The 6-1 Mountaineers did all the things you can’t do in a road loss to Oklahoma State last weekend, but could you ask for a better pick-me-up ahead of the home stretch than the 1-win Jayhawks in a home night game?
Record: (1-7). It’s been an all-too-familiar season for Kansas fans. The Jayhawks won their first game of the year against Rhode Island in impressive fashion, and there was optimism that they might be able to carry that momentum into Week 2 and beat Ohio to start 2-0. However, Kansas faltered in that game and has failed to win since, and has really only looked competitive once in the ensuing 7 games.
HC: Dave Beaty. Beaty is in 2nd season in charge at Kansas and boasts over 20 years of coaching experience. His current stint is his 3rd with the Jayhawks, where he was previously a Co-Offensive Coordinator in 2011 and a WR coach in 2008 and 2009.
OC: Rob Likens. Likens is another veteran coach with 20+ years of experience. He previously played a big role in developing Cal’s productive passing attack in 2013 and 2014 before joining Beaty’s staff 2 years ago.
DC: Clint Bowen. Bowen is a lifetime Jayhawk, playing at and graduating from Kansas in the 90’s before joining the staff as a graduate assistant in 1996. He left for Minnesota in 1997 but returned a year later and has been there ever since, finally getting promoted to defensive coordinator in 2014.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: DE Dorance Armstrong, LB Marcquis Roberts, LB Courtney Arnick, S Mike Lee, S Fish Smithson
Where to start with Kansas? Their defense is actually slightly improved from a year ago in terms of points and yards allowed per game, but considering that they were the worst team in the country in both categories last year and are still giving up both in bunches (120th nationally in scoring defense, 102nd in total) I’m not sure if that’s anything to write home about. They’ve actually done a pretty solid job against the pass considering Big XII competition, giving up just 236.1 yards and 3.4 explosive passes per game, but have struggled against the run, surrendering 209.8 yards (103rd) and 7.9 explosive runs (121st) per game. Those 11.3 combined explosive plays allowed per game are good for 122nd in the country, which is good news for us considering that our offense’s 12.1 explosive plays per game ranks 4th.
Schematically, their base is a 4-2-5 not terribly dissimilar to Kansas State. They’ll line up with 2 athletic linebackers and a full-time nickel back in addition to the traditional 4 down lineman and 4 defensive backs, and despite what the stats say they actually have some good players in a couple of those spots, as well.
DE Dorance Armstrong is probably the best of the bunch, and after the way our offensive line has performed the past two weeks you know that he’ll definitely have and require our full attention. Armstrong leads the Big XII in both sacks and tackles for loss, and is as disruptive anybody we’ve played this year, including future NFL draftees Charles Harris, Jordan Willis, and Josh Carraway. The linebackers Roberts and Arnick do a nice job at the second level too, where they both move around well enough to be 2nd and 3rd on the team in tackles. On the back end, safeties Fish Smithson and true freshman Mike Lee are both extremely active as well, and rank 1st and 4th on the team in tackles, respectively.
Despite these bright spots though, there are definitely some weaknesses that we should be able to exploit. They’ve been gashed for 200+ yards on the ground by 5 of their 8 opponents, including 329 yards on 57 carries against Ohio in Week 2, so you have to think we’ll be able to establish the ground game. If (when) we get that going, it should open up things up in the passing game, where I’m confident that our receivers will be able to find some space against an experienced-but-not-all-that-talented group of cornerbacks. In general, I expect our offensive narrative in this game to mirror the plot of Austin Powers 2: we’re going to get our mojo back, and in the process, realize that we had it all along. If Skyler plays within himself and takes care of the ball, we’ll be just fine.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Montell Cozart, RB Ke’aun Kinner, WR Steven Sims, WR LaQuvionte Gonzalez
It shouldn’t get any better for the Jayhawks on the other side of the ball either. They have a couple of talented receivers who can hurt us in Steven Sims and LaQuvionte Gonzalez, and QB Montell Cozart, who beat us in Lawrence as a freshman, has been playing better and recently staked claim to the starting job, but honestly there’s not a whole lot going besides that. They rank at or near the bottom of the country in scoring (19.4 per game, 122nd nationally), rushing (102.8 ypg, 124th), total yards (340.4 ypg, 118th), total explosive plays (6.2 per game, 123rd), and turnovers (an unfathomable 27, last). They’ve actually been decently productive in the passing game, ranking 58th with 236.7 yards per game, but considering that they only average 6.2 yards per attempt (112th) and that nearly 60% of their production comes from the previously mentioned duo of Sims and Gonzalez, we shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping everything in front of us.
The running game has withered this season behind a porous offensive line and is averaging an anemic 3.1 yards per carry. The primary ball carriers will be Ke’aun Kinner and Taylor Martin, but I expect Cozart to be in the mix with a few carries, as well. We also might see some of Khalil Herbert, a true freshman who had looked very good in limited action prior to getting injured a few weeks back. Kinner and Herbert look like the most dangerous members of the group, but again, that’s really not saying much.
The key will be winning 1st down. We really struggled in that department against Oklahoma State last week, which allowed them to speed up the tempo and keep us off balance, so I expect us to reemphasize its importance this week and come out extremely aggressively. If we can limit them on 1st, the lack of real weapons outside of those 2 receivers should allow us to commit more bodies to getting after Cozart, especially on obvious passing downs. Our defense thrives in those situations, and as fond as the Jayhawks are of giving the ball away, I wouldn’t be surprised if we nicked a turnover or two. I feel like a bully for saying this, but I’d really love to see us come out and just beat the absolute shit out of them defensively. We’re more than capable, and a good old-fashioned ass whipping would be extremely therapeutic for players and fans alike after last weekend.
The Jayhawks special teams are led by a name that’ll be familiar to Mountaineer fans, many whom still undoubtedly suffer PTSD from his time in Morgantown. Joe DeForest is the Kansas Special Teams coordinator, and nothing I’ve written to this point has made me feel more confident of a victory than that simple fact.
In his 8 games in charge, Kansas has predictably gotten worse in covering both punts and kickoffs, sliding from 62nd to 108th nationally in the former and 42nd to 51st in the latter. They’ve also dropped from 84th to 90th in kick returns and are dead last in the country in punt returns, where they’re somehow averaging -0.5 yards per attempt. It is impossible to overstate how hilarious I find this narrative, and despite our own very concerning special teams issues (crap kick coverage, can’t make FGs outside of 40 yards), I have never been more confident in our team’s ability to win the third phase.
Lads, it’s Kansas.
West Virginia 48 Kansas 10