West Virginia football hits the road once again with the hopes of snapping a five-game losing streak against Chris Klieman and the Kansas State Wildcats.
This contest will be the tenth meeting all-time between the two programs in a series which dates back to 1930. The Wildcats hold the slight advantage, but the Mountaineers can tie it up at five wins apiece with a victory on Saturday.
Since the two teams began competing in the Big 12, the winning margin has steadily moved from favoring the Wildcats to the Mountaineers, more and more every year. KSU will look to break that trend, snapping a three-game streak for WVU in the series.
Klieman and WVU coach Neal Brown face each other for the first time as first-year coaches of their respective teams, although their debut seasons have gone dramatically different.
“I think Coach Klieman has that football team playing very well right now,” Brown said.
This game will be a bit of a homecoming for West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, who played his college ball for the Wildcats from 1977-1981. A lot has changed in Manhattan since he donned a purple jersey, though.
“It’s beyond what I ever thought,” Koenning said of the program’s facilities. “When I went there out of high school, they were one of the worst in the country.”
Now, the Wildcats have the facilities to keep up with the rest of college football, and they’re hoping to sustain a team that does, too.
Kansas State has already shown that they can compete on the field with the best this season. They sit at 6-3 with a 3-3 mark in the Big 12 — but their record doesn’t tell the full story. Their last loss came at the hands of Texas by just a field goal, but that halted a three-game winning streak with a victory over undefeated Oklahoma in the middle of it.
On the other sideline, West Virginia is desperately hoping to get their fourth win of the year and snap a five-game losing streak, all of which have come during conference play.
Here are some of the biggest storylines heading into Saturday:
More pieces for the Mountaineers
What seemed like laundry list of an injury report is now getting smaller for West Virginia, as linebacker Josh Chandler and wide receiver Sean Ryan were cleared to practice and are expected to return. Chandler brings a boost to the front seven, which is huge for the Mountaineers as Kansas State is one of the most efficient rushing teams in college football.
“He’ll be a tremendous help versus these guys,” Brown said. This is a box game, they’re a power running team, they’re one of the leading rushing teams in the country.”
Ryan will bring depth to the wide receiver corps, which could also be missing T.J. Simmons for the second straight week.
Another boost will come to WVU’s special teams, which has been missing kicker Evan Staley for two weeks. Casey Legg took care of the kicking duties in the meantime, making 1 of 2 field goal attempts and 100 percent of his PATs.
With now just three games remaining in the regular season, Brown and West Virginia will also have several more options on the sideline with his redshirt players. Jarret Doege made his debut last week, as did running back Tony Mathis — a duo which tacked on WVU’s last touchdown of the game against Texas Tech.
Discipline and experience under Klieman
Chris Klieman took the helm after one of the most experienced coaches in all of football, Bill Snyder, who in turn left the newcomer with a team already built with experience for success.
Junior quarterback Skylar Thompson goes under center behind five fifth-year seniors on the offensive line. The signal caller received high praise from Neal Brown, who says he is playing “under control.”
“I think the story there is the offensive line is playing really well,” Brown said. “They have a lot of continuity there. They’ve done a good job sustaining blocks, they’ve done a good job in pass protection as well.”
The Wildcats hold the football for as long as humanly possible, and it’s tough to get it out of their hands. They are third in the conference in turnover margin (+5), but they’ve given up the fewest turnovers in the Big 12 with just 8 lost.
It’s a similar story for KSU on defense. Nine of their starters are upperclassmen, and they’ve played with enough discipline to be the toughest defense in the Big 12 to face on third and fourth downs.
“They’ve played very well all year,” Brown said. “They’re near or at the top of the Big 12 in almost every statistical category.”
How to watch
The Mountaineers kick off against the Wildcats at 3:30 p.m. ET at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on ESPN. You can also stream it live on the WatchESPN app.
Can’t get it on TV? Don’t sweat! We’ll have live coverage of the game right here on WVIllustrated.com and on our social media pages so you won’t miss a snap.