WVU Gameday Blog

Utah and WVU clash today in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. It’s actually a rematch, albeit one from more than five decades ago.

The two teams have met just once before – Dec. 19, 1964, at the Liberty Bowl inside the Atlantic City Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Utah won the game easily, 32-6, and Mountaineer fans that were alive to see it have been asking for a rematch ever since. OK, maybe not, but 53 years later, the rematch will happen.

The First (and only) meeting

Neither offense had much going in the first quarter, but Utah opened up a big lead in the second, taking a 19-0 advantage into the locker room.

West Virginia didn’t get off to any better start in the second half, allowing a 47-yard touchdown run to Andy Ireland, giving the Utes a 25-point lead.

WVU’s only touchdown of the game came on a 15-yard pitch and catch between Allen McCune and Milt Clegg late in the third quarter. But another long score in the fourth quarter sealed the 32-6 victory for Utah.

The game was the first major college football bowl game played indoors, and the only one ever played in Atlantic City.

When that game was played Lyndon B. Johnson was in his first term as president, and three countries – Malawi, Malta, and Zambia – had just gained their independence from the United Kingdom.

Hawaii and Alaska had only been states for five years, and the WVU Coliseum, Milan Puskar Stadium and the campus’s Personal Rapid Transit system had yet to be built.

The year of 1964 was a star-studded year for birthdays, with the likes of Russell Crowe, Rob Lowe, Michelle Obama, Nicolas Cage, Courtney Cox and Stephen Colbert all being born that year.

Leading up to the second meeting

Since the two teams met, West Virginia has appeared in 30 bowl games, winning twelve of them. Over that same time period, Utah has accepted invitations to 18 bowls, and walked away victorious from fourteen of them, including each of the last four.

This year the Mountaineers were just one-game better during the regular season but fared much better against conference foes.

Utah, which started the season 4-0, lost each of its next four games, including two by at least 20 points.

Meanwhile, West Virginia got off to a 3-1 start and stayed above .500 with a comeback-victory over then-No. 24 Texas Tech. However, the Mountaineers were just 2-3 over their final five contests, with two of the three losses coming at home.

Of course, the biggest loss was quarterback Will Grier. With Grier leading the way, The Mountaineers were the far-superior passing team this season, though the two universities were nearly identical when it came to running the football. WVU, however, will be without Justin Crawford, who is skipping the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.

The Utes were much stingier on defense, giving up nearly 100 yards fewer per game on the ground than the Mountaineers. Utah ranks 32nd in the nation in terms of total defense.

On Thursday, the West Virginia football announced a pair of statements:

Quarterback Will Grier is returning to the Mountaineers for his senior season in 2018, and running back Justin Crawford will not play in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl against Utah later this month.

The first assures that an experienced quarterback will be leading the WVU offense next season, while the second means we’ll have a good idea of the talent that will be around him.

Although the bowl game would’ve served as one final game for senior running back Justin Crawford to put his talents on display, it now gives a glimpse at what the backfield will operate like next year without him.

Crawford battled a nagging injury during the middle part of the season, part of what contributed to him being held under 50 rushing yards for three straight games, but still managed to be one of just three Big 12 rushers to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground this year.

He surpassed that mark in each of his two seasons in Morgantown.

Behind – or, now, replacing – Crawford is a pair of Mountaineer backs with experience and another that hasn’t gotten much action, though it can be anticipated that will change against Utah and next year.

Leading the way is sophomore Kennedy McKoy, who ran for a career-high 137 yards the last time West Virginia was on the field against Oklahoma. McKoy did a lot of his damage out of the wildcat formation, which is expected to be used again against the Utes.

Both Crawford and McKoy averaged over five yards per carry this season.

Behind McKoy is fellow sophomore Martell Pettaway, who had his coming out party two seasons ago against Iowa State when he rushed for 181 yards against the Cyclones on the same day his redshirt was burned.

Getting a very limited number of carries, Pettaway didn’t reach that total in all 10 games combined this season, but without Crawford will surely see more action and garner a bigger role.

