West Virginia football is back on the road to kick off the final quarter of its regular season against the Kansas State Wildcats. Kickoff is set for Saturday at noon ET on FS1.
This season’s WVU team (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) has been difficult to decipher for Mountaineer fans as the squad continues its roller-coaster ride through 2021. The Mountaineers have a keen eye on earning bowl eligibility after coming out of their October bye week with a pair of quality wins, but a crushing loss to Oklahoma State on Nov. 6 resurfaced many of the flaws that plagued the team earlier in the season.
They head back on the road to face the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Big 12), who just punched their bowl ticket with a win over in-state rival Kansas, their most recent victory in a three-game win streak.
“They’re playing their best football of the year…and credit to their staff, I think they went through a little downturn there where they lost three, and they’ve been able to turn it around,” said WVU coach Neal Brown.
The all-time series between West Virginia and Kansas State has traditionally been rather even, as the Mountaineers hold at narrow 6-5 advantage dating back to the first meeting in Morgantown in 1930. WVU has held the series hostage over the last five years, however, taking wins in each meeting since 2016, including upsets over ranked Wildcat squads in 2019 and 2020.
Here are the biggest storylines heading into this weekend’s clash:
Will WVU clean up its haunting mistakes on offense?
After a greatly-improved pair of showings against TCU and Iowa State, West Virginia’s offense really didn’t show a lot of positives against Oklahoma State. The squad’s rushing numbers are indicative of this — despite positive gains from the running back duo of Tony Mathis and Leddie Brown, the Mountaineers ended with just 17 rushing yards due to the team’s eight allowed sacks resulting in 75 lost yards on the ground.
These miscues extended across the offense, especially at the quarterback position. Neal Brown conceded that Jarret Doege was culpable for maybe three or four of the seven sacks on him, while Garrett Greene missed a read for a walk-in touchdown. Greene also committed an early fumble that stalled a drive, forcing WVU to one of its six three-and-out series on the day.
“There’s not one position that we can talk about that played very well when you have that kind of output,” Brown said. “We didn’t play very well.”
A lot of these mistakes were killer to the defense — of the Cowboys’ three touchdown drives, two started in Mountaineer territory. The other started just three yards into Oklahoma State’s side of the field on the Cowboys’ 47.
Scouting the Wildcats
K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson makes his return to this matchup after missing the 2020 edition due to an injury, and he’s making his presence known. The senior is second in the league with a 166.4 passer efficiency rating, and 19th nationally with a 75.8 QBR, according to ESPN.
“Skylar Thompson is the biggest difference this year,” Brown said. “When he’s been healthy, they’ve played at a different level, he’s a tough kid, a really good decision-maker…he’s accurate, and he can ad-lib.”
He’s protected by what Brown calls a “cohesive” offensive line, which also blocks for Deuce Vaughn, one of the top young running backs in the Big 12. Vaughn is third in the Big 12 in total rushing with 866 yards, but second with 12 touchdowns.
The West Virginia O-line has another challenge when it goes up against one of the toughest fronts in the Big 12, notching the league’s second-best sack total with 23. Leading the way is sophomore defensive end Felix Anudike-Usomah, who paces the Big 12 with 11 solo sacks so far this season.
“Man he’s got a great motor,” Brown said. “I really respect how he plays.”
West Virginia at Kansas State game information
WVU and Kansas State kick off on FS1 at noon ET. Saturday always starts at 9 a.m. with an all-new episode of The Neal Brown Show on Nexstar stations across West Virginia, followed by a live hour of Mountaineer GameDay, the most fun pre-game show in the Mountain State, at 10 a.m. Mountaineer GameDay continues for a second hour at 11 a.m. on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh.