West Virginia football is back in Morgantown for a Big 12 Conference clash with first place and 16th-ranked Kansas State. The contest gets started at noon ET and will be shown on ESPN2.
The all-time series between the two programs is currently even at five after ten meetings, but the Mountaineers have had the advantage as of late. West Virginia has won the last four meetings — including a victory last season which saw the 4-6 Mountaineers take down the then 24th-ranked Wildcats.
Once again, the Mountaineers have a tall task ahead of them if they want to defeat Kansas State. The Wildcats are sitting on top of the Big 12 Conference with an undefeated league record, despite a lack of pizzazz on the stats sheet. West Virginia, on the other hand, is in a three-way tie for fourth in the conference and is coming off a tough loss to Texas Tech.
Interestingly enough, however, Vegas likes the home squad. West Virginia is favored by as many as five points against K-State, which is a bump for the Old Gold and Blue, who opened as 3.5-point favorites.
Here are some of the top storylines to keep an eye on this Saturday:
Connecting “Point J” to “Point TD”
Jarret Doege had arguably his best game as a Mountaineer passer against his former hometown Red Raiders, going for 347 yards and a touchdown. The performance was marred, however, by drops and fumbles by his pass-catchers.
Catching has been a focus of Coach Neal Brown’s receivers this week in practice, as he’d like to see improvement in that phase of the game against Texas Tech.
“That’s the way that I know to get better at it, you just catch more balls,” he said. “We’ll continue to believe in the guys and we’ll put guys out there in a position to make plays.”
That’s not to say the receiving corps was incapable, however. The Mountaineers got a dazzling game from Winston Wright, who caught nine passes for 126 yards, as well as a highlight run on a fake punt to give WVU a much-needed first down.
“Our receiver group as a whole probably played their best game overall, as far as perimeter blocking, route running and all those things,” Brown added. “But, you remember the bad plays more than the good plays. So, is that fair? I don’t know, but…that’s reality.”
Staying Tidy on Special Teams
Kansas State has established itself as one of the top teams in the third phase of the game.
Returner Phillip Brooks took two punts to the house against Kansas alone, which solidified the Wildcats as the best punt return team in the league — at least, statistically speaking.
That is, however, if teams can get the punts off. The Wildcats have blocked three punts so far this season,
“It’s going to be a huge challenge not only in protection but also in coverage for our punt unit,” Brown said.
WVU’s Alec Sinkfield has struggled to give the Mountaineers a boost on fourth down, maxing his returns out at 15 yards so far this year.
Backfield Brawl (metaphorically speaking)
The Wildcats and the Mountaineers will take the field each boasting one of the top ball-carriers in the Big 12, as both team’s starting tailbacks ranks near the top in all-purpose offense.
West Virginia’s Leddie Brown is having a career season so far. He’s the third-leading rusher in the Big 12 with 592 yards on the season and scraping together 5.8 yards each touch. He is the centerpiece of a completely revamped run game for the Mountaineers, which has turned itself around after a dismal 2019.
Brown has proven himself to be a threat through the air, as well, which ranks him second in the Big 12 with 730 all-purpose yards — behind only Iowa State’s Breece Hall.
Not far behind, however, is Deuce Vaughn, the Wildcats’ starting tailback. Vaughn is K-State’s leading rusher and receiver, tallying a total of 669 all-purpose yards himself with four scores on the ground and another through the air. In fact, his 360 receiving yards is the second-most in the league — pretty impressive for a freshman running back.
“They’ve done a great job with him,” Neal Brown said. “He is elusive, he’s an issue. We’re gonna have to ID him wherever he is on the field.”
Where to watch
The action kicks off at noon ET on ESPN2. Be sure to stick with Gold and Blue Nation as we will have live updates right here on our website, as well as highlights soon after the final whistle.
Before kickoff, be sure to tune in to your West Virginia Nexstar Station for the newest episode of The Neal Brown Show. Don’t change the channel when it’s over, as we’ll kick off your Saturday with a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay, featuring Anjelica Trinone from the stadium and Nick Farrell and Amanda Mazey in studio.