Freshman Tevin Bush is the other back that will likely touch the football a few times in the Mountaineers’ final game of 2017.

Bush, who tallied just a total of 81 yards on 20 carries, was said before the season to be a back that can be a threat both running and catching the football. Although that wasn’t fully put on display this year, it’s something to watch out for against the Utes.

The potential mixture of three backs, all of whom are different in style, will be key against a Utah defense that was third-best in the PAC-12 at defending against the run.

The Utes had four defensive performances in which they held the opposition to under 100 yards as a team. Six times this season Utah’s defense held opposing offenses under four yards per run.

West Virginia takes on Utah on Tuesday, Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. in the Cotton Bowl. It’s just the second meeting between the two programs.

 

I’ve told you the reasons why this season was successful for the Mountaineers. Let’s not forget that this year’s WVU team did end an extended losing streak against ranked teams.

But a seven-win season this year after a 10-win campaign last year is a bit of a step backward.

West Virginia may have outscored teams from the state of Kansas by nearly four touchdowns, but the Mountaineers gave up just 21 fewer points to the two teams from the state of Oklahoma than the four teams from Texas. West Virginia also defeated half the Lone Star State, while once against going winless against the Sooner State.

Not being able to win the biggest games of the year is one of the reasons this season wasn’t a success for WVU.

  1. Too inconsistent on offense

As good as the offense was at times, it was pretty absent in others. Over a three-game stretch against Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas, the Mountaineer offense was responsible for seven scoreless quarters, including five in a row over the last two contests mentioned.

It wasn’t the first time this season it happened either.

WVU took the third quarter off against Kansas and let the Jayhawks get back in the game; took the fourth quarter off against Baylor in a joint-effort near-collapse; turnovers and a slow start put the Mountaineers in a hole early on against Oklahoma State. The run game was non-existent at times, and whether that was scheme or execution issues – likely both –, that’s something that needs to be fixed moving forward. It’s been clear over the last few years that WVU is at its best offensively when its running the ball well.

  1. Not enough battles won in the trenches

One of the contributing factors to the offense not being at its best was the offensive line. A group that stayed relatively healthy throughout the year never seemed to fully jell.

Quarterback Will Grier was under a lot of pressure, though his play hid a number of his line’s imperfections. Despite only giving up 17 sacks all season, Grier felt the heat much more than that.

On the other side, the defensive line wasn’t getting enough push, either. To be fair, the group improved greatly from Week 1 to the end of the season, but still wasn’t getting in the backfield nearly as often as you would like to see.

  1. Tackling woes continue

One of the more glaring takeaways from the season opener was that the Mountaineer defensive players were wrapping up the Hokies. They weren’t arm tackling while trying to strip the football, they were making full body-to-body contact and completing tackles.

The longer the year went on, the less that happened. Tackling continued to be a problem and came to a head each of the last two weeks where a number of blown tackles allowed the Texas and Oklahoma offenses to get bigger plays than they should have.

  1. Minus-two in the win column

Hindsight is 20-20, but the argument can be made that this should have been a nine-win team.

Looking at the five losses, two were inevitable for the most part – Oklahoma State, because the Cowboys were simply the better team, and Oklahoma, because of the Grier injury and the Sooners being the better team. That leaves the three other losses – Virginia Tech in the season opener, on the road against TCU, and at home against Texas.

The TCU loss is arguably the loss where it’s easiest to see the path to victory. If the Mountaineers’ special teams unit doesn’t cause its own fumble on what would’ve been a punt return in the first half, TCU doesn’t score that touchdown, and maybe WVU puts the deciding points on the board. Later in that game, on the ensuing play following a Grier interception, TCU scored on a 45-yard pitch and catch that coaches said afterwards they knew was coming. There’s seven more points that could’ve been kept off the board.

Games against Texas and Virginia Tech turn into wins if uncontrollable things don’t happen.

