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Kicking the Tires: West Virginia Mountaineers

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K-State has some momentum after two straight wins. Can the Wildcats make it three?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

At times this season, I've had difficulty getting over previous conceptions of teams. I didn't respect Oklahoma State or, particularly, Texas Tech's improvement as much as I should have. I overestimated Texas and didn't buy in on Oklahoma for a long time.

West Virginia (7-4, 4-4 Big 12 Conference) is another team that's changed dramatically over time. The Holgo-spread has morphed into a team that's 30th nationally in Rushing S&P+. A team that was once a defensive sieve is now 17th in Defensive S&P+, and sixth nationally against the run.

The new-look Mountaineers travel to Manhattan on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. CST kickoff against a K-State team that's won two straight. After six straight conference losses in the middle of the season, the Wildcats have righted the ship. They're technically bowl eligible, though everyone in the Vanier Complex would prefer absolute bowl eligibility to technical bowl eligibility.

Player to Watch

K-State

Passing: Joe Hubener, 125-255-7, 49.0%, 1,752 yards, 6.9 yards/attempt, 9 TDs, 159.3 yards/game

Rushing: Charles Jones, 122 carries, 612 yards, 5.0 yards/carry, 5 TDs, 55.6 yards/game

Receiving: Deante Burton, 29 receptions, 342 yards, 11.8 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 31.1 yards/game

West Virginia

Passing: Skyler Howard, 174-310-12, 56.1%, 2,332 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 20 TDs, 212.0 yards/game

Rushing: Wendell Smallwood, 200 carries, 1,306 yards, 6.5 yards/carry, 8 TDs, 118.7 yards/game

Receiving: Shelton Gibson, 32 receptions, 733 yards, 22.9 yards/reception, 8 TDs, 66.6 yards/game

West Virginia is a bit turnover prone, between Howard's 12 interceptions and six lost fumbles. K-State has only forced 13 turnovers on the year, but have been more opportunistic in the last two games. Forget that those games were against Iowa State and KU for a moment and ride the positivity train with me.

Smallwood's numbers are fairly similar to DeAndre Washington's at Texas Tech, which should give all of us nightmares. Fortunately, Howard is no Pat Mahomes and I don't see a Jakeem Grant on the roster. K-State needs an effort against the rush from its front six like it saw against Oklahoma State and Baylor. Take away the run, and the Wildcats have a chance to stay in this game and pick off a win.

What can K-State's offense do against the Mountaineers? Last year, had it not been for Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters, the answer would've been nothing. West Virginia famously held K-State to zero net rushing yards, and still lost a 26-20 decision in Morgantown.

Advanced Stats

Charts courtesy jeffp, as always.

Kansas State Offense vs. West Virginia Defense
West Virginia Offense vs. Kansas State Defense

Conclusion

This isn't a favorable matchup for K-State. West Virginia is almost a touchdown favorite, but is projected to win by two touchdowns by S&P+. A home game and senior day for a team motivated to get to 6-6, plus a West Virginia team with little or nothing to play for after traveling halfway across the country, could help the Wildcats. Probably not enough.

Mountaineers 31, Wildcats 24