It’s that time again.
West Virginia University (2-1) plays its first Big 12 game in the Neal Brown era when it travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to play the Kansas Jayhawks (2-1) at 4:30 p.m. in Memorial Stadium, while Marshall University is on a bye week.
Who’s going to win?
Here is my prediction:
What a turnaround for the Mountaineers. After being an underdog at home in Morgantown a week ago against North Carolina State, this week WVU actually is a 4.5-point favorite on the road versus Kansas.
So, what changed?
Oh, just about everything.
“You can’t continue to do the same things,” said Brown. “So, as coaches just because we’ve had success doing certain things that way in the past, you’ve got to adapt. It’s really not about what we’re the most comfortable with or what I’m the most comfortable with. It’s what our kids can do the best.
“So, you keep trying until you find some things that work. I felt like we found some things that worked against NC State. We’re at a point where it’s going to have to be ... we’re going to have to present differently each and every week to have success in the run game.
“I thought our offensive line communicated much better. We had hats on hats a lot better and a lot more frequently than we’d had in the past. We’re not at a point right now where we can just line up and bash people. Hopefully we’ll get to that point, but we’re probably not to that point right now.”
That’s the crux of the matter.
Particularly this week.
All because what WVU does worst is what Kansas does best. Namely, run the football. Kansas averages 201.7 yards rushing and is tied with Missouri as the 40th best rushing attack in the nation, according to NCAA statistics.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers are averaging only 79.0 yards rushing and are ranked No. 123 in rushing offense among the 130 FBS programs.
Granted, WVU improved last week by rushing for 173 yards on 28 carries, but the Mountaineers’ running attack doesn’t begin to compare with the Jayhawks.
That’s because Kansas has the best one-two running back punch in the nation. Senior Khalil Herbert, 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, ranks No. 3 in the nation with 119.0 yards per game. Just a half-step behind him is teammate Pooka Williams, 5-10, 170-pound sophomore, ranking No. 4 in the country averaging 110.0 yards.
Talk about double trouble.
In Kansas’ 44-27 victory at Boston College a week ago, Herbert rushed for 187 yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries, while Williams gained 121 yards and a TD on 22 carries.
They combined for a stunning 308 yards rushing.
The duo also got Brown’s attention.
“We’ll be hard-pressed to find a better [running back] duo in the league,” said WVU’s first-year coach.
That means the WVU defense that has been so tough during the second half — allowing only a pair of field goals to James Madison and NC State — can’t afford to take the first half off this Saturday.
Just ask Brown.
“I am happy that we are playing better [defense] in the second half,” said WVU’s coach, “but I’d like to get to the point where we’re playing good in the first half as well.”
It appears to be a necessity this week.
So, although WVU is favored, I believe this game is a toss-up that the Mountaineers will win, 24-21.
Season record: 5-1