Against the Longhorns, it’s simple: If Grier doesn’t go down the Mountaineers likely win the game. To be fair, Texas had been playing a number of close games against teams that were using their starting quarterback. Defeating the Hokies, I argue, would’ve happened if that was the second game on the schedule instead of the first. That would’ve given all the new pieces on offense a game to jell, and would’ve given Marcus Simms the chance to play in the game, both of which would’ve made a big difference.

  1. Winless in the “big ones”

Not beating Virginia Tech leads into the final point of why 2017 wasn’t a success for WVU.

Each game counts and is important, but obviously some are more important than others. Half of West Virginia’s schedule was played against ranked competition. WVU went 2-4. Neither then-ranked team WVU defeated finished the regular season in the polls.

The rivalry game against the Hokies: loss.

“ESPN GameDay” game against the Horned Frogs: loss.

Home game against the Cowboys: lopsided loss

Season finale against the Sooners: lopsided loss.

As detailed above, two of those games easily could’ve turned into wins.

West Virginia has proven to be capable of beating Oklahoma State in the past, but still needs to find the right recipe for beating Oklahoma. Being winless in big games isn’t a problem unique to this year’s team, it’s been an issue for the Mountaineers for years. Though, given how close the Mountaineers were in at least two of those games, not changing the narrative is why not winning the “big ones” hurts.

Even though it left you with a nasty, sour taste in your mouth, the 2017 regular season was a success for West Virginia.

Sure, the year consisted of a combined -39 score differential to teams from the state of Oklahoma, and won’t end in as exciting of a bowl game as Mountaineer fans would’ve liked, but yes, it was a success.

Not just because finishing at 7-5 clinches another winning season, the 49th such year since the conclusion of WWII, but because of a number of reasons. Five to be exact.

  1. Grier lived up to the hype

Think back to before the season even started. The hype was massive. Fans were thinking, or hoping, that Will Grier would singlehandedly take the Mountaineers to the promised land.

Or at least that’s what they were saying.

He didn’t do that, but Grier put together one of the best seasons for a quarterback in West Virginia history.

Grier’s 34 touchdown passes are the second most, and his nearly 3,500 passing yards are the fourth most in a single season.

He was also confident and poised in the pocket, confident in his throws, and completed a good number of his passes (64.4 completion percentage).

Then the injury happened that derailed Grier’s, and by association the team’s, hopes at playing in a big bowl or even the Big 12 title game.

  1. A good 7-3 team before the injury

West Virginia wasn’t a complete team before Grier’s injury. This team has a number of holes or areas of improvement, but that doesn’t mean the Mountaineers were a bad team by any means.

Think back to the first game of the year when WVU — with a new offensive coordinator, new quarterback, short-handed receiving corps, and a defense wasn’t 100-percent — went toe-to-toe against an established Virginia Tech team, albeit coming up just short. With those factors, that was a good sign for what was to come.

A seven-point loss to TCU highlighted a lot of those areas that needed improving, and for at least one unit was a pivotal turning point that will be highlighted a little later.

A comeback win over a then-ranked Texas Tech team, not falling victim to the hype that Iowa State had when it came to Morgantown, and not allowing the wheels to fall off and give Baylor a victory were big when they occurred.

Individually, the Mountaineers were – and still are – on pace to have a trio of 1,000-yard wide receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. The Mountaineers would be the first team since Tulsa in 2007 to complete the task.

 

 

  1. Major improvements on special teams

The aforementioned loss to TCU confirmed that special teams can make all the difference in a close game.

After forcing the Horned Frogs to punt, a fumble forced by the Mountaineer return unit gave the ball right back to TCU, and turned into seven points. West Virginia went on to lose by seven.

Special teams hadn’t played great up to that point of the year.

Punter Billy Kinney wasn’t performing as well as the coaches would’ve liked, the Mountaineers weren’t getting much from their return units, and coverage was allowing opposing return units to dictate the field position battle at times.

The TCU loss put an emphasis on special teams.

The unit greatly improved from that game on, consistently earning good grades in the weekly report card, and maybe just as importantly, weren’t being mentioned post-game as reasons for a loss when one occurred.

