Opponent: #9 West Virginia
Opponent’s Record: 4-0 (2-0 in Big 12 play)
Location: Mountaineer Field at Milan Pusker Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia
Game time: Saturday, October 5, 2018 at 11:00 am
TV channel: ESPN2 or WatchESPN
Radio: 810 WHB
Line: West Virginia – 29
Kansas rolls into Morgantown on a two-game losing streak to face one of the hottest teams in college football.
West Virginia has playoff aspirations. Kansas is playing for its coach’s career. West Virginia is rolling. Kansas is reeling. This game has all the markings of a blowout. For Kansas to be successful on Saturday, they need to hope for some breaks against the star studded Mountaineers. Will Grier is playing like a Heisman contender, and their defense was able to slow down an explosive Texas Tech team. With the bye week looming for the Jayhawks, can they leave Morgantown feeling good enough to keep David Beaty around? My gut says no, but West Virginia isn’t perfect.
When West Virginia has the ball
Everyone knows about Will Grier. He has been playing up to the hype so far. Currently, he is the most refined quarterback in the Big 12. Grier’s strong arm, patience, and quick release are all traits that the Jayhawks haven’t really seen yet. Combine that with their three-headed monster at receiver and it could be a long day for defensive coordinator Clint Bowen. David Sills is the most known of the three, but Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings Jr. will make you pay if you don’t pay attention to them. Simms is the biggest deep threat of the three, but I imagine that West Virginia will attack KU’s corners vertically early and often like Oklahoma State did last week.
West Virginia ran a lot of single-back, four-receiver sets last week against Texas Tech. Out of that formation they either ran or dummied a run-pass option nearly every snap with a stick or bubble concept on the outside. Jargon aside, the Mountaineers will try to freeze KU’s linebackers then make quick throws into space. They devastated Texas Tech for long efficient drives before lulling them to sleep and hitting one of their talented receivers over the top. If KU plays conservative in the pass, West Virginia will gash them with their efficient running backs. As a team the Mountaineers average 4.8 yards per carry including sacks. It’s easy to see them having their way with the Jayhawks on Saturday.
I think Will Grier pops off again. With Ricky Thomas out again this Saturday, that means Hassan Defense will be sliding into his nickel safety role. If you remember last week’s game, that isn’t a good thing. KU’s cornerback have played sloppy and unfocused this season. Grier has built a strong rapport with his receivers. He waits in the pocket for their routes to develop and then pounces on opportunities down the field. It may not come early, but he will connect with Sills, Simms or Jennings for a long touchdown at some point in the game. KU needs to generate some sort of pass rush to get Grier out of rhythm or he will connect on more than one of his long bombs.
When Kansas has the ball
For years under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has run the 3-3-5 defense. This Football Study Hall piece is a good primer for those who aren’t familiar with the defense. Essentially, the defense is designed to stack against the parts of the field where a spread offense would want attack. Typically, teams attack 3-3-5’s by running up the gut. Kansas exploited the Mountaineers’ weak rush defense last season when Khalil Herbert ran for over 200 yards. This season, the Mountaineers have shored up their run game, and a big reason why is defensive tackle Kenny Bigelow (I highly recommend Bruce Feldman’s article on him if you subscribe to The Athletic). Bigelow, a former five-star USC commit, makes life miserable for opposing interior linemen.
In the secondary the Mountaineers have found a revelation in cornerback Keith Washington. Washington returned an interception against Texas Tech and looks really good in the early going. West Virginia is an aggressive secondary that looks to force turnovers. They are physical and athletic. I expect them to try and press Sims early and often to wash him out of the game.
West Virginia’s defense is not very tested. They knocked Bowman out early against Texas Tech and handled their third string quarterback well. While I don’t think KU is necessarily the team to test the Mountaineers, it will be the thing to watch as their Big 12 championship hopes grow. To be honest, I think Carter Stanley will be able to move the ball on Saturday. West Virginia will stack the box and give KU’s receivers chances to make plays. I am glad David Beaty decided to go with Stanley. I think he has an opportunity to prove himself in Morgantown.
KU is going to score points on Saturday. If they protect the ball and find creative ways to get Pooka in space, they can challenge West Virginia. The problem is… I don’t see a way for them to keep up with the Mountaineers. One of the biggest disappointments this season has been the play of the cornerbacks. Much like last season, the cornerbacks haven’t played well. Coe Harris is talented, but he looks like a true freshman cornerback and in the Big 12 that’s a dangerous thing to be. S&P+ has the Jayhawks covering the 29 point spread, and Sagarin has KU losing by 24. I think that’s a bit optimistic. I predict a mini shootout followed by a rout as the Jayhawks head into the bye week.
West Virginia 55, Kansas 24 (WVU -29)
Season record: 2-3, 1-4 ATS
Last week’s prediction: Oklahoma State 45, Kansas 17 (actual Oklahoma State 48, Kansas 28)