Welcome back to game week.
After moving on from what would have been a much-anticipated road trip down to Raleigh last weekend, it’s finally time to open up Big 12 play. Kansas State and the grizzled wizard that is Bill Snyder will come to Morgantown this Saturday, fresh on the heels of drubbing UTSA 41-17.
Bye weeks are inherently fickle beasts. While they do allow for teams to rehab nagging injuries and take some mental reps via film study, there’s always the outside chance that a week away from the field can lull even the most talented teams into a false sense of complacency.
Fear not, West Virginia fans. I doubt this particular West Virginia team is anything close to complacent.
After being forced to sit out last week and watch the rest of the nation battle from afar, this should be a group of guys who are ravenous to get back out on the field and usher in conference play. Not only will Dana Holgorsen and Co. be ready to run out onto the field with a full head of steam, the Mountaineers will be mostly healthy across the board, save for the well-documented problems at linebacker. Conversely, the Wildcats will be without starting safety Denzel Goolsby and cornerback Kevion McGee, which has Bill Snyder justifiably worried. Even at full strength, this is a Wildcats team that has given up 704 rushing yards and 72 points through its first three games, two of which were played against the likes of South Dakota and UTSA.
Kansas State is also experimenting with a two-quarterback look, which only slightly favors sophomore Skylar Thompson. The Wildcats are balanced between the run and the pass, but they’ve yet to exhibit the ability to do any one thing spectacularly. If you remember back against Tennessee in Week One, the Volunteers also lacked an established star under center. I don’t think I need to remind you how that panned out for the Mountaineers.
There’s also the matter of Dana Holgorsen’s comments about how exactly the team spent its off-week as a reason for optimism. There may not have been different colored jerseys lining up across from Will Grier and the offense, but football was still front and center, and that’s very telling of the culture currently in place in the Puskar Center.
Lastly, there are the visible indicators that Saturday will be a full-on air raid. Will Grier, despite having one less game under his belt than the majority of his peer group, still sits inside the top-10 of the national rankings in completion percentage, touchdowns and yards per attempt. Supporting Grier’s efforts under center is one of the best offensive lines that WVU has fielded this century, a diverse and efficient run game (hello, Leddie Brown) and a receiving corps that may well be the best in the history of the program. Almost out of nowhere, the Mountaineers have found a defensive line worth worrying about, led by transfer hero Kenny Bigelow. Throw in predictably stellar play from star players like David Long and Dravon Askew-Henry, and the Mountaineers allegedly vulnerable defense is giving up less than 300 yards per game through two games. The sample size is still pretty small, but that’s still quite an improvement from a unit that gave up more than 440 yards of offense in 2017.
What does this all add up to? The likely scenario is that West Virginia, feeling cheated out of a huge non-conference bout with NC State, has some pent-up aggression that will be directed at an unspectacular Kansas State defense. A rested, focused Will Grier should gash the Wildcats’ vulnerable secondary, while Leddie Brown and the Mountaineers’ stable of runningbacks pile up yards on the ground.
Bill Snyder is an excellent coach and his team will attempt to control every ounce of clock that it can. History has shown West Virginia and K-State trend toward more of a slugfest than a footrace, but that might not be the case on Saturday. After a week on the bench, the Mountaineers return in a big way and remind everyone of their stake in the national playoff race. At 3:30 this Saturday, the Mountaineers pick up where they left off.