Credit these improvements to the change made over the offseason involving head coach Dana Holgorsen, who said one of the reasons he wanted to give up the offensive play calling duties to give more attention to special teams.

  1. No more Manhattan monkey

Entering the season there were only two places in the Big 12 that West Virginia had been unable to secure a victory in since joining the conference – Manhattan, Kansas, and Norman, Oklahoma.

One of those places was scratched off the list.

Two weeks ago, WVU marched into a rainy Bill Snyder Family Stadium and walked out with a 28-23 win; holding off the Wildcats late, something that has been troublesome in the past.

A year ago, West Virginia’s win over Kansas State was big because it proved that Holgorsen could beat the man he’s looked up to for so long.

This year, the win over Snyder and K-State, in the building that dons the head coach’s very name, proved that Holgorsen’s teams can walk into almost anywhere and feel they have a shot. That’s an added bonus moving forward that shouldn’t be overlooked.

  1. Good foundation laid for next year

Looking ahead to 2018, there will be some losses from this year’s squad. Twenty seniors include both White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir, and Justin Crawford.

That’s over 2,000 yards of offense and 81 tackles no longer suiting up.

Other losses obviously include seniors such as Al-Rasheed Benton, Elijah Wellman, Kyle Bosch and multiple players in the secondary.

Despite those losses, a good foundation has been laid for the coming seasons.

David Long Jr. is a stud and has proved it every game since returning from injury.

Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway will be a formidable backfield for Grier, who will likely still have a receiving corps that includes David Sills V, Gary Jennings, and Marcus Simms.

Young players such as Kenny Robinson (S/Fr), Dylan Tonkery (LB/r-Fr), Hakeem Bailey (CB/r-So), Reese Donahue (DL/So), and Lamonte McDougle (DL/Fr), among others, show that the defense should only get better from here.

Another winter, spring, and summer to get even more familiar with the offense, and it’s not out of the question to hope for even better numbers out of Grier and the offense next year.

The regular season may not have ended on the most positive of notes, with a pair of loses and a major injury.

Regardless, this regular season was a success for West Virginia. A win in the soon-to-be-determined bowl game would give the Mountaineers eight wins in a season for the fourth time during Holgorsen’s tenure, and 13th time since 2000.

Less than 12 months after last season’s Mountaineers won 10 games in the regular season, a seven-win campaign doesn’t feel quite as good, but it was successful nonetheless.

West Virginia will aim to do something it has not done since joining the Big 12 – beat Oklahoma – and do so without its starting quarterback.

Chris Chugunov leads the Mountaineers (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) into Norman to take on a fourth-ranked Sooners (10-1, 7-1) team that already knows it’s playing in the Big 12 title game next week. But that doesn’t mean Lincoln Riley’s club can let their foot off the gas. A home loss to an unranked WVU team could knock the Sooners out of the race for one of the four coveted spots in the College Football Playoffs.

For the third week in a row the Mountaineers have to game plan for two different quarterbacks, but they’re mostly planning to defend Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield.

Murray, then Mayfield

It’s not known how long he’ll be on the sideline, but Mayfield is not starting the game at quarterback. Instead, that will be Kyler Murray.

Murray gets the start due to Mayfield’s actions last week against Kansas, though he possesses a number of the same skill sets that Mayfield has. Murray is an athletic quarterback that can be successful through the air and on the ground. But make no bones about it, once Mayfield enters the game after his disciplinary time out, the offense is his.

Mayfield’s numbers

With Mayfield controlling the offense, the Sooners lead the country in a multitude of stats including total offense, yards per play and plays of 20-plus yards. WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen himself highlighted that the Sooners average 8.3 yards per snap in his meeting with the media Tuesday.

“They’re really good, offensively – the most efficient team I’ve seen in a long time,” Holgorsen said Tuesday. “I’ve never seen anybody average 8.3 yards a play over the course of 11 games.”

