It's gameday again, friends.
West Virginia (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) does battle with Kansas State (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) in an 3:45 p.m. kickoff today at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan. Stay tuned to the blog today, fire away in the comments section and follow on Twitter at both @mountaineersPG and @stephenjnesbitt for more frequent updates through the game.
• If at first you don't succeed, try not passing: Well, I was tired of writing "protect the QB" and "establish the running game." The West Virginia offense, it seems, doesn't realize the weapons it has in RBs Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith, who were the legs of the offense in a 37-27 loss to Texas Tech last Saturday, combining for 166 yards and three touchdowns — most of that coming in the first half before the Red Raiders took a hint, stacked the box and decided to make QB Clint Trickett beat them in the air, something he's not exactly adept at doing. In the first three quarters vs. Texas Tech, WVU ran eight times on 12 third-down opportunities. That's, like, 2/3, and they converted five of those. That's pretty good. And then it vanished in the fourth quarter, and out trotted Trickett's arm and a Texas Tech comeback victory. In short, if this turns into another scenario where Trickett heaves 15 balls 30 or 40 yards downfield, hoping they'll float in the vicinity of WR Kevin White, it's going to be an ugly finish. So, yes, the offensive lynchpins today will be the running backs.
• You asked for a mobile QB, now stop 'em: West Virginia's defense has faced pocket passers the last three games and has allowed 300-plus passing yards in three consecutive games for the first time since 2006. (Yep, didn't even do that last year.) WVU coach Dana Holgorsen thought the Mountaineers fared far better against mobile QBs than pocket passers, so today is the test to see if the defense can regain its early-season form, when it was (prematurely) the surprise defensive corps in the country. In Kansas State, here are two QBs more inclined to pass outside the pocket in dual-threats Daniel Sams and Jake Waters. Expect Sams to get the bulk of the snaps — and carries — but Waters will play. The WVU defense has picked up 17 takeaways in seven games, compared to 20 in 12 games last year, but they'll have to learn to stop the pass in the Big 12 — but that skill can wait until next week, probably.
• Flip the return game: For the first time this season, I expect the returners to play a very crucial role in the outcome of a WVU game. The Mountaineers have had paltry return efforts this season are now just shooting for average, really. Holgorsen said what's been happening lately is teams will pin WVU's returners, steering them toward one sideline — that approach basically gives the returners a lane to about the 25 going with the flow of the play, but if they double back against the flow they have far fewer tacklers to beat (but also less blockers). Doubling back can mean getting tackled at the 10, so that happened a few times last week. Holgorsen told his guys to just take the lane to the 25 after a while, which he'll likely say again this week. That gives the edge to Kansas State, who boasts elite returners Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett (if healthy) and perhaps are the biggest threats on kickoff WVU will face this season.
Matchup: Kansas State (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) vs. West Virginia (3-4, 1-3 Big 12), 3:45 p.m. today, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan. The Wildcats are favored by 10 1/2.
TV, Radio, Internet: FOX Sports 1, Mountaineer Sports Network, Sirius 117, XM 202.
West Virginia: Offense is converting just 31.1 percent of third-down opportunities. … No Division-I defense has allowed more 30-plus yard plays than West Virginia (26). … RBs combined for 166 rushing yards and three touchdowns last week.
Kansas State: Wildcats are converting on 48.7 percent of third downs. … WRs and dangerous returners Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett missed last week with injury.
Hidden stat: WVU has allowed 320-plus passing yards eight times since the beginning of the 2012 season. In the previous seven years? Only six times.
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