a game in its three losses. Opposing teams average 420 yards against them, and 216 of those come on the ground. The Jayhawks lose the trench battle on both sides of the ball. To have a chance, they must clean up the defensive line, too.
West Virginia’s Looming Questions
Are Downfield Completions On The Horizon?
The Mountaineers, of course, face their own questions this weekend. Can they complete a couple of deep passes to stretch the defense? Neal Brown certainly wants to see it. Timing, however, remains an issue between Jarret Doege and his receiving corps. West Virginia hopes that expanding its wideout rotation helps. T.J. Simmons, Sean Ryan, and Ali Jennings have been quiet. Sam James’ hands remains slippery. As they say, however, football is a game of inches, and only a few have separated the Mountaineers from several big-time plays.
Can West Virginia Curb Penalties?
Can West Virginia cut down on “procedure and selfish penalties,” a problem Brown pointed to several times this early season? Time will tell. Procedure penalties, in particular, have been up all across college football. That kind of stuff normally gets cleaned up in longer contact periods in Fall camp and in the first few out-of-conference games of the season. This season, however, all teams jumped in without the benefit of those chances to iron things out.
Regardless the reason, however, they cannot continue at this pace. We say that despite the fact that stat crunchers (whose identities are unknown to us, but to whom we definitely give a hat tip) pulled out an eye-popping number after the Baylor game. Apparently, West Virginia is 17-1 in its last 18 games with at least 12 penalties for 100-plus yards. The lone loss came against the Cowboys this season.
That said, we expect that most of the games came in the Dana Holgorsen era at a time when the Mountaineers put up 500 yards and 40 points a game. Without the constant big-play threat to emerge, West Virginia tempts fate every time they stall a drive with a procedure penalty. Same goes for selfish penalties. The Mountaineers’ defense, despite its solid play overall, has committee several ill-timed penalties on third-and-long that extended drives. And a couple cut particularly deep.
Previewing Kansas: The Outcome
Ultimately, we expect the Mountaineers to improve in both facets this weekend. And while we think Kansas will get a few big plays out of Williams and Kendrick and surpass the 7 points they scored each of the last two games, we do not think they outscore themselves by much. Look for Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield to see a heavy workload with a couple big downfield throws littered in throughout. Doege throws for 250 and a couple touchdowns. At least one of the West Virginia runners hits 100 yards, maybe both. And the Mountaineers will welcome fans back to Milan Puskar Stadium with a 40-17 win.