Mayfield, OU’s numbers versus WVU

Mayfield has lit up the Big 12 during his three years as the starter for the Sooners. However, his numbers haven’t been fantastic against the Mountaineers.

In his two games against West Virginia, Mayfield has only completed 57.5 percent of his passes and is averaging just 244.5 passing yards per game. Both of those numbers are much lower than his totals against other conference foes.

A majority of his damage against the Mountaineers came in the 2015 meeting in Norman, when the Sooners won 44-24 early in the season. In last year’s 56-28 drubbing in Morgantown, the loaded Oklahoma backfield did a lot of the work, amassing over 300 yards on the ground.

A look at the Oklahoma defense

The Oklahoma defense hasn’t been great, but it’s been getting the job done.

The Sooners rank towards the middle of the Big 12 in a number of defensive categories, including scoring, total, rush and pass defense. They are, however, better than the Mountaineers, statistically, in all of those categories except for pass defense, though the difference is just 10 yards per game.

Schematically, the Sooners don’t appear to be too different from what West Virginia faced last week in Texas, according to Holgorsen. One area that Mike Stoops’ defense has not been excelling at all in is red zone defense. The Sooners are eight in the Big 12 and ranked 92nd nationally in stopping opponents once they get inside the 20-yard line.

Senior defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okronkwo leads the Big 12 and is tied for 13th in the nation with eight sacks, and is second in the conference with three forced fumbles. He also has tallied 17 tackles for loss on the year and has registered at least one stop behind the line of scrimmage in every game.

BLOG: Holgorsen talks plenty about WVU quarterbacks

Chris Chugunov’s tenure as WVU’s starting quarterback has begun in Morgantown.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was asked multiple questions about the quarterback situation at Tuesday’s media session, including if it’s more feasible to try to tailor the offense to Chugunov or to try to tailor him to the offense that’s already in place. Holgorsen said the offense will change some, more so choosing the first option over the latter, but said the junior quarterback does have a lot of capabilities.

“He knows what to do,” Holgorsen said. “There wasn’t anything that he did last week that he didn’t know. He’s been here for three years.”

Holgorsen happy with Chugs

The head coach said he was pleased with the way his now-starting quarterback played in the place of the injured Will Grier on Saturday against Texas.

“I was happy with the way he competed last week,” Holgorsen said. “He went in there and competed his tail off. He got knocked around a little bit and kept getting up. He knew where to go with the ball. It’s just timing and reps.”

However, he did echo his statement from after the game, saying he wished the players around him on the offensive unit would’ve rallied around Chugunov better. He said the offense needs to step up and play above themselves to a degree in order to help Chugunov this week.

‘Oh crap’

That was how Holgorsen described the reaction of the team in the immediate moments following Grier sustaining his finger injury. He talked about that being the “human element” that took over the team for the second quarter, which is to be expected and is definitely understandable.

“I can’t just pinpoint just … our whole sideline was like, ‘Oh crap,’” Holgorsen said.

What do we have to lose?

The head coach posed this question Tuesday, with the answer being nothing. West Virginia isn’t expected to win Saturday – Oklahoma is currently a 22.5-point favorite and is given a 90.4-percent chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

“I can’t remember the last time we’ve been in a situation (like this),” Holgorsen said. “What do we got to lose? Let’s go play ball. Let’s have fun. Let’s rally around Chugs. Let’s play our tails off.

“This season changes drastically if we go win this one. Nobody expects us to win.”

Thanksgiving Week

On a lighter note, Holgorsen said this is one of his favorite weeks of the year.

“It’s a football week,” Holgorsen said. “It has everything to do with just football and being with your football family.”

He said with school being out, and most students back in their hometowns, that there are fewer distractions and the team can focus just on football. Some players will go home Thursday, and those that aren’t close enough to be home with their family will be eating with teammates or coaches. This comes with the caveat that all players must be in their own beds Thursday night before the team heads to Norman on Friday.

