Three Keys for No. 13 WVU Against No. 4 KSU - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Three Keys for No. 13 WVU Against No. 4 KSU

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CHARLESTON -

There have been some huge games at Mountaineer Field over the past two decades, starting with the showdown against the No. 4 Miami Hurricanes in 1993, which helped propel WVU to an undefeated regular season that fall. 

In 1998, the Ohio State Buckeyes opened the season in Morgantown as the top team in the country and ultimately defeated the No. 20 Mountaineers 34-17 before a hostile crowd of more than 68,000 people.

In 2003, the third-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies strolled into town on a Wednesday night and were upset 28-7 by a 2-4 WVU squad before a national ESPN audience.  The Mountaineers didn't lose again until that year's bowl game, and ever since that season WVU has never won less than eight regular season games.

And last year, No. 2 LSU came to Touchdown City for a non-conference game in late September and quieted a fired-up crowd for a 47-21 victory with ESPN's College Gameday crew in attendance.

But will Saturday night be the most important home game for WVU since that ‘93 game with the Hurricanes? 

You can certainly make that case, especially since Kansas State is a Big 12 conference opponent ranked No. 4 in the BCS Standings, and the game will be played in primetime on national TV and will pit against each other arguably the top two Heisman contenders.

Obviously, the Mountaineers have their work cut out for them.  They're facing a dual-threat Heisman hopeful quarterback (all 6'5" 230-pounds of him), an experienced and tough offensive line and arguably the conference's most physical defense, which held No. 9 Oklahoma to 19 points back in September.  That's the same Sooner offense which just scored 63 points on the Longhorns last Saturday.

So how does a WVU team which just got embarrassed on the road in Lubbock bounce back and defeat a top five KSU squad?

First off, the Mountaineers need to bring more energy in all three phases of the game.  You could tell from the beginning of the contest last week the Mountaineers lacked the intensity needed to go onto a conference opponent's home turf and come out with a win.  I don't care if WVU was facing Kansas last weekend, they would've had trouble beating anyone in the conference with that performance.  Whether it was the back-to-back road trips to Texas, the unfamiliar wind, the two previous tight shootouts or whatever, there's no denying that Dana Holgorsen's squad was simply not ready to play.  And it showed, badly.  With a top team coming into Mountaineer Field for the first evening home game of the year, it's hard to imagine that energy, intensity and effort will be an issue for the ‘Eers.  However, if they come out with the body language that resembles anything similar to what they showed a week ago, then there could be serious issues on this team.

Secondly, do not let Tramaine Thompson or Tyler Lockett beat you in special teams.  Both of these small, elusive receivers may not scare a ton of teams with their offensive statistics (Remember, KSU is a run-first offense…these two have combined for 480 receiving yards and 4 TD's).  On special teams, however, Thompson and Lockett are lethal.  Thompson is the main guy on punt returns and he has accumulated 134 yards on only 4 touches, including an 89-yard touchdown.  Clearly, teams have been punting away from him recently, and the WVU punting unit needs to follow suit.  This may be a situation where a shanked 30-yard punt actually turns out better than an average punt that winds up in the hands of Thompson (can't believe I just said that). 

On kickoff returns, Lockett is the guy you want to avoid.  He has returned 9 kickoffs over the first half of the season for a whopping 276 yards (30.7 yards per touch makes him 8th nationally), including a 96-yard touchdown against North Texas.  So far, the 5'11" sophomore has lived up to his billing as a Preseason All-American candidate on special teams.

Last season against LSU, it was a Morris Claiborne kickoff return touchdown which broke open the game late in the third quarter and the Tigers never looked back.  Can the Mountaineers avoid a similar catastrophe this weekend?

And finally, my third key to the game is for the WVU defense to spy a linebacker (Isaiah Bruce or Josh Francis?) on KSU quarterback Colin Klein all game, stack the box with seven or eight defenders on every snap, blitz and force him to beat you with his arm.  If this means there is one-on-one coverage on the outside all night, then so be it.  You have to take your chances somewhere against this well-disciplined KSU offense and try to force a turnover or two. 

With that said, if it was this easy then everybody would be defending them in similar fashion.  KSU has proven time and time again that their game plan is to pound the run game and control time of possession.  They're physical and they want to impose their will on you, similar to many of the SEC offenses.  Holgorsen and his staff will have to find a way to get them out of that rhythm and make the Wildcats uncomfortable on offense.  That might mean occasionally blitzing safeties or a cornerback.  As everyone knows, the WVU defense is struggling mightily right now, and they will be without starting cornerback Brodrick Jenkins on Saturday.  Maybe this forces KSU to pass more than often, but regardless, I'll take my chances with Klein throwing the ball against one-on-one coverage rather than running up and down the field in a methodical, slow pace and keeping the Mountaineer offense on the sidelines.  He is a Heisman candidate for a reason, and if he gets comfortable running the football and doing what he does best, it will be another long night for the WVU defense.

While I didn't mention anything about the WVU offense, they obviously will need to pick up their level of play from last weekend.  The wind won't be an issue for the Heisman frontrunner, but this KSU defense will bring pressure and smack you in the mouth on every series.  Arthur Brown Jr. is one of college football's best linebackers, and it will be critical for Cody Clay and Ryan Clarke to pick him up on blitzes when they're in the backfield. 

If the Mountaineers do what they're capable of, they should have some success on the offense.  While they won't score 70, half of that total against a Wildcats defense that hasn't given up more than three touchdowns in any single game would be a great outing for Geno Smith and company.

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