MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia football team travels to Lawrence, Kansas, this week for its regular-season finale with a chance to reach bowl eligibility.
The 5-6 Mountaineers face a 2-9 Jayhawk squad that has shown significant signs of improvement in recent weeks under first-year head coach Lance Leipold. Kickoff time at KU’s Memorial Stadium Saturday is slated for 7 p.m. (Eastern), and the game will be broadcast by FS1.
After a 1-8 start to the season, which featured only a week-one, 17-14 victory over FCS South Dakota, Kansas stunned Texas on Nov. 23 with a 57-56 overtime triumph. KU followed that up with a hard-fought contest at TCU this past Saturday in which the Horned Frogs needed a last-second field goal to pull out a 31-28 win.
Now, it’s West Virginia’s turn to test Leipold’s Jayhawks, and certainly, the Mountaineers have a great deal at stake. Their postseason path is cut and dried – if WVU leaves Lawrence with a victory, it will get a bowl opportunity. If West Virginia loses at KU, it will remain home for the postseason.
“It’s a huge game for us on the road,” stated West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “I think Kansas is playing their best football. I have a lot of respect for Coach Leipold, even before he got to Kansas.”
Brown’s final game as the head coach at Troy came in the 2018 Dollar General Bowl in the Trojans’ 42-32 victory over Buffalo, which was coached by Leipold.
“Schematically, they’re very good in all three phases,” added Brown of the Jayhawks. “If you look at what they did at Buffalo in getting that to its peak, they are great talent evaluators, schematically they do a really good job and their kids always play extremely hard. That’s no different than what they are doing (at KU).”
WVU leads the all-time series against Kansas 9-1 and holds a 3-1 advantage in games played in Lawrence. The only Mountaineer blemish against KU was a 31-19 loss at Memorial Stadium in 2013.
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West Virginia’s 31-23 victory over Texas at Mountaineer Field this past Saturday allows WVU to go to Kansas with its bowl dreams still intact.
“I thought it was a three-phase win,” said Brown of beating the Longhorns for the first time in his three seasons as WVU’s head coach. “We played quality football in all three phases. We can play better; I don’t think we played our best. But it was quality football, and that was the goal all week – to play quality football.”
West Virginia was clean throughout most of the game against Texas. It committed just three penalties and won the turnover battle 1-0.
Defensively it did allow the Longhorns two explosive touchdown plays in a 49-yard run and a 52-yard pass, but other than that, the Mountaineers made UT (4-7) earn everything else it got. WVU limited the visitors to just two of 10 on third-down conversions, and while Texas did rush for 203 yards, it threw for only 152 yards, as its quarterbacks completed just 14 of 30 pass attempts.
“We thought our best line of defense was to drop eight and limit their explosive pass plays,” explained Brown. “We knew they would be able to ding us with some run plays, which they did, but for the most part, we were able to limit their explosive plays, and that was effective.
“Offensively, it starts with zero turnovers,” added WVU’s coach. “We also dominated time of possession (38:36 to 21:24), and that was due to third- and fourth-down conversions (12 of 20 on third downs and one of two on fourth downs). We even converted some really long third-and-longs. Then we also scored touchdowns in the red zone. To me, those were the differences.”
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Brown announced the team’s award winners from the Texas game: Leddie Brown (offense); Sean Mahone (defense); Brandon Yates (offensive line); Austin Brinkman (special teams); Wyatt Milum and Scottie Young (blue-collar); Tomas Rimac, Quamaezius Mosby and Andrew Wilson-Lamp (scout team); and Derek Ambrosino (juice squad).
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The Mountaineers overcame a wide array of injuries to defeat Texas.
Most of those injured players will not be able to return for this week’s regular-season finale at Kansas, though Brown is hopeful a few will be available. Linebacker Lance Dixon and defensive back Charles Woods, neither of whom played against UT, could possibly see action this week. Also, the hope is that wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who was injured in the second half this past Saturday and did not return for that game, will be able to take the field against the Jayhawks.
The status of bandit VanDarius Cowan, though, is unclear.
“VanDarius didn’t dress Saturday, and his status is up in the air; it’s really up to him,” explained Brown. “He’s not injured.”