The Chalkboard: WVU – Kansas
A couple of similarities jump off the page in this week’s Mountaineer – Jayhawk battle, even if relative conference positioning isn’t one of them. Both teams have transfer quarterbacks that have started off the season with a bang. Both teams have players on the injury recovery road that could see their first action this week, and which could have an impact on their teams’ performances. Both have anchors at linebacker who provide leadership on and off the field, and are rallying points for their units.
The quarterback comparison is an easy one, with the numbers similar. WVU’s Will Grier is 69-105 (65.7%) for 1,027 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Kansas’ Peyton Bender is 85-146 (58.2%) for 1,030 yards and six scores. The Jayhawks have been forced to throw a bit more while trailing in their last two games (Bender leads the Big 12 in passing attempts), while Grier has had the luxury of passing with two games well in the Mountaineers’ hands. That can make a difference in performance, but it’s unlikely that Grier will be fazed by a relatively tame enemy crowd.
WVU has safety Toyous Avery, linebacker David Long and offensive lineman Grant Lingafelter are on the mend, and all could see action on Saturday. KU will welcome running back Taylor Martin back to the fold after the junior missed the last two games. Although Martin had just 17 yards in the season opener before departing with an injury, the Kansas coaching staff believes he can be a difference-maker. Kansas might also employ sophomore quarterback Carter Stanley at times, even given Bender’s productivity. Stanley, who like Martin has an undisclosed injury, could appear as a situational runner for the Jayhawks, giving them another weapon in short yardage and red zone situations.
Finally, there’s West Virginia’s Al-Rasheed Benton and Kansas’ Joe Dineen, two linebackers around which the respective defenses revolve. you can’t find a WVU article where “Benton” and “leadership” don’t appear in close proximity, and Dineen, a Lawrence native, is setting school standards with his start this year. The junior, who missed nine games last year due to injury, is averaging almost 13 stops per game this season, with eight of those per game being of the solo variety. That mark is second nationally,
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Yes, that’s Joe DeForest in his second year of handling Kansas’ special teams. And before you guffaw and declare an immediate advantage for the Mountaineers, a look at the stats might be in order. The Jayhawks are holding opponents to just 12.2 yards per kickoff return, and are averaging 42.3 yards per punt. Other stats, such as punt return average allowed (16.2 yards) aren’t as good, but in all it’s a mixed bag — sort of like what West Virginia has posted so far. There’s always been a conflation of DeForest’s special teams and defensive coordinator performance, which doesn’t paint a clear picture.
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After just three games at Kansas, Bender has recorded 1,030 yards passing, making him the fastest Jayhawk to reach 1,000 career passing yards in the 127-year history of the program. The next-fastest KU quarterbacks to reach 1,000 career passing yards were Jordan Webb (2010-12) and Bill Whittemore (2002-03), who each reached that mark in their first six games.
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More on the passing game. Last week, WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital noted that he called two kinds of plays – base runs and passes and deep shots. Other than the downfield throws, most of West Virginia’s passing game consisted of wide receiver screens, quick outs and slants. Will that change this week? WVU hasn’t needed to throw many mid-range or middle of the field routes the last two weeks, and Virginia Tech took those away with its defensive scheme in the opener. The Mountaineers might not need to utilize all of its passing tree this week, but it might want to exercise a couple more options to test the execution in game conditions.
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Here come the tight ends again. End of line Jayhawk Ben Johnson has 12 catches for 172 yards so far this year. Those aren’t massive numbers, but with WVU’s issues over past seasons in combating the tight end in the passing game, they are significant enough. Fourteen yards per catch is an impressive number, and one that KU will likely try to bring to bear in this game. Watch how WVU covers the tight end in different personnel packages, and take a few snaps to track Johnson, especially in running situations when a play action fake develops.
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Kansas’ Memorial Stadium opened in 1921 — three years before West Virginia’s old Mountaineer Field, which closed in 1979.
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Kansas gets exactly zero love as a football destination, and that’s understandable, given the dominance of all things Jayhawk by the men’s basketball program. However, the football side does have one thing going for it — a great venue for pregame tailgating. Memorial stadium sits in a bowl between two ridges, and one end of that is a beautiful grass lawn on Campanile Hill that provides space to spread out, pitch a canopy and enjoy the day with the turf, not asphalt or concrete, tickling your feet.