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Every Friday throughout the college football season, SB Nation staff writer Chip Rouse spotlights one game as the Big 12 Game of the Week and takes a close look at the strengths and weaknesses of each team and what to watch for in the game.
Kansas State is the only unbeaten team in the Big 12, and the Wildcats aim to keep it that way. The Wildcats have already shown they can go on the road and beat a top-25 team (Oklahoma was in the top-five when KSU beat the Sooners in Norman last month), but that won't mean a whole lot if coach Bill Snyder's steady-as-they-go squad from the Little Apple can't do it again this weekend in Morgantown, West Va.
Just a week ago, this game looked like it would be a battle of top-five teams, but that was before West Virginia was torched 49-14 last Saturday at Texas Tech, done in by their own medicine: a wide-open aerial bombardment from Tech quarterback Seth Doege. Meanwhile, Kansas State had its hands full on the road at Iowa State, but managed to hold on and stay perfect on the season at 6-0.
The primetime matchup Saturday night between Kansas State and West Virginia may have lost a bit of its glamour, but it still is of high importance as part of the Big 12 title picture. The Wildcats come into the contest ranked fourth in the country in the latest USA Today coaches' poll (third in the more-important BCS standings). West Virginia, which hadn't scored less than 42 points in four of its five wins this season before being held to just two touchdowns by Texas Tech, remained in the top-25, but at No. 17 instead of No. 4
The spotlight in this game will be the two quarterbacks, both of whom are considered to be on the short list of candidates for this year's Heisman Trophy. Geno Smith of West Virginia leads the nation in passing efficiency and is No. 2 in passing yards per game (379). In 259 passing attempts, he has thrown 25 touchdowns but has yet to throw an interception.
Kansas State's Collin Klein doesn't have the flashy numbers that Smith has, but what he does have is the size and strength to beat you, both with his legs and unusual speed for his 6-5, 226-pound frame and through the air if the defense concentrates too much on stopping him from taking off with the ball or his hard-nosed backfield mate, running back John Hubert. Hubert is third in the Big 12, averaging 101 yards on the ground, and Klein is right behind him with 85 rushing yards a game.
"We have to stop the run," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is very familiar with Kansas State having been the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and at Texas Tech previously. "We'll work hard on trying to stop the run, and you want to make them pass. You look at him (Klein) back there throwing the ball, it doesn't look very good, but it goes exactly where you want it to go."
Both teams score a lot of points (West Virginia scored 70 several weeks ago against Baylor), but they go about it in entirely different ways. West Virginia likes to strike fast and sling the ball all over the yard, and Smith has an extremely talented group of receivers that provide him multiple options and the luxury of spreading around the opportunities.
Kansas State likes to pound the ball, with Hubert and Klein carrying the load, and just when the defense thinks it has the running game contained, Klein will go up top to a very under-rated corps of sure-handed receivers. And he is surprisingly accurate for not being known for his passing ability.
The major difference I see between the two teams is that Kansas State's defense is very stingy and will force a team into mistakes. They've shown they can get stops when they need to (just ask Oklahoma). West Virginia's defensive play, however, has been very poor. The Mountaineers scored 70 points against Baylor and only won by seven because they gave up 63.
Kansas State wins games not because the Wildcats have the better players, but because it is the most disciplined team in the conference. The Wildcats players know their assignments, they do their jobs, and they don't beat themselves. They are not dominant or among the league leaders in any one category, except for two. And those two tell the story of why Bill Snyder's team is able to go toe to toe with any team in the country. Kansas State leads the Big 12 as the least penalized team. The Wildcats are averaging just 22 penalty yards a game. They also excel in creating turnovers. This season the Cats own a conference-best plus-10 turnover margin. West Virginia is right there too, at plus-seven.
Three Keys to the game
- West Virginia is going to be plenty angry after losing a game it shouldn't have at Texas Tech, While that could play against Kansas State, having to play West Virginia there, the Texas Tech game film will give Bill Snyder and his coaching staff a good study guide on where the high-scoring Mountaineers are most vulnerable, and Snyder is a mastermind at exploiting his opponents' weaknesses.
- If Kansas State is not able to get pressure on West Virginia's Smith, the WVU receivers will have a field day hauling in passes in the K-State secondary.
- West Virginia is too good offensively to keep down or off the scoreboard for very long, but will the Mountaineers offense get enough chances to put up points and can their defense make enough stops and prevent Kansas State from sustaining long, time-consuming drives that result in touchdowns?
So who is going to win this game? I think West Virginia's offense is better than Kansas State's, but I think Kansas State has the better defense. In the end, I think the home field will be a critical advantage and that the Mountaineers will generate enough offense to outlast and outscore the Wildcats on the scoreboard. West Virginia wins a close one.
Game prediction: West Virginia 38, Kansas State 34
Other Big 12 Games This Weekend (Week 8)
(Projected winner in bold face)
Kansas @ Oklahoma
Iowa State @ Oklahoma State
Baylor @ Texas
Texas Tech @ Texas Christian
Last week: 2-3
For the season: 36-8 (.810)
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