Game Preview: WVU vs. Kansas

Keenan Cummings, Managing Editor
WV Sports
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DISCUSS: Visit the Blue Lot to discuss West Virginia all year long

Series: WVU 5-1

Last meeting: WVU 48 KU 21

Television: 12 p.m. ESPNU, Mike Couzens (play-by-play), John Congemi (analyst)

West Virginia will hit the road to open Big 12 Conference play against Kansas with the Mountaineers looking to start off on the right foot in the league.

This will mark the seventh time that the two teams have squared off and sixth as Big 12 Conference members with the Mountaineers holding a 5-1 advantage overall and 4-1 edge in league games.

That one loss came in 2013 in Lawrence when West Virginia fell 31-19 to the Jayhawks in Lawrence snapping a 27-game conference losing streak in the process.

The Mountaineers will look to avoid the past repeating itself equipped with a high-powered offense in head coach Dana Holgorsen’s seventh season atop the program amassing a 48-22 record during that time. Through three games the Mountaineers offense is averaging 581 yards and 46 points per contest, good enough for sixth and 15th nationally in those two categories.

The yardage total is the most of any West Virginia team under Holgorsen through three games, while the points mark is the third best in program history in that span.

Redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier triggers the West Virginia offensive attack and is second nationally with 11 passing touchdowns while his 1,027 yards ranks him 10th nationally. Those numbers are even more impressive considering that Grier has played roughly a little more than four quarters in his past two games as the Mountaineers have built big leads and removed him from the game.

The signal caller has a number of pass catching options to choose from with junior Gary Jennings (23 catches, 363 yards and a touchdown), junior David Sills (18 catches, 266 yards and five touchdowns), redshirt senior Ka’Raun White (14 catches, 173 yards and 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Marcus Simms (5 catches, 143 yards and 3 touchdowns) leading the way for the Mountaineers.

West Virginia complements its passing game with the leading rusher in the Big 12 Conference senior Justin Crawford in the backfield. Through three games, Crawford has rushed for 326 yards and five touchdowns while eclipsing the 100-yard plateau in all three contests, something that no Mountaineers running back was able to do over a three-game stretch a season ago.

On the year, Crawford is averaging 7.6 per carry and the Mountaineers are deep at that spot as well with sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway also receiving carries out of the backfield.

The West Virginia defense is replacing eight starters from a year ago so there have been some growing pains through the first three weeks allowing 413 yards and 22 points per game. But defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s unit is allowing only a 27-percent third down conversion rate and is holding teams in the red zone allowing only five touchdowns on ten attempts.

Kansas is led by third year head coach David Beatty who is 3-24 during his time atop the Jayhawks football program. The former Kansas and Texas A&M assistant, Beatty returned back to Lawrence and has been trying to change the culture of the program recording a win over Texas last season. The Mountaineers are 2-0 against Kansas since Beatty took over and are coming off a 2-10 season.

The Jayhawks have one of the youngest teams in college football with only nine seniors on the travel squad and 11 of their 22 starters considered underclassmen. Beatty hired former TCU offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to take over the reins of the Jayhawks offense and so far the unit has averaged 452 yards and 31.7 points per contest showing the ability to spread it out and throw it.

Junior quarterback Peyton Bender, a former Washington State signee, leads the Jayhawks offense and has thrown for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns, the yardage mark good enough for the most for a Jayhawks quarterback since Todd Reesing did it in 2009. He also represents the fastest quarterback to reach the 1,000-yard mark in the 127-year history of the Kansas football program.

Junior wide receiver Steven Simms remains the top pass-catching option and had caught at least one pass in 24 consecutive games before that was snapped in the second game of the year. On the season, Simms is one of five pass-catchers that have caught at least ten balls this season with four of those players catching at least one touchdown as well.

Redshirt senior tight end Ben Johnson also have proven to be a threat hauling in 12 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown and is on pace to have the best season statistically at the position in program history.

In the backfield, junior Khalil Herbert leads the way with 147 yards and two scores, while true freshman Dom Williams has scored three touchdowns already this year with 110 yards rushing.

The Kansas defense is again led by long-time coordinator and one-time interim head coach Clint Bowen, who’s defensive style attempts to keep things in front of the unit and make offenses drive the field. Through three games the Jayhawks are allowing 34 points and 431 yards per game, with teams having more success throwing the football than keeping it on the ground.

Up front the Jayhawks have talent in junior defensive end Dorance Armstrong along with nose tackle Daniel Wise, who already has recorded six tackles for loss this season with a sack. The Jayhawks also received a boost with the return of linebacker Joe Dineen from injury and he leads the team with 38 tackles and 7 tackles for loss serving as a player that is always around the ball.

The secondary features two junior college cornerbacks but the return of sophomore safety Mike Lee, who was one of the standouts on defense a season ago and is second on the team in tackles this season with 21 stops and an interception to his credit.

West Virginia is 2-3 in Big 12 openers since joining the league and 0-2 on the road.

