Match-Ups: WVU - Kansas

Jorge Wright

In the pass-happy Big 12, the rarity of a ground-focused match-up is something of a rarity, but that's the battle to watch in the West Virginia - Kansas game.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 12/1/12 2:30 PM

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 6-5
BCS: NR
Last Game
Iowa State 31-24 W
TV: FSN
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 2-9
BCS: NR
Last Game
Iowa State 23-51 L
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 1941
Last Meeting: 1941
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule


MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

Kansas Running Game vs. WVU Run Defense

West Virginia has been good against the run this year, but will get a bit of a different test from the Jayhawks in the season finale.

The Jayhawk trio of James Sims, Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox has accounted for 2,147 yards on the ground this season. There isn't much national buzz about that, given KU's 1-10 record, but all have been productive, running behind an offensive line that has proven adept at creating running lanes. Kansas uses the zone read extensively, and has been able to adapt to different defensive fronts throughout the season. Only TCU has been able to hold them under 175 yards on the ground, and the visitors enter this game having rolled up more than 1,100 rushing yards in their last four contests.

West Virginia's run defense has been built from the inside out, with Shaq Rowell anchoring the middle, occupying blockers and making enough tackles to keep foes from establishing much between the tackles. Jorge Wright and Will Clarke have also been good at holding their ground and keeping backs contained. WVU's pursuit to the edge and outside containment have also been solid against the rush, which sets up an interesting battle in this game. Kansas has been effective at tweaking its scheme against different defensive fronts to give its running game the chance to be effective, so its tactics against West Virginia are an item to keep an eye on, especially early in the game. Will the Jayhawks try to run right at some of WVU's smaller defensive linemen? Or will they attack the end and outside linebackers with zone read concepts? Will WVU have to counter with an extra safety to keep the running game in check, and would that further expose its outmanned pass defense?

Rarely is one aspect of the game so big in the outcome, but it's safe to say that the winner of this battle will be well on its way to a win.


Kansas Pass Defense vs. WVU Quarterback Geno Smith

While West Virginia's pass defense has been bad, Kansas' hasn't been much better. KU is 109th in the nation, and has given up 278 yards per game through the air.

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Opponents are also completing 65% of their attempts against the Jayhawks, and that should be music to the ears of Smith, who has struggled a bit in recent weeks with his accuracy, (although he certainly hasn't played badly). With the weather predicted to be good, Smith should be set up to have a good day, but he needs, as noted in recent weeks, to deliver his short and medium range passes on target. Kansas does not have tremendous team speed, and if he can find receivers on the run, WVU should be set up to enjoy a good day through the air.

Smith will need help of course, and that leads to the second part of this match-up. With Tavon Austin expected to again see a good bit of duty in the backfield, who else will provide support for Stedman Bailey in the receiving corps? There just hasn't been any game-to-game consistency from any other receiver this year, which has caused Smith to zone in on his favorite duo for much of the season. In order to work at his most efficient, Smith must look at all of hs receiving options -- and those players must get open more consistently and produce when the ball comes their way.

Watch West Virginia's early receiving rotation. J.D. Woods will be there, but who else gets the bulk of the snaps? More importantly, are they getting open? With Austin in the backfield, WVU has gone with fewer four-wide and five-wide sets in recent weeks, but that could also change in this game due to KU's vulnerability through the air.


THINGS TO WATCH

West Virginia will be without the services of Ishmael Banks at corner, but hopes to get Brandon Jenkins back from the injury list this week. On the opposite side, Pat Miller and Terrell Chestnut have again battled for possession of the starting job. Darwin Cook, after losing his starting boundary safety spot to Cecil Level for three games, returned to the starting lineup against Iowa State. How does all of this uncertainty affect the secondary? A group that has had its confidence and mettle sorely shaken this year will have to overcome more lineup changes and emphasize communication against a less than stellar Kansas passing attack.

Watch WVU's personnel in the secondary. Is Jenkins healed enough to get the starting nod? Will Nana Kyeremeh make another appearance at corner? WIll WVU press its coverage more and try to help against the run as much as possible, or will it continue to play off receivers for fear of giving up deep passes?

* * *

Who will seize the early momentum in this game? That could be a key factor as Kansas plays out the string. The Jayhawks have been an up and down team in terms of competitiveness in 2012. They've been blown out by K-State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State, but had very good chances to win against Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and Northern Illinois. If West Virginia can get off to a good early start, it can squelch any enthusiasm Kansas has left in its last contest of the season, and control the game throughout. However, if the Jayhawks can keep in it early (probably by controlling the ball on the ground and limiting WVU's offensive possessions), it will have a good chance to break its long league losing streak, which currently stands at 20 games.

As WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen noted earlier this week, a great deal of this game comes down to motivation. If WVU is ready to play, it should be able to handle KU. But if it comes out with the attitude it displayed at Texas Tech or Oklahoma State, it could be another frustrating day at Mountaineer Field, where WVU hasn't won in more than two months.

* * *

If KU is able to make it a close contest, it could come down to the kicking game, where both teams have had problems. WVU's Tyler Bitancurt is just 10-17 on the year, but he has shown the ability to connect from long range, having made five attempts of 40 yards or longer this year. The Kansas duo of Ron Doherty and Nick Prolago is a combined 9-15, but hasn't made a kick of more than 37 yards all year. In fact, KU has attempted just three kicks or more than 37 yards this season, and none of those have been successful.

That factor will affect KU's playcalling when it gets into normal scoring range. Look for the Wildcats to go for fourth down conversions at distances where WVU might attempt field goals, especially if the they have been able to keep WVU's offense somewhat in check. West Virginia is no stranger to attempting similar conversions, but its efforts usually come from outside the 35-yard line or so.

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