Recruiting Opportunity

If there’s a positive outcome of not playing in the Big 12 title game next week, it’s that the WVU coaching staff can do more recruiting than they’ve been able to do the last few seasons at this time. Holgorsen said that based on the Mountaineers schedule over the past two years, that they’ve only had one week around this time of year to do recruiting.

This year, because of not playing in the conference championship game, and with the NCAA’s early signing period, Holgorsen said he and his staff has about three weeks to hit the road and talk to potential future Mountaineers and their families and high school coaches.

BLOG: WVU faces Texas always-evolving Texas defense

The final home game of the regular season pits West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) in a battle of strength-vs-strength between its explosive offense and Texas’ (5-5, 4-3) tough defense that’s been limiting Big 12 teams to season lows all year long.

WVU goes for its third win in a row, while the Longhorns try to escape Morgantown with a win and a spot in a postseason bowl game.

Texas’ defense has been one of the main sticking points when talking about the matchup, and that’s where we’ll start.

“Flavor of the Week” Defense

Despite all the prep work imaginable, there are a few things the Mountaineers won’t know about the Longhorns prior to kickoff Saturday, and one of those things is how much blitzing UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is going to do.

Earlier in the week, WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital equated the blitzing tendencies – or lack thereof – to a “flavor of the week.” Some weeks the defense leans heavily on the blitz, other weeks it’s 50-50, and others Texas drops back into coverage more times than not.

Stop the run, Contain the pass

Something that hasn’t waned from week to week has been the Longhorns ability to stop the run. Texas ranks second in the Big 12 in rush defense, scoring defense and total defense, one of the reasons it’s played a number of close games this year.

One downside to the defense has been its inconsistency in stopping opposing passing attacks, of which WVU has one of the best.

Bombs away punting

Longhorn punter Michael Dickson was said to be the “best punter I’ve ever seen,” by Dana Holgorsen Tuesday.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time nearing five seconds according to Holgorsen.

Two-QB System

Whether it’s inconsistent play, indecisiveness on part of the coaching staff, or the plan all along, Texas has been rolling with two quarterbacks splitting playing time for most of the year.

For the second week in a row, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson enters Saturday not knowing for sure which quarterback his defense will be lining up in front of.

Shane Buechele is the listed starter on the depth chart, with Sam Ehlinger listed as the backup.

According to coaches, Buechele is the better passer of the two – evidence being his higher completion percentage – and Ehlinger is more of an athletic quarterback used to hurting opposing teams with his feet.

Not much of a run game

Texas’ offense hasn’t seen consistent production on the ground, being held under 100 rushing yards as a team four times this season, including ending the game two weeks ago against TCU with just nine rushing yards.

Ehlinger has arguably been the Longhorns best runner this season.

Of the three times this season that a single Texas rusher has eclipsed 100 rushing yards, Ehlinger has accomplished it twice.

Relief could be on the way, though, for the Longhorns, who get back starting left tackle Connor Williams.

Blog: Holgorsen has plenty of praise for Texas defense

High praise for the Texas Longhorns (5-5, 4-3) highlighted No. 24 West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) head coach Dana Holgorsen’s meeting with the media Tuesday.

Among those kudos was calling the Texas defense the best the Mountaineers have faced this season; the latest in a long line of stout defenses that WVU has faced this year. According to the head coach, as well as assistant coaches and players, WVU has its work cut out for them this weekend, and it starts when going up against the Longhorn defense.

Versatile defense

Holgorsen highlighted the front six or seven of the Texas D. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital spoke highly of the secondary.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, offensively,” Holgorsen said. “It’s the best defense we’ve faced.”

The head coach talked about the experience of the Longhorns on that side of the ball – noting that UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has, “Fifteen juniors and five seniors.”

Listed on the depth chart is a total of 17 upperclassmen, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more waiting on the sideline. Spavital talked about the number of blitz packages that WVU could have to defend, coming from all areas of the field. Based on the talk Tuesday, Orlando should remind West Virginia fans of their own defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson, in that both will blitz on any given down if it feels right.

QB Carousel, Part 2

For the second week in a row, Gibson and company enter the week scratching their heads about which opposing quarterback they see. This week, though, it may be more of a matter of when than if.