Kickoff is set for noon and will be televised by ESPNU.


West Virginia Depth Chart:

OFFENSE:

QB: 7 Will Grier, (r-Jr.), 11 Chris Chugunov, (r-So.)

RB: 25 Justin Crawford, (Sr.), 4 Kennedy McKoy, (So.), 32 Martell Pettaway, (So.)

HB: 28 Elijah Wellman, (r-Sr.), 81 Trevon Wesco, (r-Jr.)

X WR: 13 David Sills, (Jr.), 8 Marcus Simms (So.)

Y/H WR: 12 Gary Jennings, (Jr.), 85 Ricky Rogers, (r-Jr.)

Z WR: 2 Ka'Raun White, (r-Sr.), 10 Reggie Roberson, (Fr.)

LT: 55 Yodny Cajuste, (r-Jr.), 72 Kelby Wickline, (r-So.)

LG: 62 Kyle Bosch, (r-Sr.), 56 Grant Lingafelter (r-Sr.)

C: 79 Matt Jones, (r-So.), 58 Ray Raulerson, (r-Jr.)

RG: 73 Josh Sills, (r-Fr.), 65 Isaiah Hardy (Jr.)

RT: 53 Colton McKivitz, (r-So.), 72 Kelby Wickline, (r-So.)

DEFENSE:

DE: 88 Adam Shuler, (r-So.), 92 Jon Lewis, (r-Sr.)

NT: 99 Xavier Pegues, (r-Sr.), 96 Jaleel Fields, (r-Jr.)

DE: 46 Reese Donahue, (So.), 93 Ezekiel Rose, (Jr.)

SAM LB: 5 Xavier Preston, (Sr.), 44 Hodari Christian, (r-Sr.)

MIKE LB: 3 Al-Rasheed Benton, (r-Sr.), 7 Brendan Ferns, (r-Fr.)

WILL LB: 10 Dylan Tonkery, (r-Fr.), 45 Adam Hensley, (So.)

SPUR: 8 Kyzir White, (Sr.), 18 Marvin Gross, (r-Sr.)

BS: 18 Marvin Gross, (r-Sr.), 1 Derrek Pitts, (Fr.)

FS: 6 Dravon Askew-Henry, (r-Jr.), 9 Jovanni Stewart, (So.)

LCB: 2 Kenny Robinson, (Fr.), 24 Hakeem Bailey, (r-So.),

RCB: 4 Mike Daniels, (Sr.), 19 Elijah Battle, (Sr.)

SPECIAL TEAMS:

K: 48 Mike Molina, (r-Sr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

P: 15 Billy Kinney, (r-Jr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

LS: 52 Nick Meadows, (r-Sr.), 64 Rex Sunahara, (r-So.)

H: 15 Billy Kinney, (r-Jr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

KO: 30 Evan Staley, (r-Fr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

PR: 8 Marcus Simms (So.), 13 David Sills, (Jr.)

KOR: 8 Marcus Simms (So.) 12 Gary Jennings, (Jr.)


NOTES:

--This year marks the 126th year of West Virginia football with the Mountaineers currently sitting in 14th place all-time in wins in college football.

--WVU is 22-23 in Big 12 Conference Games, with a 10-12 mark on the road under head coach Dana Holgorsen. He is 4-1 all-time against Kansas.

--Since 2000, West Virginia is 109-14 when scoring more than 30 points and 55-4 when scoring more than 40 points in a game. West Virginia has won 13 straight games when scoring 30 points or more.

--The Mountaineers are 82-11 since 2002 when winning the turnover battle.

--West Virginia is 19-5 in September under head coach Dana Holgorsen and 4-3 on the road.

--In the Holgorsen era, WVU has produced 76 games with 300 or more yards, 58 games with 400 or more yards, 31 games with more than 500 yards and 16 with more than 600 yards.

--The 2017 roster consists of 121 players from 20 different states.

--Coaching staff assignments: AHC/DC/LB Tony Gibson (field), OC/QB Jake Spavital (field), CB Doug Belk (press box), WR Tyron Carrier (field), S Matt Caponi (field), RB Tony Dews (field), LB/ST Mark Scott (press box), DL Bruce Tall (press box), OL Joe Wickline (field)

--There are 31 Mountaineers who have seen their first WVU action during the 2017 season: Hakeem Bailey (CB), Chase Behrndt (OL), Dante Bonamico (S), Druw Bowen (WR), Tevin Bush (RB), Mitch Chugunov (WR), Elijah Drummond (FB), Brendan Ferns (LB), Will Grier (QB), Isaiah Hardy (OL), Jalen Harvey (DL), Osman Kamara (S), Jake Long (CB), Sean Mahone (CB), Dominique Maiden (WR), Alejando Marenco III (WR), Lamonte McDougle (DL), Quondarius Qualls (LB), Xavier Pegues (DL) Derrek Pitts Jr. (S), Jeffery Pooler (DL), Ray Raulerson (OL), Reggie Roberson Jr (WR), Kenny Robinson (S), Ezekiel Rose (DL), Josh Sills (OL), Evan Staley (K), Rex Sunahara (LS), Dylan Tonkery (LB), Kelby Wickline (OL) and Corey Winfield (CB)

--West Virginia has run a total of 239 plays with 117 coming on the ground and 122 through the air. The rushing game has totaled 636 yards for an average of 5.4 per carry and seven touchdowns. The passing attack has totaled 1,108 yards, 12 touchdowns and an average of 14.0 per completion.

