Opponent: West Virginia
Opponent’s Record: 2-1 (0-0 in the Big 12)
Location: David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium (“The Booth”), Lawrence, Kansas
Game time: Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 3:30 PM
TV channel: ESPN +
Radio: 810 WHB
Line: West Virginia -4.5
Kansas’ and West Virginia’s seasons have taken similar paths. Both teams have a close win over an FCS opponent, a humiliating loss, and a massive out-of-conference victory over a favored ACC opponent. Both programs are in year one of a rebuild under new coaches. Saturday will provide a “get to know” game for both teams. The winner will leave with confidence, and the loser may be scouring their schedule for potential wins down the stretch. In what should be a rainy Saturday afternoon, both programs are vying to take their fate out of the Big 12 cellar.
When Kansas has the ball
While the surprise factor of KU’s new spread RPO based offense may be gone after the BC game, West Virginia will still have to slow it down. In the battle of the Koenning’s (WVU’s defensive coordinator, Vic, and KU’s offensive coordinator, Les, are cousins), it will be important for the Jayhawks to stay balanced. If Stanley can hit a few throws and keep the WVU defense on their heels, then it opens up the offense for star running backs Khalil Herbert and Pooka Williams.
Unlike Boston College, West Virginia features a talented and experienced secondary. Getting West Virginia to back out of an 8 man box will require more accurate throws, better reads, and better route running than KU needed against Boston College. The good news for Kansas is that WVU has struggled against the run this season. So far, the Mountaineers are giving up over 180 yards a game on the ground. Khalil Herbert will look to repeat his 291-yard performance from 2017 if the Jayhawks can get favorable numbers in the box.
When West Virginia has the ball
The Mountaineers are led by quarterback Austin Kendall, who is an Oklahoma transfer. Kendall has been solid in first year head coach Neal Brown’s iteration of the Air Raid offense. Last week against NC State, Kendall even flashed some running ability racking up eight yards a carry. Kendall is throwing to a diverse range of targets led by Z-receiver Sam James and Florida State transfer George Campbell. WVU will challenge Kansas on the perimeter in a way that no other team has so far in 2019. If Kansas wants to be successful slowing down WVU’s Air Raid attack, the cornerbacks need to do a good job tackling in space. West Virginia’s rushing attack is spearheaded by Kennedy McKoy. Despite a slow start to the 2019 campaign, McKoy logged over 800 yards last season.
Kansas hasn’t faced a team in 2019 that will play fast and challenge them horizontally. Kyron Johnson and Dru Prox have played virtually every snap at inside linebacker for the Jayhawks this season (although Jay Dineen showed flashes against BC). How will these guys hold up against a hurry up no huddle sideline to sideline attack like West Virginia? Another key thing for me is how the safeties defend the seam. BC gashed the Jayhawks up the seam with their tight ends. I expect Neal Brown to take advantage of that on Saturday.
This is a tough game to call. Kansas and WVU both looked like cellar dwellers before stomping their week 3 opponents. I think the rainy forecast will benefit Kansas, who looks to run more than the Mountaineers do. Sagarin has West Virginia winning by a touchdown and SP+ has West Virginia winning by 10. I think the Jayhawks will keep this close, but ultimately lose their Big 12 opener.
West Virginia 24, Kansas 21 (KU +4.5)
Season Record: 1-2 (2-1 ATS)