Mountaineers Get Their Shot at Struggling Jayhawks

MORGANTOWN – Who knows how much differently – if at all – this season would have turned out for West Virginia if it had played Kansas earlier in the season?

This much is true: Every other team in the Big 12 got a chance to fatten up on the Jayhawks before the Mountaineers. Given that Kansas has a 20-game conference losing streak, is 1-10 and has been outscored by 165 points this season, all other teams in the league have used the Jayhawks to gain a little confidence, and in some cases, get some guys some rest, and others some reps.

On the whole, Kansas, which faced the toughest schedule in college football, has lost 36 of 42 games under three different coaches and needs a victory Saturday against the Mountaineers to avoid its worst season in 14 years.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said neither he, nor his players, will take Kansas lightly.

”If our guys have learned anything this year, it is you better be ready to play,” he said. ”All of the opponents in the Big 12 can win on any given day. Kansas is no different. They are a couple points away from having three Big 12 wins this season. We have to play hard.”

The Jayhawks will try to avoid making those numbers worse against the nation’s 11th-best offense and sixth-best passing offense that has added a wrinkle. With the return of bruising running back Shawne Alston from injury and the addition of slot receiver Tavon Austin to the backfield, WVU suddenly has a running game that is equally as formidable as its passing game, which is led by a Manning Award finalist at quarterback (Geno Smith) and a Biletnikoff finalist at receiver (Stedman Bailey).

”Obviously this team is as dynamic an offense as you can possibly go against,” Kansas coach Charlie Weis said. ”They have that 1-2 punch, that No. 1 guy (Austin), taking him where he’s not just playing wide receiver, playing him at running back; they have the smashmouth (Alston) guy and the absolute burner.”

Speaking of Weis, along with defensive coordinator Dave Campo, Holgorsen has a whole bunch of respect for the extensive resumes they have put together that include wild success in the NFL.

”We’re going to be at a major schematic disadvantage going against their coaches,” Holgorsen said. ”They’ve coached everybody in the world. Our coaches are going to be able challenged to go against what we’re going to go against.”

It hasn’t been much of an issue for other teams, who have averaged 34 points per game against the Jayhawks and given up 19.

Weis says he prefers to be a 50-50 playcaller in terms of run and pass, but the strength of his team is its running backs, so he’s basically been scheming different ways to get the ball to his best players – running backs James Sims, the Big 12’s leading rusher at 119.5 yards per game (200 carries, 956 yards, eight touchdowns) and Tony Pierson (110 carries, 730 yards, four touchdowns) and Taylor Cox (88 carries, 461 yards, three touchdowns).

”We’ve morphed into a run-first team,” Weis said. ”Our runners are good and the offensive line run blocks pretty good. It’s given us a chance to stay in some games.”

To that end, offensive lineman Tanner Hawkinson can set a school record for games started as he is schedule to make his 48th career start.

For the most part, the Jayhawks are a zone-read team, but through this mess, they’ve tried a whole bunch of stuff.

”You never know what you’re going to get,” Holgorsen said. ”It’s the flavor of week. They have a staff that understands football as well as any body in the country. You have the material, and you do like you do every week. You look at what they do in certain situations, and what they do against specific defenses. You just try to figure it out. When it gets down to it, it’s still just football. We are going to look and see what their tendencies are.

“We want to defeat some blocks and make tackles.”

As Holgorsen pointed out, Kansas has been competitive at times, having played Oklahoma State (20-14 loss), Texas (21-17 loss), and Texas Tech (41-34 in overtime) tough in league games.

”That is the nature of the conference we are in,” Holgorsen said. ”Last year, we played three or four teams in this situation. Now, we don’t get to play any. Our last eight games have been against ranked teams that will play in a bowl game. Every team that we have played this year has been motivated to play.

“Last year, it was different. I don’t think we have lined up and played an unmotivated football team this year. The fact that we are going to line up and play a motivated team for the 12th time this season is the way they should be.”

Holgorsen doesn’t think Kansas will be a league doormat for long.

”It’s probably only a matter of time that Kansas gets like everybody else because they have such great coaches,” he said.