WVU, Kansas Meet On Similar Paths
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — They came into the season a pair of mystery teams, West Virginia and Kansas, and now they open Big 12 play against each other.
Kickoff in Lawrence, Kansas, is 4:30 p.m. with the game carried online only on ESPN+.
A victory could spur either team on to become the surprise team in the conference.
A loss? It could ignite a dismal season of frustration.
True, West Virginia carries far more football prestige into the game than does Kansas, which has becoming the tackling dummy of the Big 12, if not all of major college football, in recent years.
The Jayhawks have not won more than three games in any season in a decade, have not had a winning season since 2008 and are 18-90 over their last 108 games.
But that was then and this is now and they own the same 2-1 record possessed by WVU, they are coached by the venerable Les Miles, who has a national championship at LSU on his resume and they own what well may be the two best running backs in the Big 12 in Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert.
If the Herbert name is familiar, it should be for two years ago he rushed for 291 yards against the Mountaineers, which remains the most yardage WVU has ever given up to one back in a game.
And, over the years they have faced the likes of Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Tony Dorsett, Larry Csonka and any number of other All-American or Hall of Fame backs.
“I’ll bet there’s a great atmosphere. There’s a lot of excitement with Les Miles being there and they will be excited about that win over Boston College,” West Virginia’s new coach, Neal Brown, said this week as he prepared his team for its second road test.
The first one was a disaster at Missouri, which itself was coming off an unfathomable road defeat.
“Going on the road is having a mature approach. You can’t lose your focus,” Brown said. “Football players and coaches are so routine-oriented. You go on the road and you are out of your routine. You aren’t in the same place, you’re not used to the locker room.
“I don’t know at Missouri if the travel had as much to do with the game as Missouri not being real happy after losing at Wyoming.”
Kansas is flying high after beating Boston College.
Miles said the locker room experience after that game was “one of the strongest locker rooms I’ve been part of.”
The running game that Kansas offers has certainly gotten WVU’s attention.
“They can take the ball anywhere on the field and make it a touchdown,” defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said.
The real problem is that Herbert may not be their best back, for the featured back now is the smaller, quicker Pooka Williams.
“Now they got two of them,” Koenning said. “No. 1, Williams, is very quick, very elusive. It’s going to take all we got to corral those guys.”
Quarterback Carter Stanley is not a dynamic player but he is a good fit for what the Jayhawks are trying to do.
“I think he’s a management guy,” Koenning said. “He throws it plenty well. He’s very accurate, the balls are in front of the receivers which allows them to keep running. He manages the game. I haven’t seen one thing that makes me believe he isn’t in complete control.”
Of course, West Virginia comes into the game off its best effort of the year, a 44-27 triumph over N.C. State, a game in which the offense came to life behind quarterback Austin Kendall.
In that game the Mountaineers changed their offensive approach, used more motion, worked the sidelines early to try and open some running room. That allowed running back Kennedy McKoy to have his best day of the season while scoring twice.
What will this week look like?
“You have what you do with your base schematics,” Brown said. “It’s a fine line. You want to do enough different stuff to where defenses can’t key in on what you are doing but you can’t change so much that your kids don’t have enough repetition.
“So, you are always careful how much you are carrying into the game. To me, confidence comes through repetition and you carry too many things you can’t get enough repetition.”