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Kicking the Tires: West Virginia Mountaineers

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K-State returns home after a disappointing loss at Texas. The rebuilding Mountaineers should offer an opportunity to get well.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s game against Texas was disappointing in that the final score was close, but a closer look reveals how unlikely it was that K-State was within striking distance at the end.

Texas outgained K-State by 173 yards

K-State gained 138 of its 304 total yards on its first two drives

K-State scored on a kickoff return

K-State gained a third of its 45 yards on its final drive on the penalty for Jalen Green’s vicious hit on Wykeen Gill

The broadcasters aptly pointed out that once Texas stopped giving K-State’s receivers 10-yard cushions and stopped breaking down in coverage via all-out blitzes, the Wildcats found it difficult to move the ball. None of the above is an indictment of K-State overall. It’s the blueprint for upsetting more-talented teams. And if Dalton Schoen could’ve hauled in that pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter, then maybe they would have.

Oh well. K-State’s front-loaded schedule now yields to a manageable finish. The Wildcats will be host to 3-6 (1-5) West Virginia this Saturday. The Mountaineers are rebuilding after losing all their playmakers, plus coach Dana Holgorsen, in the offseason. New coach Neal Brown will probably get things on track, but is taking some lumps this year.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Skylar Thompson, 124-204-1, 1,589 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt, 9 TDs, 176.6 yards/game

Rushing: James Gilbert, 100 carries, 558 yards, 5.6 yards/carry, 5 TDs, 79.7 yards/game

Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 30 receptions, 457 yards, 15.2 yards/reception, 3 TDs, 50.8 yards/game

West Virginia

Passing: Austin Kendall, 187-304-10, 1,989 yards, 6.5 yards/attempt, 12 TDs, 221.0 yards/game

Rushing: Leddie Brown, 66 carries, 227 yards, 3.4 yards/carry, 1 TD, 28.4 yards/game

Receiving: Sam James, 58 receptions, 623 yards, 10.7 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 69.2 yards/game

These are not the numbers I’m accustomed to seeing from an opposing Big 12 offense, outside of occasionally KU. West Virginia’s rushing offense is a strong contender for the worst in all of college football. Their top two running backs average 3.2 yards per carry on 141 carries and have lost 68 yards on negative rushes.

Austin Kendall is completing a decent percentage, but all of the throws are underneath and he’s still managed to throw 10 interceptions this season. The ‘Eers are also in the running for worst team in the country by turnover margin this year at -7.

Advanced Stats

This shapes up as a game where K-State slowly, methodically and painfully strangles West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 118th by overall Success Rate (112th passing, 114th rushing), while K-State’s offense still ranks in the top 50 by all three Success Rate metrics (36th overall, 24th passing, 46th rushing). The Wildcats hold the ball for almost 34.5 minutes per game, whereas WVU averages less than 28 minutes. And K-State isn’t great at generating big plays, whereas West Virginia is only slightly below average at preventing them (which counts as a bright spot for this year’s team).

In other words, this WVU defense is a lot like the KU defense against which the Wildcats ran for 342 yards and held the ball for 38 minutes. K-State’s baseline for tomorrow should be 250+ yards and 37 minutes of possession.

Not that I expect K-State to lean heavily on the pass, but West Virginia is 100th by yards per attempt and has only four interceptions on the year. K-State’s relative efficiency strength is passing the ball, and WVU is bad there, too.

We’ve already touched on WVU’s offensive struggles. Don’t expect their offense to sustain drives, with Success Rates in the bottom quartile, or worse (119th overall, 88th passing, 128th rushing). K-State’s rushing defense is really struggling at 88th by Success Rate, but that’s not an area WVU can likely exploit. This is also a matchup of an excellent third-down defense (K-State, 3rd) and an awful third-down offense (WVU, 101st).

West Virginia is also among the worst offenses in the country (125th) at generating big plays. K-State is also bad at preventing them, but without an actual strength that the Wildcats need to account for, it’s unlikely WVU will be able to get K-State off-balance and break big plays.

Conclusion

K-State is solidly a two-touchdown favorite in this game, and Bill Connelly’s SP+ projects the Wildcats to cover that spread. This shapes up as similar to the KU game or, as I noted to a friend at halftime of the KU game, one of those old-school North Dakota State games where the Bison slowly and methodically strangled a clearly inferior opponent. If the Mountaineers are in this game for any length of time, then things will have gone awry.

Wildcats 41, Mountaineers 7