The West Virginia Mountaineers and Kansas State Wildcats are set to meet in a Big 12 showdown Saturday with bowl game implications aplenty.
K-State won its third straight game last week, 35-10 over rival Kansas, to improve to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in conference play, locking up bowl eligibility in the process. A spot in the conference championship game appears out of reach, but a spot in a warm and sunny locale in late December is still up for grabs.
West Virginia dropped its opportunity for a third consecutive win as its offense stalled in a 24-3 loss to Oklahoma State last week. The Mountaineers are now 4-5 overall including a 2-4 mark in the Big 12, needing two wins in their final three games to secure any postseason spot.
West Virginia at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas State -6.5
When West Virginia Has the Ball
The Mountaineers' offense, and quarterback Jarret Doege in particular, entered last week's game with great momentum following a solid October. Doege threw for over 230 yards in every game last month, twice surpassing the 300-yard mark, including 370 yards in the win over Iowa State on Oct. 30. However, the matchup against Oklahoma State's excellent defense did not go well, and Doege suffered his worst start at West Virginia with 109 yards on 5.0 yards per attempt, including one interception. The senior has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,180 yards and 11 touchdowns with eight picks, and he still leads the Big 12 with 242.2 passing yards per contest, but Doege continues to struggle with consistency.
The game against the Cowboys also was running back Leddie Brown's worst of the season. After running for 100 yards in back-to-back games against TCU and Iowa State, marking the third time he passed the century mark this year, Brown was held to just 24 rushing yards on 10 carries. It marked his lowest production since 2019. Brown now has 666 rushing yards, which ranks seventh in the Big 12, and his 11 rushing touchdowns are tied for third most in the league. However, he has averaged just 4.4 yards per carry, which ranks 16th among Big 12 players with at least 30 rushing attempts.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Running back Deuce Vaughn is one of the best players in the Big 12 and could be headed for All-American recognition. Vaughn needed just 11 rushing attempts against Kansas to set a career high with 162 yards on the ground and to tie his personal best with three rushing touchdowns. Vaughn now has 866 rushing yards and 12 scores on the ground this season, which rank fifth and second in the conference, respectively.
Of course, Vaughn is more than just a runner. The sophomore added 70 receiving yards on six catches against the Jayhawks, to bring his season totals to 38 receptions and 421 yards, as well as three scores — all tops on the K-State team leaderboard. Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson has been able to get receivers Phillip Brooks (27 rec., 360 yds., 2 TDs) and Malik Knowles (24, 341, 2), and tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (9, 274, 2) more involved recently. However, Vaughn is still the most consistently productive option, and Thompson — who has completed 71.3 percent of his passes for 1,548 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions, and an average of 9.9 yards per pass attempt — has made good use of him.
Last week's results could be slightly misleading for both teams. While Kansas State rolled on offense, Kansas has one of the worst defenses in the country, statistically speaking. Conversely, West Virginia struggled, but Oklahoma State has ranked among the nation's best defenses.
The Mountaineers could have more success this week since K-State ranks 63rd nationally with an average of 5.61 yards per play allowed to FBS opponents and 72nd in Expected Points Added per play (0.210) in non-garbage-time situations. But the Wildcats have been tough against the pass with 7.8 yards per pass attempt allowed versus FBS opponents, which ranks 30th overall, as well as a 37.5 percent success rate, which sits 22nd on the FBS leaderboard. Plus, Felix Anudike-Uzomah leads the nation with 11.0 sacks, with 6.0 of them coming during the team's recent three-game winning streak.
But will WVU be able to contain Vaughn and the Wildcats? After posting elite defensive numbers in 2020, the Mountaineers have taken a step a big back this year. The unit ranks 82nd in yards per play (5.88), 64th in EPA per play (0.197), 82nd in yards per pass attempt (8.1), and 82nd in success rate (43.9 percent). West Virginia might have a motivational edge given that it still needs two wins for bowl eligibility, but Kansas State has the home-field advantage and a more consistent (albeit streaky) track record this season. Expect a close game, but for the Wildcats to prevail.
Prediction: Kansas State 27, West Virginia 22
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