Mountaineers' bowl chances are on the line when they take on the Wildcats in Manhattan
West Virginia got off to a 3-1 start under Neal Brown, but the Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) have since lost five games in a row. Their lone conference win is over Kansas, with whom they are tied for last in the Big 12.
Kansas State, on the other hand, is No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Head coach Chris Klieman has brought the winning culture from his national championship teams at North Dakota State with him to Manhattan, Kansas. It's to the point where you feel like the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) have the confidence to beat any team in the country on any given Saturday.
West Virginia needs to pull out a tough win on the road in order to build some confidence within that program. Can the Mountaineers get it done?
West Virginia at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saurday, Nov. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -14.5
When West Virginia Has the Ball
For starters, the Mountaineers have little to no rushing attack. Their 75.8 yards per game on the ground make them the third-worst rushing team in the nation. As a result, West Virginia heads into every game basically one-dimensional. Leading rushers Kennedy McKoy and Leddie Brown have a combined 447 rushing yards this season, and neither has reached even 75 yards in a single game.
The problem with that this weekend is that Kansas State only allows 194.8 yards per game through the air, which places them among the top 30 teams in the nation in that category. As usual, quarterback Austin Kendall will need to shoulder the load for the Mountaineer offense and hope the skill players around him are up to the task. That may be a big ask, as the only time they faced a tougher pass defense than they will this weekend is when Missouri held them to seven points and 137 passing yards.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
The Wildcats like to control the tempo with the run and take care of the ball when they do throw it. Their balanced offensive attack is led by dual-threat quarterback Skylar Thompson. The junior signal-caller has tossed nine touchdown passes to just one interception. He's also second on the team in rushing with 331 yards on the ground and adds a team-leading ten rushing touchdowns.
It's simple. The Wildcats go as Thompson goes — and so far in 2019 — things are going pretty well. If West Virginia wants to win, they need to make Thompson uncomfortable. The Mountaineers are tied for 23rd in the nation with 2.89 sacks per game, so they'll need a big output from defensive linemen brothers Darius and Dante Still, who lead the team with a combined 13 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss.
This is not rocket science. Kansas State is a really good football team, and West Virginia just isn't. The Wildcats come prepared to play and win every week thanks to what might be the most underrated coaching staff in all of college football.
Neal Brown simply has too much work to do on his West Virginia rebuild. They are a long way away from being able to go on the road and win games like the one they'll play this weekend. They are going to struggle to move the ball much on offense, while Kansas State's physicality on offense will likely overwhelm the Mountaineers by halftime. This should be a slow, methodical win for the Wildcats.
Prediction: Kansas State 34, West Virginia 13
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.