#3 Kansas State @ #15 West Virginia
- Game Time: 6:00
- TV: Fox
- Sirius Channel: 137 (KSU) 91 (WVU)
- The Spread: West Virginia -2.5
The Lowdown: I was trying to figure out how to best describe the differences between these two teams so I popped open a thesaurus and typed in "opposite." The results: contrasted, diametrically opposed, different, and dissimilar.
Whatever word you use, there aren't two offenses in the Big 12 more "diametrically opposed" that what you'll see on the field Saturday night in Morgantown.
Kansas State runs the ball, then they'll run it again, and again, and then maybe sprinkle in a pass just to be different.
West Virginia, on the other hand, is going to throw the ball all over the yard and then some, although Dana Holgorsen never completely forgets about the running game they way Bill Snyder sometimes does the passing game (two years ago against Texas, KSU threw four times for nine yards and won by 25 points. Klein, in a surprise start that game as a sophomore, had 25 carries for 127 yards and the rest is history).
Whatever means a team uses to find the end zone, however, the end goal is still the same which is scoring points and both teams have been solid in the department with each averaging over 40 points a game.
With a share of first place in the Big 12 on the line, West Virginia will surely be out to prove last week's 49-14 drubbing by Texas Tech was nothing more than a one week aberration.
The offense was coming off back-to-back games in which they scored 70 and 48 points and they suddenly found out exactly how hard the wind blows in west Texas against a team with solid defense and they had no answers.
Whatever problems plagued West Virginia last week will likely be fixed this week if for no other reason than there's simply too much talent running a scheme perfectly suited for their personnel to be down for the long.
Not to mention, they'll likely benefit from being back on their home field after spending the past two weekends in Texas. There's usually nothing better than some home cooking to cure your ills, or something like that.
The real problem - and one where the fixed won't be nearly as easy - for West Virginia revolves around their defense. It's a good thing their offense was clicking against Baylor and Texas because in those two games, their defense gave up 63 and 45 points.
The good news is that West Virginia's defense has been decent against the run. They held Texas to 135 yards on 39 carries. Not great, but it certainly could have been worse. And take out SaDale Foster's 53 yard run right before half against Texas Tech, and WVU held them to 115 yards on 28 carries.
It was the same thing against Baylor who only averaged 2.6 yard per carry in picking up 119 yards on 45 carries so there is reason for optimism that WVU will be able to slow K-State's ground attack.
The bad news is, nobody runs the ball like Kansas State. You hear coaches talk all the time about execution, well, there isn't a team in the country that executes better than the Wildcats.
They block it, their ball carriers wait, find the hole, and go. Their runners are so patient that defenses often get themselves out of position and what looks like three yards and a cloud of dust turns into eight, 12, and 20 yard runs.
Does the West Virginia D have the discipline necessary to stick with their assignments, wait, and be as patient as what the Wildcats will be? Most teams don't since the essence of any good defense is to attack whenever possible. But KSU isn't any other team.
A defense thinks they have a play diagnosed, they get out of their lanes, take bad angles to the ball because it looks like the play is goiing nowhere, and then because the Wildcats are waiting and waiting for it to happen, they gash you for another first down or worse.
Collin Klein is obviously the catalyst for the entire offense. He averages just over 16 carries a game but they won't hesitate to let him carry it 25 times a game if that's what it takes as they did against Iowa State.
Then there's running back, John Hubert, who like Klein has 98 carries on the season and helps balance out the ground game much more than it was last season. He's small in stature at 5'7", but he knows where to find a hole even when there isn't much of one there.
West Virginia, Keys to the Game:
1. Get off to a fast start. This is crucial for three reasons. One, it'll give WVU confidence and put any lingering doubts from last week's debacle out of their mind.
Two, Kansas State doesn't like to play from behind. The Wildcats aren't going to necessarily abandon their game plan if they get down early, but at some point if their down say 14 points in the second half, they're going to be forced to throw more than they'd like to out of necessity.
And three, the crowd. They've got the home field advantage and nothing gets a crowd more into the game than an early lead.
2. Don't shoot themselves in the foot. This really hasn't been an issue for West Virginia so far. They've only turned the ball over three times all season (an incredible number, by the way) and they haven't been heavily penalized. But playing Kansas State can be frustrating.
That might sound "dumb", but they have a way of making team's impatient with their style of play. The Mountaineers just need to focus on what they do best and let the rest take care of itself. Easier said than done if you've ever seen KSU play.
Kansas State, Keys to the Game:
1. On defense, keep the plays in front of you. The Wildcats use a bit of a bend but don't break philosophy on defense. Their willing to give up some yards to help take away the big play. That's not every defensive coordinator's philosophy, but it has worked well for them.
That being said, it's not quite as easy to execute when you're chasing guys like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey around the field. If they can keep either from getting over the top of their secondary, it'll help keep the momentum on their side.
2. Pressure Geno Smith. Smith has done a good job handling pressure so far this season. Even when Texas was regulary collapsing the pocket, he still did a good of keeping his head up and making plays (outside of the two fumbles).
At the same time, you can't let him sit in the pocket all day. K-State's secondary is good, but you can only cover so long. The Wildcats have done a nice job of creating pressure with the front four and the more push they can get Saturday night, the better.
This is going to be interesting. Dana Holgorsen vs. Bill Snyder. I mentioned in the opening about these teams being "diametrically opposed," well, a big reason for that is because that's exactly how you would describe their two head coaches.
When Holgorsen was at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders offense had good success against Snyder. Texas Tech was 3-1 against KSU between 2000 and 2005 and scored an average 39 points a game. They also coached against each other when Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010 (OSU won 24-14) although KSU held his offense to a season low 24 points.
The point being, these two coaches are familiar with each other. There aren't going to be many surprises. Who that favors is anybody's guess, but there aren't many people that outcoach Snyder which we are all well aware of by now.
So what happens Saturday night? Kansas State wins, that's what, although this is going to be their toughest challenge all year. The Mountaineers will be playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd and they'll surely be focused after last week's showing so there's plenty of factors working against the Wildcats.
The good thing for K-State is all that matters is what happens between the white lines. The Wildcats are simply too sound and too disciplined to let the outside factors play much of role.
Their defense will get burned a few times, but they'll be "good enough" just like they've been all season. Then they can turn it over to the offense and let them pound away in the running game as they usually do with Klein connecting on a few deep throws, as well.
Klein rushes for 100 yards and so does Hubert while the Wildcats keep a stranglehold on first place in the Big 12 title race.
Remember all those close wins last year that led people to believe they couldn't do it again? Well, they're doing it again.
Kansas State 38 West Virginia 34