(Photo Courtesy of wvusports.com)
It’s been two weeks since West Virginia’s hard fought, double overtime victory against Baylor. It’s also been two weeks since Kansas laid an egg at home against Oklahoma State. These two teams are on very different trajectories. The Mountaineers have a steady trend up, while the Jayhawks have a slow trend downward. West Virginia will welcome Kansas into Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday for another opportunity to move up the Big 12 standings.
Kansas showed promise in the middle of last season, the first of Les Miles’ tenure as head coach. They grabbed a big road win against Boston College, ending a 48 game road losing streak against Power 5 opponents. A few weeks later, they took Texas down to the wire only to lose a heartbreaker with a late field goal. Finally, this Kansas team broke through and beat Texas Tech on homecoming in Lawrence. For this team, that win was the start of a rebuild for a lowly Kansas football program that hasn’t won more than one conference game since 2008 under Mark Mangino.
So far, this year hasn’t kept the same promise that spurts of last year showed. Kansas comes into Morgantown with an 0-3 record, 0-2 in conference play. A rough loss at home against Coastal Carolina, a poor special teams effort at Baylor, and a complete throwaway game against Oklahoma State turned back any hope this program had at a resurgence. On top of that, Les Miles tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after the Oklahoma State game and has missed significant time with the team. Miles plans to make the trip to Morgantown as of now, but that can change in the coming days.
Last season the Jayhawks gave WVU all they could handle; with the Mountaineers pulling ahead late for a 29-24 triumph. The game was evenly matched with each offense putting up similar numbers and moving the ball with relative ease. The two Kansas turnovers proved deadly for the Jayhawks, specifically Carter Stanley’s fourth quarter interception that setup the winning touchdown for WVU. This game should not be as evenly matched as the 2019 version, but Kansas does still have some playmakers. While Kansas may not be the rising program it showed flashes of last year, it is still a dangerous team if the Mountaineers make enough mistakes.
It looks like dual threat, true freshman Quarterback Jalon Daniels will be sidelined with a foot injury Saturday. Nothing new for this Jayhawks team who has played three different signal callers in three games this season. Junior, Miles Kendrick, looks to be the projected starter this weekend. Kendrick does not possess the dual threat abilities that Jalon Daniels does but he is a more polished passer than Daniels. Kansas can’t seem to find a true offensive identity, more of a run oriented offense with Daniels at the helm and more of a short pass offense with Kendrick. Either way, running back Pooka Williams is the best player on that side of the ball and the Jayhawks offense goes as Pooka goes.
It’s hard to get a true feel of what Kansas will attack offensively as there has been a lot of attrition across this unit. It can be assumed Williams will be a huge part of getting their offense going. When Williams can run effectively, this offense can move the ball well. The glaring issue for Kansas offensively is the line. This group is, for lack of better terms, atrocious. Defenses that can key on Williams and the run game, absolutely shut this offense down. Oklahoma State was able to do this to the tune of 193 total yards for the Kansas offense. Unfortunately for the Jayhawks, games are won and lost in the trenches and unless this offensive line gets some help…immediately, they’re not going to have success.
With Kendrick calling the shots this weekend, the pass game now becomes a bigger part of this offense. There are a couple playmakers at wide receiver for Kansas and they can present problems for the Mountaineer secondary. The senior receiver duo of Kwamie Lassiter II and Andrew Parchment lead the way for Kendrick to distribute the ball. Lassiter leads the team with 15 grabs for 171 yards and a touchdown. Parchment has been known to make big plays in big situations and has 11 catches for 75 yards and a score on the year. Not overpowering numbers, but in the right circumstances these two can present problems for defenses.
When your leading tackler is a safety, it’s safe to say your defense is bad. Kenny Logan leads the Jayhawks with 26 total tackles. There should be some help coming back this week in the form of starting linebacker Dru Prox who missed the Oklahoma State game due to injury. Kansas hopes this can help one of the nation’s worst rush defenses that gives up over 227 yards a game on the ground. Stats show the pass defense is better, giving up a shade over 193 yards a game. This is very misleading as opponents have had great starting field position against Kansas, while also finding so much success running the ball there is no need to pass.
Much like the offense, this defense is terrible in the trenches. Kansas has only produced 15 negative plays this season, compared to opponents forcing 33. The Jayhawks will not beat anyone this year on strong defense. They are going to have to outscore anyone to win. There is not much more to elaborate on for this side of the ball. It is downright abysmal.
Kansas Special Teams
One word. Terrible
KEYS TO THE GAME
If the Stills brothers and company can handle their business up front, WVU might pitch a shutout. The defensive line itself has almost matched the entire Kansas defense in tackles for loss with 12.5 this year. Negative plays will force the ball out of Pooka Williams hands early and have the Jayhawks playing a style they can’t win with. The WVU defense has posted 26 TFL’s this season. Upping this average a bit to 10 or 11 TFL’s on Saturday is a recipe for success.
Offensive Line Improvement
Like I said last week, this will remain a key until it is fixed. It might be next week it might be next season. The line showed improvement against a weak Baylor defensive line. I expect more improvement over an even weaker Kansas defensive line. Last week I called for 120-140 team rush yards for an improvement. WVU responded with 134 team rush yards. Kudos. Up this number to 160+ team rush yards and we MIGHT consider taking this off the “Keys to the Game” segment. If James Gmiter can go this week, that will provide a boost to an offensive line still continuing to gel.
Run Game Domination
Could we see Leddie Brown and Alex Sinkfield both go for 100 yards this week? Yes. Should we see that? Again, yes (given the touches). I cannot stress enough just how bad this Kansas defense is. Oklahoma State ran for 290 yards against this team two weeks ago. Baylor put on 203 yards. Coastal Carolina added 185. 180 yards from the Mountaineer offense would take a load of pressure off Jarret Doege’s shoulders and give him some confidence back. If we are relying on Doege to win this game late, something awful has happened. As Mike Vrabel would preach “run the damn ball”.
LINES & PICKS
West Virginia vs. Kansas (+22.5)
I don’t like 20+ point lines for a young team that is continuing to grow. There’s too much potential for error that may not be a detriment to WVU winning the game, but definitely enough to not cover the spread. If this spread gets below the three touchdown mark it’s worth taking. The point line is about on target as well. I don’t expect Kansas to score much, if at all. Asking a young WVU offense that hasn’t surpassed 30 points in Big 12 play in over a calendar year is a lot (Oct. 5, 2019 vs. Texas 31 points). Vegas has definitely found the happy medium with these games in the last two weeks.
Pick: 6 point teaser. WVU -16.5/Under 57.5