Kicking the Tires: West Virginia

Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

K-State is still looking for its first Big 12 win after its second bye week of the season. West Virginia is muddling its way through a 3-4 season, so this is a far cry from last year's meeting in Morgantown.

My, what a difference a year makes.

Last year, K-State's meeting with West Virginia in Morgantown was a top-15 matchup, and I was on ESPNU to preview it (I swear I was, even if I can't find the video now). The Mountaineers had a suspect defense and a lethal offense. K-State had Collin Klein and Arthur Brown.

Nobody in purple will ever forget the result. K-State crushed the 'Eers, 55-14, and launched itself squarely into the national-title picture. West Virginia faded into an obscurity from which it has yet to recover, finishing 7-5 last year and limping into this game at 3-4.

K-State has its own issues, as we're all aware. Though the Wildcats put up game efforts against Baylor and Oklahoma State, moral victories still show up as 0-1 in the record book. K-State desperately needs to beat West Virginia as it begins the second half of the 2013 season. A loss Saturday effectively ends all hope of bowl eligibility.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jake Waters, 76-122-5, 1,036 yards, 4 TDs, 8.5 yards/per attempt, 172.7 yards/game

Rushing: John Hubert, 80 carries, 358 yards, 4.5 yards/carry, 4 TD, 59.7 yards/game

Daniel Sams, 86 carries, 522 yards, 6.1 yards/carry, 7 TD, 87.0 yards/game

Receiving: Tyler Lockett, 31 receptions, 475 yards, 15.3 yards/reception, 1 TD, 95.0 yards/game

West Virginia

Passing: Clint Trickett, 33-80-3, 470 yards, 2 TD, 5.9 yards/attempt, 156.7 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Sims, 97 carries, 480 yards, 4.9 yards/carry, 4 TD, 80.0 yards/game

Receiving: Ronald Carswell, 16 receptions, 330 yards, 20.6 yards/reception, 2 TD, 55.0 yards/game

Those numbers show the primary concern in facing the Mountaineers. Though Trickett has been less than advertised this year at quarterback, Ronald Carswell is still a threat, with a long reception of 69 yards. Both Sims and Dreamius Smith are putting up decent numbers in the rushing game, with Smith the more explosive of the two.

While West Virginia also runs a spread offense, Dana Holgorsen's Air Raid is a different animal from Art Briles and Baylor's attack. But K-State will likely employ a somewhat similar game plan, working to make the 'Eers one dimensional by taking away any semblance of a run game. Here's hoping that facing a team with a running back not name Lache Seastrunk means our defensive backs won't get caught with their eyes in the backfield on play action as much. Or that, if they do, Carswell and WVU's other wide receivers -- to say nothing of Trickett instead of Bryce Petty -- can't take advantage like Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese.

K-State Advanced Statistics

  • F+: 37th
  • Offensive S&P+: 41st
  • Rushing S&P+: 28th
  • Passing S&P+: 48th
  • Drive Efficiency: 32nd
  • Standard Downs S&P+: 35th
  • Passing Downs S&P+: 68th
  • Defensive S&P+: 46th
  • Rushing S&P+: 60th
  • Passing S&P+: 9th
  • Drive Efficiency: 35th
  • Standard Downs S&P+: 29th
  • Passing Downs S&P+: 11th
  • Special Teams F+: 5th (#FireSeanSnyder?)

West Virginia Advanced Statistics

  • F+: 71st
  • Offensive S&P+: 88th
  • Rushing S&P+: 68th
  • Passing S&P+: 53rd
  • Drive Efficiency: 96th
  • Standard Downs S&P+: 61st
  • Passing Downs S&P+: 55th
  • Defensive S&P+: 58th
  • Rushing S&P+: 57th
  • Passing S&P+: 35th
  • Drive Efficiency: 63rd
  • Standard Downs S&P+: 43rd
  • Passing Downs S&P+: 35th
  • Special Teams F+: 56th
Despite the gnashing of teeth over the 2013 K-State defense, it's actually a pretty decent unit, especially the defensive backfield. Witness the Passing S&P+ (9th) and Passing Downs S&P+ (11th) above.

It was nice to see an effective rushing game last week, with Daniel Sams (30 carries, 199 yards, 6.6 yards/carry), John Hubert (15 carries, 90 yards, 6.0 yards/carry) and Jake Waters (8 carries, 56 yards, 7.0 yards/carry) finding wide-open rushing lanes at times. Against a West Virginia team that is only average against the rush, let's hope for a repeat performance.

The other thing that should stand out to you is the impressively MEH numbers for West Virginia. The Mountaineers aren't very good at anything, with 35th their best ranking in any category. They're also not really terrible in any area, although the overall of Offensive S&P+ (88th) and Drive Efficiency (96th) get pretty close.

West Virginia is even more turnover prone than K-State, with 16 on the year (K-State has 15). But the West Virginia defense is plenty opportunistic, with 17 takeaways on the season. Avoiding turnovers will be of paramount importance for K-State on Saturday.

Finally, was a bye week enough time to get Tramaine Thompson, Tyler Lockett and Kip Daily healthy? Thompson was apparently dealing with some sort of sickness, while Lockett pulled his hamstring against Oklahoma State. Daily was the recipient of a vicious -- and illegal -- hit against Baylor. If Thompson and Lockett can go against West Virginia, a Wildcat offense that looked pretty good against Baylor (5.6 yards/play) gets more explosive. With Daily, an already-stout pass defense gets even tougher. K-State's health could be the difference between a nailbiter and a comfortable win.

Conclusion

There have probably been few times I've been less confident in a game where both the numbers and Las Vegas -- where K-State is a 10-point favorite -- say K-State should win comfortably. A start like K-State has had this year will do that to you.

But other than turnovers and penalties, K-State looked a little better after its first bye week against Oklahoma State. Then the Wildcats improved even more, limited turnovers and penalties, and took Baylor to the wire in Manhattan. With another bye week to allow dinged-up players to heal and to work on past problems, there's reason for optimism.

Still, this team is 2-4 for a reason. A team that's undisciplined and turnover-prone is always a match for itself, regardless of the opponent. It would be nice to see K-State come out focused, get the crowd into the game, and get a comfortable win. And while I think there's every chance that happens, I'm wary. The Wildcats win, but not that easily.

K-State 34, West Virginia 28
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