Just like last week’s matchup between Oklahoma and Texas, Saturday’s game between Kansas State and West Virginia will play a key role in helping to clear the Big 12 title picture. The conference crown won’t be decided this week, but there’s a clear pecking order starting to form. The Wildcats are the Big 12’s only unbeaten team and scored a huge road win over Oklahoma earlier this season. The Mountaineers watched their national title hopes fade in a disappointing loss to Texas Tech last Saturday. However, all is not lost for West Virginia, as it remains a viable Big 12 title contender and should be in the mix for one of the at-large BCS bowl spots.
These two teams have met only twice, with the last meeting occurring in 1931. West Virginia won 23-7 in 1930, while Kansas State claimed a 19-0 victory in 1931. Both games in this series have been played in Morgantown.
Storylines to Watch in West Virginia vs. Kansas State
Will Stedman Bailey play this Saturday?
Lost in the shuffle of West Virginia’s loss to Texas Tech was the injury to receiver Stedman Bailey. The junior caught six passes for 56 yards and one touchdown in the first half but did not play in the final two quarters due to an ankle injury. Bailey is one of the nation’s top deep threats and helps to stretch the field, which allows Tavon Austin to work underneath. If Bailey cannot go, West Virginia will need contributions from a couple of young players. Freshmen Travares Copeland, Jordan Thompson and Dante Campbell have combined for 15 receptions but could be counted on for a bigger role this Saturday. Bailey's status isn't officially known but most signs out of Morgantown seem to indicate he will be able to play in some capacity aginst Kansas State.
Does West Virginia have an answer for Kansas State’s offense?
The Mountaineers have struggled to get stops in Big 12 play this season, giving up at least 45 points in all three of their conference games. To emphasize how bad this defense has been: West Virginia ranks 114th nationally in total defense, 109th in points allowed and 118th in pass defense. Kansas State will present a different challenge than the ones the Mountaineers have played so far, as the Wildcats are a run-first team and aren’t as prolific through the air. Kansas State is averaging 31:47 minutes in time of possession each game, and coach Bill Snyder hopes to control the clock and keep West Virginia’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. The Mountaineers’ rush defense ranks 43rd nationally but opponents have scored 12 touchdowns on the ground. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein is averaging 264 total yards per game and will be a tough assignment for West Virginia’s defense. The Mountaineers need to load the box and force Klein and the Wildcats to win this game through the air. If Kansas State controls the time of possession, it will wear down West Virginia’s defense.
Can Geno Smith get back on track this week?
Although his performance against Texas Tech wasn’t awful, West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith had his worst game of the season. The senior completed 29 of 55 throws for 275 yards and one touchdown. Smith was widely believed to be the Heisman favorite, but his mediocre performance opened the door for Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Kansas State’s Collin Klein to close the gap. Smith takes on a Kansas State secondary that ranks 74th nationally in yards allowed and 42nd in pass efficiency defense. The Wildcats allowed Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones to throw for 299 yards in late September, so there are plenty of plays to be made for Smith and West Virginia’s receiving corps. Considering how well the senior has played this season, last week’s game figures to be a small bump in the road. The senior will have to dodge a Kansas State pass rush that is averaging 2.3 sacks per game, but Smith should top 300 passing yards for the fifth time this year.
The x-factors…players not named Geno Smith and Collin Klein
With all of the focus on the two quarterbacks (Geno Smith and Collin Klein), there are plenty of opportunities for other skill players to step up in this game. West Virginia’s rushing attack has shown flashes of promise behind sophomore Andrew Buie, while Kansas State’s John Hubert is one of the nation’s most underrated players. On the defensive side, keep a close watch on the linebackers. Wildcats’ linebacker Arthur Brown is having an All-American-caliber season, while the Mountaineers have a budding star in redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce. There’s no question Smith and Klein will play a huge role in determining the outcome of the game, but some of the other players will need to step up for their team.
Whichever team can dictate the tempo should gain the upper hand in this game. Kansas State wants to grind the clock and limit West Virginia’s possessions, while the Mountaineers hope to use their high-powered passing attack to jump out to an early lead and keep the pressure on the Wildcats’ offense. Kansas State is not built to rally from 14 or 17 points down, so it’s important for Bill Snyder’s club to control the tempo.
Another factor that could determine how this game goes is the health of West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey. Although the Mountaineers can move the ball without Bailey, the junior is a key cog in the passing attack and helps to relieve the pressure on Tavon Austin. If Bailey can’t go, Kansas State can focus more on stopping Austin. And that means West Virginia’s young receivers have to have their best game of the year.
As usual, turnovers will play a key role in this game. Kansas State ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin, while West Virginia checks in 14th.
Even though the Mountaineers have struggled on defense, facing a run-first Kansas State squad is a good matchup for a team with secondary question marks. This one should be a tossup and will be decided late in the fourth quarter. It’s hard to pick against the Wildcats, but the Mountaineers find a way to rebound at home.
Final Prediction: West Virginia 38, Kansas State 34
by Steven Lassan
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