Wildcats, Mountaineers trying to turn year around

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder had a full week to ponder his quarterback conundrum.

Only he knows whether he’s any closer to settling on a starter.

Snyder was coy this week when he was asked about playing run-first option Daniel Sams or pass-first choice Jake Waters today against West Virginia. Sams took the majority of snaps in a close loss to No. 6 Baylor two weeks ago, prior to the Wildcats’ bye week, but it appears Snyder is sticking with a scripted plan to use both quarterbacks in the short-term.

“You tend to gravitate to things you are doing a little bit better or move around a little bit more,” Snyder said. “But if you find something you do not like, you are probably not going to spend a great deal of time on it, regardless of how you have it scripted.”

In other words, if Sams is having success running the ball, Kansas State will stick with it.

If not, Waters is ready to toss it all over the field.

“I don’t see us getting away from what we’ve been doing,” Snyder said. “I see both of them playing. How much remains to be seen. That’s a game-day happening.”

The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) are the defending Big 12 champions, but they’ve gotten off to a slow start. The loss to the Bears left them winless in league play, and they still need at least four wins out of the back half of their schedule just to become bowl eligible.

The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3) aren’t in a whole lot better shape.

They were hit hard by graduation, just like the Wildcats, and have struggled to incorporate a host of newcomers. The result has been a tough start to the season, including back-to-back losses to Baylor and Texas Tech after a confidence-boosting win over Oklahoma State.

“We have to stay positive, look forward, and realize that this season is not over yet,” West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “Every year it seems like Big 12 teams are always taking out each other. We just have to push through it and get better.”

As both teams try to move closer to a bowl game, here are five things to keep in mind:

RUN, RUN, RUN: Sams ran for 199 yards in last week’s loss to Baylor, a performance that caught the attention of West Virginia. Even if Waters gets a couple of series, Sams will no doubt factor into the game plan. “We still are not where we need to be,” Sams said. “We still have areas that we need to improve, but I feel like we will get there.”

STARTING FAST: West Virginia didn’t have any problem scoring with Geno Smith at quarterback last season. That hasn’t been the case this year. The Mountaineers have been slow out of the gate in every game except their victory against William & Mary, including each of their four Big 12 games. “We’ll try to start fast. We try to every week,” Mountaineers offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said, “and I think part of it is getting to know this team, and how it starts. I think we have a pretty good feel for it now, so hopefully we start faster this week than we have been.”

HEALTHY WIDE RECEIVES: The Wildcats could have top wide receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back from injuries. Snyder is famously tight-lipped when it comes to injuries, so nobody outside the program knows for sure whether they’ll be available. “We anticipate them being back,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.

RESPECT: Holgorsen is well aware of what Snyder has accomplished at Kansas State. Perhaps it’s a little more surprising that his players are, too. Just about none of them were born when he took over the moribund program in the late 1980s. “They’re a well-coached team. They don’t make many mistakes,” West Virginia defensive lineman Shaq Rowell said. “Even if you line up, and you know what play is coming, you still have to stop it. That’s what makes them special.”

HOMEFIELD ADVANTAGE: The Mountaineers will be traveling to Kansas State for the first time. The Wildcats visited Morgantown for games in 1930 and ’31, and again to deliver a 55-14 rout last year. Holgorsen is no stranger to Manhattan, Kan., though. He was a longtime assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. “They have built that up from nothing to what you see there today,” he said. “It’s a heck of a place to play a college football game.”