Kansas State comes into this game 2-1 and touting the No. 1 defense in the country. The Wildcats' only loss was to Stanford 26-13. Since then Kansas State has dismantled its next two opponents by a combined score of 98-7 in only six quarters of play. Last week’s 35-0 win over FCS member Missouri State was called at halftime due to lightning.
West Virginia enters as one of only two remaining undefeated Big 12 teams as it opens conference play. The Mountaineers' non-conference slate included games against Missouri, a good Youngstown State team from the FCS ranks, and BYU.
This annual Big 12 meeting is always close, with the last two games being decided by a total of only eight points. However, the Mountaineers have never beaten the Wildcats.
Kansas State at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: West Virginia -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Kansas State’s defense is for real
Many, including myself, have put an asterisk beside the Wildcats' stats because they only played half of their game last weekend against an FCS team due to lightning. However, the fact remains that Kansas State, statistically, has the best defense in the nation going into Week 5 of the season.
Only allowing 179 yards per game is impressive and presents a very tall task for the Mountaineers, whose offense is ranked 13th in the nation with 533 yards per contest.
Something will have to give in Morgantown this weekend. Which will bend first, the Kansas State defense or the Mountaineers' offense?
2. Kansas State will struggle to pressure Skyler Howard
West Virginia’s senior quarterback is off to a great start, averaging 362 total yards per game. One reason for his success is the work of the Mountaineers' offensive line that has only allowed one sack this season.
Consequently, Kansas State's pass rush has not been that successful this season, generating just six sacks in 10 quarters.
Giving Howard time in the pocket does not bode well for the Wildcats, as Howard is completing nearly 70 percent (68.5) of his pass attempts. And with targets like Shelton Gibson, Ka’Raun White, and Daikiel Shorts, Kansas State’s secondary will face its biggest test yet.
3. Howard will need to continue his early-season success
Kansas State’s defense held Heisman Trophy hopeful Christian McCaffrey under 100 rushing yards until late in the fourth quarter when he exploded for a 41-yard touchdown to seal the game. Point being, the Wildcats' run defense is strong.
The Mountaineers have two very capable running backs in Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell. But WVU will need to rely on Howard to complete passes.
If Howard has an off game the Wildcats will be able to key on the running game, not a good scenario for the Mountaineers.
Howard will need to build upon that high completion rate (68.5 percent) to lead the Mountaineers to a win. If he is unable to balance the offense this could be a long day for the home team.
Kansas State will attempt to slow this game down and this will be one of those matchups in which neither team seems to have the advantage. Kansas State has yet to face an offense as versatile as the Mountaineers’ but West Virginia has yet to face a defense as stringent as the Wildcats’.
While Mountaineer fans do not want to hear it, this game may very well come down to special teams again. However, this season the outcome will be different. It’s Homecoming in Morgantown and the Mountaineer faithful will be out in full force. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen finally gets the better of Kansas State counterpart Bill Snyder and the Mountaineers will improve to 4-0 on the season
Prediction: West Virginia 30, Kansas State 27
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.