According to coaches, listed starter Shane Buechele is more of a passer with a big arm that can run when needed. Listed backup Sam Ehlinger, who has started half of the Longhorns’ games this season, is more of an athletic quarterback that can hurt teams with his arm.

Asked how that affects game planning, Holgorsen said it can create a challenge, but mainly if the difference in quarterbacks dictates a different play calling need or strategy to stop him versus the other option.

Highly Praised Punter

Without being asked about him, Holgorsen talked about Longhorn punter Michael Dickson.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time, according to Holgorsen, that’s nearing five seconds.

That prompted Holgorsen to say this:

“Dude needs to go pro right now,” Holgorsen said. “He’s just a junior, but he needs to hurry up and get his degree and go pro. He’s that good.”

Still Looking for Consistency

When asked about his own offense, Holgorsen echoed some of the sentiments he made known after Saturday’s game, saying he wants the offense to be more consistent.

Tuesday he continued by saying that he’d like to see more consistent results on offense no matter who the Mountaineers are facing, and no matter what facet of the game you’re talking about – be it passing game, run game, blocking, etc.

Senior Week

Saturday’s game against Texas will be the final home game for the 20 seniors on the Mountaineer roster.

One oddity of this year’s senior class is that it’s split right down the middle. There are 10 fourth- and fifth-year seniors, and 10 junior college transfers. The best example of that split is with the White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir. The former came to Morgantown after two years at Lackawanna College, and the latter has only played college football in the Old Gold and Blue.

“This is the end of the White era. That is sad,” Holgorsen said.

Holgorsen said his two “main guys” with this team have been Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman, adding that the White brothers have also been special, but saying that all the seniors have been, not wanting to single or leave anyone out.

Injuries and other factors have led to this year’s Kansas State (5-4, 3-3) team not living up to the preseason praise it was getting, as the Wildcats were seen as a dark horse in the Big 12 before the start of the year. Now three-fourths of the way through the season, and Bill Snyder has been forced to play three different quarterbacks.

The quarterback spot is where this week’s edition of Scouting the Opponent will start ahead of No. 23 West Virginia’s (6-3, 4-2) game in Manhattan.

Quarterback Carousel

Senior Jesse Ertz was supposed to be leading the Wildcats to another successful season. Instead, his season came to a halt five games in due to a knee injury.

Snyder has listed Ertz as day-to-day, but his starting quarterback hasn’t strapped on the pads in a game since the injury occurred. In his place was sophomore Alex Delton, who’s had an up and down year, leading to just a 1-3 record in games he’s completed this season. The lone win came two weeks ago against Kansas when Delton attempted just seven passes on a day that K-State excelled on the ground.

Delton, however, was sidelined last week due to multiple hits to the head, causing concussion-like symptoms. That thrust third-string QB Skylar Thompson into action on the road against Texas Tech, in a game that was eventually won on a Thompson pass in overtime. Due to Snyder not disclosing injuries to the media, it’s unclear if Delton or Thompson will start Saturday.

Given his playing style, Delton – if healthy – could present problems for the WVU defense, as he’s a dual-threat QB that ran for 142 yards against Oklahoma earlier this year.

Balanced, but not Explosive

The quarterback changes have kept things balanced, offensively, for the Wildcats, who enter Saturday’s game averaging nearly the same amount of yardage from the pass as they are the run. However, K-State will run the ball nearly twice as much as it will throw, especially without its seasoned veteran Ertz taking snaps.

Kansas State is averaging 193 yards on the ground and nearly 185 through the air. The 378.1 yards of total offense per game is just twenty-nine yards more than what WVU quarterback Will Grier is averaging only passing the ball this season.

Carrying the Rock

Alex Barnes is the leading rusher for the Wildcats, though he’s averaging just 65.2 yards per contest. Delton can be a true run threat if he plays, and Thompson has shown the ability to run as well.

