Grading The Mountaineers: WVU vs. Kansas
LAWRENCE, KANSAS – West Virginia may not have been perfect in its 29-24 victory at Kansas Saturday, but the Mountaineers did what they had to do to get the first road win of the Neal Brown era and move to 3-1 in the process.
Here is how we graded WVU’s performance against the Jayhawks.
Atmosphere – Mother Nature contributed to some of the problems in terms of atmosphere, as Saturday in Lawrence started out gray and drizzly. The rain threatened up to kickoff, which could be an excuse for the smallish crowd. Still, no excuse is necessary; this is Kansas, which has averaged less than 20,000 in attendance per game the last season and a half. Even last week’s KU win at Boston College, which was the Jayhawks’ first on the road vs. a Power 5 opponent since 2008, did little to generate excitement among the Red and Blue faithful. The 50,071-seat stadium was less than half full (it was announced at 35,816; don’t believe it), though it was the largest to see the Mountaineers play in their four trips to Lawrence. Those who were at Memorial Stadium Saturday did get semi-loud a couple times, but still there were only 35,816 of them in the house. That may be a big crowd for Kansas, but compared to any other Power 5 program it was pitiful. Grade – D
Offense – West Virginia had 12 drives in the game and just four of them ended with either a three-and-out or a four-and-out). Everything else was much sustained. WVU moved the football well overall, throwing for 202 yards and rushing for another 192. It was especially effective on third downs, converting 9-of-18. Its biggest downfall was its inability to finish those drives, as nine times itdrove the ball inside the Kansas 35, but managed only three touchdowns out of those golden opportunities. As the opposition gets tougher, it can’t afford to let those chances go awry. Grade B
Defense – The Kansas ground game burned Boston College for 329 rushing yards and another 238 through the air in the Jayhawks’ 48-24 upset of the Eagles in Chestnut Hill last week. KU got 417 yards of total offense on the Mountaineers with 275 of those coming through the air. West Virginia’s concentration was to slow down Kansas’ strong running attack. It did a pretty good job of that regard, holding the Jayhawks to just 142 yards on the ground. The Mountaineers did have trouble getting pressure on KU quarterback Carter Stanley, though, and because of that, the senior QB had time to complete 19 of 25 passes. West Virginia’s defense was credited with two sacks but no quarterback hurries. That lack of pressure and allowing the one big play in which Stanley fired a strike to Andrew Parchment for a 75-yard TD were WVU’s biggest defensive issues. Grade B-
Special Teams – The forecast rain held off but the winds of Kansas made for an interesting kicking day on both sides. Even KU’s Big 12-leading punter Kyle Thompson struggled (38.2 average on five attempts). West Virginia placekicker Even Staley had a wind-blown miss from 43, but the junior did come back to bank home a 37-yard field goal off the right upright to give the Mountaineers a 10-7 halftime lead. He added two more important three-pointers in the second half. WVU punter Josh Growden definitely had different results going into the wind then he did with it at his back. West Virginia also benefited from a couple of Kansas special teams penalties. Grade B
Coaching – Neal Brown and his staff again coaxed improvements out of most aspects of their team this week. Offensively West Virginia’s run game, which was so anemic in the first two games, has now found a rhythm for two straight weeks, mixing outside schemes with a much-improved inside attack. WVU’s 192 rushing yards is its best effort so far this year. Defensively the Mountaineers weren’t perfect, but their focus of slowing down the Jayhawks’ dangerous running back tandem of Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert worked well, limiting the pair, who had 308 yards last week against BC, to just 103 combined. Grade B+