Wildcats welcome Mountaineers to Manhattan needing one more win to become bowl eligible
West Virginia and Kansas State have played very close games in recent years. The past two seasons the games have been split and decided by one point each. The Wildcats won 24-23 in Manhattan in 2015 and last season, the Mountaineers returned the favor with a 17-16 victory. But since WVU joined the Big 12, K-State holds a 4-1 edge. The Wildcats are playing for bowl eligibility this weekend, while the Mountaineers look to build on last week’s win over No. 15 Iowa State. Meantime, K-State stunned Texas Tech last week in Lubbock. Trailing 35-27 with less than 10 minutes left, the Wildcats scored 11 points, scored a touchdown in overtime and held Texas Tech on its possession for the 42-35 win.
West Virginia at Kansas State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Kansas State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who’s at quarterback?
Jesse Ertz is healthy, Jesse Ertz isn’t healthy. Alex Delton takes his place, he gets hurt, and then it’s Skylar Thompson to lead the Wildcats to victory last week. Head coach Bill Snyder has kept his the health of his quarterbacks very close to the vest. Thompson looked good in limited action, completing five of eight passes for 96 yards, along with a rushing touchdown. Can he carry that momentum from Lubbock back home to Manhattan? Thompson also appears to be a superior passer to Delton, who is a run-first QB, with shaky accuracy through the air. Thompson gives the Wildcats at least the threat of passing downfield, which Delton does not.
2. WVU passing attack vs. K-State secondary
Will Grier’s (above, right) outstanding season has been in the shadows of Baker Mayfield’s Heisman campaign at Oklahoma. However it’s Grier who is ranked second in the nation in touchdown passes, fourth in points responsible for per game and passing yards per game, fifth in total offense, eighth in passing efficiency and yards per pass attempt, 11th in completions per game and No. 15 in passing yards per completion. Is that enough? Meantime, Kansas State came into the season with high expectations from its secondary, but the Wildcats’ pass defense is the worst in the Big 12. Stunning. Grier could turn this into a long afternoon for Snyder and company.
3. Special teams factor
With two teams that have played single-digit games the past three meetings, it only takes one big special teams play to turn the proceedings on their head. Kansas State leads the Big 12 in kickoff and punt return average. Meantime, the Mountaineers are last in the conference in punt return average. WVU also ranks near the bottom in kickoff coverage. Special teams is where Bill Snyder’s teams have made a living during his career and this week could be no different.
West Virginia became bowl eligible last week with their win over Iowa State, while Kansas State is playing for its sixth win this week. As mentioned, the Wildcats are going to have beat the Mountaineers on the ground, and that is doable against a run defense that is ninth in the Big 12, giving up 193 rushing yards per game. But WVU played the run well last week against Iowa State, limiting the Cyclones to just 101 yards on the ground, forcing QB Kyle Kempt to beat its defense through the air. That’s what the Mountaineers need to do this week against Kansas State. Make either Alex Delton or Skylar Thompson make plays with their arm.
Meantime, Will Grier should have his way with David Sills, Gary Jennings and Ka’Raun White on the outside torching a Wildcats secondary that has given up at least 400 passing yards in each of their past three games (Texas Tech, Kansas and Oklahoma). Plus, after three subpar games, Justin Crawford got back on track with his first 100-yard rushing performance in nearly a month. While K-State has the second-best red zone defense in the Big 12, WVU has the second-best red zone offense, with zero turnovers inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
Ultimately, expect points to be put on the board with both of these defenses ranking around 100th in the country. But it’s the Mountaineers that have more offensive firepower to get it done.
Prediction: West Virginia 38, Kansas State 31
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.