--The Mountaineers have gained 35 first downs via the run and 42 with the pass. West Virginia has averaged 212 yards per game on the ground and 369.3 in the air for a total of 581.3 yards per game.

Injuries/Suspensions: West Virginia has had three players out in redshirt sophomore linebacker David Long, redshirt senior offensive lineman Grant Lingafelter and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jacob Buccigrossi due to leg injuries, but all three are set to return to practice this week. It is unclear if they will be able to play in the game but that is an encouraging step. Same can be said for redshirt junior bandit safety Toyous Avery who missed the Delaware State game with an injury. He is set to return to practice as well. Sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy has rejoined the team after being suspended against Delaware State for a violation of team rules.

Redshirts: Five true freshmen played in the season opener against Virginia Tech in Tevin Bush (RB), Lamonte McDougle (DL), Derrek Pitts Jr. (S), Reggie Roberson Jr. (WR) and Kenny Robinson (S).

A total of thirteen redshirt freshmen have seen action for the Mountaineers in 2017: Chase Behrndt (OL), Dante Bonamico (S), Druw Bowen (WR), Mitch Chugunov (WR), Elijah Drummond (HB), Brendan Ferns (LB), Osman Kamara (S), Jake Long (CB), Sean Mahone (CB), Jefferey Pooler (DL), Josh Sills (OL), Evan Staley (K) and Dylan Tonkery (LB).

Others that have played and will not redshirt: Junior offensive lineman Isaiah Hardy, Junior wide receiver Dominique Maiden

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POINTS TO CLICK:

--Start fast. At times West Virginia has looked very good this season, others not so much. Yes, this is Kansas but going on the road to any Big 12 venue can prove to be difficult as Texas found out a year ago in Lawrence and the Mountaineers did during the 2013 season. West Virginia has the talent to go on the road and take care of business but getting out of the gates quickly to avoid a letdown and giving the other team confidence will be a key for this one. Sloppy play can’t continue at this point of the season if West Virginia wants to challenge for a league crown. Fast and furious for 60-minutes and jumping ahead on the field and the scoreboard will be one of the major keys for the Mountaineers.

--No busts, win third downs. It goes without saying that no heading into the meat of the schedule, West Virginia cannot afford busts on the defensive side of the football. This week against Kansas will be no different as the Jayhawks have revamped their offensive approach under new coordinator Doug Meacham and are averaging 452.7 total yards per game displaying the ability to throw the ball around the yard. It will be key for the defense to communicate and have their eyes in the right spots to avoid any easy scores or chunks of yards that can give the Jayhawks further confidence. And while miscues have haunted the defense at times, one area they have exceled is on third down. Through three games the Mountaineers are holding opponents to 27-percent on the money down and will need that trend to continue to get the ball back in the hands of the West Virginia offense.

--Stay balanced but take what they give. Redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier has done his job when it comes to managing the offense by getting the Mountaineers in the right play calls and more often than not executing that on the field. He will be challenged again this week in his first conference road test, but Grier will have to stay patient and continue to take what the defense gives him instead of forcing things like he did at times a week ago against Delaware State. The Jayhawks defense is allowing over 430 yards per contest in the first three and has been susceptible especially through the air. However, the Mountaineers will need to continue to run the football and set up plays down the field. Patience.

--Passing the test when the Jayhawks pass the football. Kansas has improved play offensively and isn’t afraid to chuck the ball around with junior quarterback Peyton Bender who’s gone over the 300-yard mark in all three of the Jayhawks games to date. Bender is a former Washington State quarterback and has an understanding of the air raid scheme and what to do in Meacham’s offense. The Mountaineers secondary wasn’t tested a week ago, but this will likely be its biggest test to date against a Kansas team that also has wide receiver depth. The Mountaineers will start a true freshman at cornerback as well as mix in several fresh faces along with senior Mike Daniels and this will be an opportunity for them to take the next step. Some of that is going to be helped by getting pressure with the first and second levels, but cornerbacks will have to play well in the first real test since Virginia Tech.

--Make special teams special again. This area has to improve for the close games that inevitably await further down the schedule and West Virginia made some strides last week in this department. An 80-yard kickoff return, no kicks out of bounds and averaging almost 50-yards per punt were just a few of the highlights. But that must carry over if this team wants to compete in the Big 12.

--Turnovers. West Virginia is 82-11 since 2002 when winning the turnover battle which is a very telling sign. The Mountaineers will need to take care of the football and not allow any wiggle room for Kansas to make this game close and put themselves in favorable spots.

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