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West Virginia Preview

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What lies in store for Kansas in Morgantown?

TCU v West Virginia Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Jayhawks are off to West Virginia this weekend. KU is coming off a 48-28 loss to Oklahoma State in Lawrence.

West Virginia is a dark-horse Final Four and Heisman contender for 2018, but won’t really be tested (it appears) until November.

West Virginia Schedule

vs Tennessee, W, 40-14

vs Youngstown State, W, 52-17

at NC State, Cancelled

vs Kansas State, W, 35-6

at Texas Tech, W, 42-34

How They Rank

Following the conclusion of all the games from Week 5, West Virginia is ranked #14 in S&P+ (out of 130). Their offense is ranked #5 but their defense is ranked down at #67.

Conversely, Kansas finds itself down at #97, with the #120 offense and the #51 defense.

In the preseason, West Virginia was given an 82% chance to beat KU by S&P+. That number is up to 93.7%. S&P+ predicts a 27-point WVU win, 43-16.

F/+ has a very similar outlook, predicting a 27-point WVU win and giving the Mountaineers a 94.3% chance for victory.

ESPN’s FPI gives West Virginia a 93.4% chance of victory.

Vegas has the line set at -28.5 as of the time of this posting after opening at -26.

Players to Watch

So far in 2018, West Virginia has a very balanced 48/52 run/pass ratio.

The offense is just incredibly balanced. Redshirt-SR Will Grier is the engine that makes the offense go. Grier is currently a top-5 betting favorite for the Heisman Trophy, and the numbers back that up. He is completing over 72% of his passes, averaging near 11 yards per pass attempt, and has 17 TDs to just 3 INTs.

Fortunately for Kansas, Grier does not like to scramble, as he has been credited with just 9 rushing attempts for -18 yards.

The rushing attack is a three-headed monster of Kennedy McCoy, Leddie Brown, and Martell Pettaway, all of whom average more than 5.5 yards per carry.

Receiver is another three-headed monster, with Marcus Simms, David Sills, and Gary Jennings all with more than 20 receptions each for a combined 1,038 yards.

RS-JR linebacker David Long leads the team in tackles and sacks with 43, including 9 TFL, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble. SO safety Kenny Robinson lead the defense in INTs with two,

Keys to the Game

- Move the chains. KU’s best chance to make this a game is to lean on its own talented trio of running backs and keep that clock moving. Last year, Khalil Herbert gashed the Mountaineers for 291 yards on 36 carries, and Taylor Martin pitched in 59 more yards on 11 carries. For some reason, though, coaches still thought it would be good if Peyton Bender attempted 32 passes, and West Viginia pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 56-34 win.

- Pressure the quarterback. KU’s defensive strategy so far in 2018 has been to drop seven or eight into coverage. This worked against Central Michigan and Rutgers (obviously), to the tune of 12 turnovers in two games. However, the Jayhawks have just one turnover in their past two games. Baylor’s Charlie Brewer and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius faced little pressure in the pocket, and both easily picked apart the Kansas secondary. KU has to try something different; maybe some pressure on Will Grier might help.

- Due to the lack of turnovers over the past couple games, Kansas has not started a drive in opponents’ territory since the Rutgers game. Field position will be key for the Jayhawks; West Virginia will likely put up points no matter where they start on the field. In order for KU to keep up, it’s gonna take some turnovers or big plays on special teams to help out the offense.

The Pick

It’s tough to see any way that Kansas even keeps this game close. It would almost have to be some kind of repeat of last year minus half of the KU pass attempts.

The West Virginia offense is extremely balanced, as Grier has no fewer than six dependable options depending on the personnel and formation. While Grier isn’t much for scrambling, KU will still have a tough time accounting for all of the skill position talent on the field.

The two defenses are actually fairly similar; West Virginia allows 5.33 yards per play while Kansas allows 5.72. You could make a case for the game turning into a shootout, particularly if Carter Stanley is allowed to play the whole game for Kansas.

In the end, I just don’t think KU will be able to do much to slow the Mountaineer offense. West Virginia 59, Kansas 28.