Runs can come from all over. Eight different non-quarterbacks have carried the ball this year for K-State, compared to the seven total players that have a recorded run for West Virginia.

Situational Football

Here are a few numbers that stick out that if they hold true Saturday, could greatly impact the outcome of the game:

Although nearly as efficient on third down as the Mountaineers ­(36% – 34%), the Wildcats have been nowhere near as successful on fourth down. K-State has converted just once all year on fourth down, while WVU has a 73 percent conversion rate.

Kansas State is also turning less than 60 percent of its trips to the red zone into touchdowns. WVU on the other hand is doing so 72 percent of the time.

Built to Stop the Run

Just like he likely drew it up, Snyder’s defense has been built to limit the opposing ground game.

Kansas State has been the third-best team in the Big 12 at stopping the run this season, giving up nearly 60 yards less per game on the ground than WVU. However, the Wildcats have the worst pass defense in the conference. Jayd Kirby leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss this year, followed by Will Geary with 7.5.

Return specialists

K-State is the best time in the Big 12 when it comes to returning kickoffs and is second to only TCU when it comes to returning punts.

The Wildcats have returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown this year. Switching sides, Kansas State has also given up the second-fewest yards on kick returns.

No. 23 West Virginia’s (6-3, 4-2) win over then-No. 15 Iowa State Saturday evening accomplished a couple of things.

It arguably kept the Mountaineer season on the rails. It officially made WVU bowl eligible for this season. And it kept West Virginia alive in the chase to play in the Big 12 Championship game.

Although it’s a slim chance that you’ll see the Old Gold and Blue playing in “Jerry World” on Dec. 2, it’s still a possibility as we enter the final three weeks of the season.

A number of things need to go the Mountaineers’ way for it to happen, and it all starts in house.

The first part of the path is simple: WVU needs to win out. That means defeating Texas at home in two weeks and doing two things West Virginia has not done since entering the Big 12 – winning at Kansas State and winning at Oklahoma.

In the meantime, WVU will need some help.

Big 12 Standings

The Mountaineers don’t own the tiebreaker against either TCU or Oklahoma State, but now obviously do against the Cyclones, and will need to against Oklahoma to play in the Big 12 title game.

West Virginia will also need the Sooners to lose at least one more game, the more likely option being this weekend against TCU. The Horned Frogs can’t provide much help other than beating Oklahoma, though that’s a tall enough task on its own given the game’s in Norman.

Oklahoma State’s loss in Bedlam helped some, but Gundy and company will have to go the extra mile to help the Mountaineers. That means losing this week in Ames – something that isn’t out of the question given previous meetings between the two, and the season that the Cyclones are having.

WVU also needs the Cowboys to fall to Kansas State or Kansas in the final two weeks of the season.

What WVU needs to happen

All of those outcomes would put Gary Patterson’s squad as the top team in the conference at 11-1, 8-1. West Virginia would then follow with a 9-3 overall record – the same as Oklahoma – but the Week 13 win in Norman gives the Mountaineers the better conference record (7-2 as opposed to 6-3) and the tiebreaker for good measure.

OU would then finish fourth behind Iowa State, meaning Baker Mayfield, Mason Rudolph, and others sit at home, while Kenny Hill and Will Grier duel it out in AT&T Stadium.

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Despite being a virtual home game for TCU, Mountaineer fans should want to see the Horned Frogs in the title game more so than other conference foes for a few reasons. Had WVU not gotten in its own way when the two teams played earlier this year, WVU may very well have won the meeting in Fort Worth. Not only that, but TCU’s offense is the least explosive of the teams atop the Big 12.

Also, much like how during basketball season it’s extremely tough to beat the same team three times, it’s tough during football season to beat the same opponent twice. That means OU comes back with a vengeance against the Mountaineers if that would be the title game, or WVU is the one getting payback against the Horned Frogs.

It’s a small chance, but there’s still a chance that West Virginia can play for the Big 12 title. A lot of things need to go the Mountaineers way, but as crazy as the Big 12, and college football in general, has been this year, it can’t be overlooked.