In a regular season that has reached the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, the West Virginia University Football Team (6-5, 3-5) will finish it out against a Kansas Jayhawk team (1-10, 0-8) that has not won a Big 12 game since November 2010. This will also be the last home game for many WVU seniors.
There were a couple of streaks that ended for West Virginia last weekend against Iowa State. The five-game losing skid is now over and the win also gave the Mountaineers their sixth win to become bowl eligible. For the first time since those previous five games, the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week did not face the WVU defense. It went to Landry Jones who faced Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Rivalry.
For Kansas, it has been a rough season under new Head Coach Charlie Weis. Their only win of the season came in their opener against San Diego State.
On paper, this game looks like a matchup nightmare for the Jayhawks on both sides of the ball. KU's pass defense has been bad this year, ranking 110th in the nation, giving up 274.8 yards per game. WVU's pass offense, led my quarterback Geno Smith, wide receiver Stedman Bailey and overall offensive threat Tavon Austin, is 6th in the nation in passing yards per game.
Kansas has not been that much better against the run either in 2012. They are 92nd in rush defense, giving up 192 yards per game. The return of Shawne Alston last week against ISU gave Dana Holgorsen a new dynamic in the run game for West Virginia. Power with Alston, explosiveness with Tavon Austin and a little bit of both with Andrew Buie.
"It keeps the defense on edge with what we're going to do," Alston said. "A couple of times last game, we sent Tavon in motion and the defense thought he was going to get the ball. On his last touchdown run, I took two steps and the whole defense looked like they were coming with me and he broke around the edge. I think we compliment each other well."
However, the Kansas defense has been stingy in the red zone. Opponents have only gotten points 75% of the time against KU after reaching the red zone, which is 21st in the country.
"They're probably a little more aggressive [in the red zone] when they get down there," Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "I think they just emphasize it and sell it to their players and their players believe it. Really and truly, that's all I can gather. They don't really do anything a whole lot different, they're just better."
Offensively for KU, they have been pretty one-dimensional. They have done a very good job running the ball between James Sims [44 yards short of 1,000], Tony Pierson and Taylor Cox. Their overall rushing unit is 19th in the country, averaging 216.6 yards per game.
"I think [Sims] is in the top three of backs we've seen this year," Defensive Coordinator Joe DeForest said. "Obviously Joseph Randle [Oklahoma State] is probably one of the top ones in the league. Sims sort of emerged. In the last four games they've had over 200 yards rushing so it seems to me that they're going to keep that approach, especially based on our offense to try and eat the clock and keep the ball away from us."
Going back to the matchup nightmare for the Jayhawks, the WVU defense that has been criticized mercilessly this year has actually done a pretty good job against the run. They are allowing 141.2 yards per game on the ground, ranking 41st nationally.
Former Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist has been splitting duties with Michael Cummings for the Jayhawks' signal caller spot. It has been a struggle for both quarterbacks this year. Combined, they are only completing 47% of their passes and averaging 151 yards per game through the air, 117th nationally. This is a welcoming sight for a WVU defense that is dead last in pass defense.
This will be the second meeting ever between the two schools. The first was played just under a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. West Virginia shutout the Jayhawks in that one, 21-0 at Old Mountaineer Field.
The streak of good weather looks like it will continue for Saturday in Morgantown. It is currently calling for a high of 56 degrees with a 10% chance of rain.
The game will be at 2:30 ET and will be aired on the Fox Sports Network (check local listings.)