Defense faces challenge in improved Kansas offense

Patrick Kotnik, Staff Writer
WV Sports

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Today's Big 12 opener will feature a matchup between a young West Virginia defense and a new and improved Kansas offense.

Led by former TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham, Kansas’ offense presents a new look that brings versatility and numerous weapons. Through three games this season the Jayhawks have averaged close to 32 points per game along with 452.7 total yards per game.

“I’m extremely familiar with him,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He had been at TCU, he’s doing the same stuff that he did at TCU.”

Leading the Kansas offense is Washington State transfer quarterback Peyton Bender who has racked up 1,030 passing yards along with six touchdowns this season.

Bender, who played under head coach Mike Leach at Washington State, is a pocket passer that will throw the ball anywhere and everywhere, something West Virginia’s defense is preparing for.

“He’s a gunslinger; he can throw it all over the place,” Holgorsen said. “He wants to stay in the pocket and he wants to throw that thing all over the place. So, that’s what we’ll prepare for.”

Alongside Bender are a variety of versatile options in the passing game including wide receiver Steven Sims, who has hauled in 10 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns this year.

The Jayhawks don’t have a solid ground game with two of their top running backs averaging less than 50 yards rushing per game, but have been seen to mix in in the run with its pass heavy offense.

“They have a lot of receivers that they throw to and you have to defend the run as well,” Holgorsen said. “(Meacham) has always done a good job in making sure he mixes in the run.”

Defensively for West Virginia, the Mountaineers have turned in solid performances so far this season, but a lingering concern has been their tendency to give up big plays which has been seen in each of their first three games.

“It’s more of a communication thing,” fifth-year linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “Those are some things we got to clean up and get fixed going into Big 12 play now.”

The defense’s communication will be something to watch from here on out with Big 12 play starting and more young defensive players seeing the field and playing expanded roles such as true freshmen Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts.

“We have to keep improving,” redshirt junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry said. “We are taking it game-by-game, that’s what I like. We have to keep getting better each week.”

The start of conference play may be what the West Virginia defense needs when it comes to motivation as the Mountaineers seek their conference win of the season and fourth consecutive victory over Kansas.

“We are ready to get it started,” Askew-Henry said. “We had three warmup games and now it is time for Big 12 play. We are very anxious to get into it.”

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