Start Fast, Finish Strong

West Virginia's battle with Kansas State shapes up as a contrast of wills and wits.

The Mountaineers, if they are to impose theirs, will utilize the uptempo pacing in hopes of grabbing an early edge and forcing K-State's ball-control offense to play from behind. KSU values a grinder, a methodical physical test that will lessen opportunities for WVU's offense. It's a setup that has worked well for both teams this season, and it's something that has both aided and plagued Kansas State at times.

When the No. 4 Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) start off well, as they did against No. 6 Oklahoma this season in a 24-19 win, they have ridden that momentum to strong performances. When they start slow, as they did in a 27-21 win at Iowa State last week and a shocking 58-17 home loss last season when OU and KSU were ranked 16th and 15th, respectively, they have not been able to build solid outings.

"I think if you go back (to the Oklahoma game last year), what we were unable to do was start and finish," KSU head coach Bill Snyder said. "When you don't have those two things going for you, you have some issues. We were down 14-0 in the ballgame early, and came back and took the lead and we were close (23-17) at the half. We couldn't get started in the third quarter (21-0 OU), and consequently the game was over very quickly. We made a lot of mistakes offensively as well as defensively. (Oklahoma) threw the ball very well against us and we gave them a short field. But I'm not a strong believer in that anything impacts the upcoming ballgame except your preparation. That's what we are focused on now."

Snyder, in his second tenure at Kansas State after originally coaching the Wildcats from 1989-2005, also said he didn't think teams could use WVU's poor performance at Texas Tech game as the de facto way to approach playing the No. 15 Mountaineers (5-1, 2-1).

"I don't know about a blueprint," said Snyder, 165-83-1 at K-State. "It may be for teams that have the same type of schematic capabilities and the same type of personnel. I think every team is different in that respect. I think most teams would tell you they kind of have to play within the confines of what their capabilities allow them to do. I thought Texas Tech obviously did a nice job.

"Part of that was not just playing well defensively, but playing well up front. They changed up some things against West Virginia. Their offense was productive as well. Consequently, West Virginia didn't get their hands on the ball as much as they had previous ballgames. Wind conditions, I don't think West Virginia had been accustomed to."

Snyder's Wildcats rank 112th in the NCAA in passing yards (179 ypg), but 11th in rushing (248.5 ypg). Kansas State is in the top 20 in average points scored (15th at 40.8) and average points against (19th at 16.5). It faces a West Virginia team ranked third in passing (384.8 ypg) and seventh in points (45.7 ppg), but 112th in points against (37.3).

"They are amazing, really," Snyder said of the WVU offense. "For Geno Smith to have all those gaudy numbers and no interceptions to go along with it, it's a great tribute to his decision making. And to his wide receivers. They do a nice job breaking on the ball, getting themselves open. They can all run. They have excellent speed and change of direction. You don't often see a group like that. I don't know the young man, but (Geno), I appreciate all the humility he shows."

Snyder said both teams must "play within your capabilities. You do what it is you do. You don't change the structure of all the things that you do and that you have invested so man repetitions in. You go play your game, I think." He also mentioned pocket pressure on Smith to be paramount.

"It goes without saying," he said. "If you don't (pressure Smith), then you have some real problems. He is capable even when you do get pass rush. But he's probably a little less capable if you get him to hurry the throws a bit. That's not the easiest task in the world. They have all these guys with long arms, 6-5, 6-6 guys. That makes it tough to get where you are trying to go."

Snyder, whose coaching tree includes former assistants Bret Bielema (HC Wisconsin) and Bob Stoops (HC Oklahoma), as well as Jim Leavitt (former USF HC), Mike Stoops (former Arizona HC and current Oklahoma DC) and Mark Mangino (former Kansas HC), noted that the coaching staff has tried to explain the potential problems with a night match-up at Mountaineer Field between two top 15 teams.

"We try to explain exactly how it is and what our expectations are as to what the environment will be like," Snyder said. "What the travel will be like and how we need to deal with it and being able to stay focused at the task at hand and, as we say, keep the game between the white lines."


  • On comparing the 2012 and 2011 teams, the latter of which went 10-2 with a Cotton Bowl bid: "It's a bit early, and I'm not very good at making comparisons," Snyder said. "Every team is different. It boils down to all those intrinsic values that we talk about and that help them prepare and the kind of discipline they have on and off the field and how they accept the responsibility and what degree of toughness they bring.

    "I thought last year's team really portrayed those values in a very positive way. I think this team, even though we have some experience, we are still gaining in those regards. There is still a lot left for us to learn and be able to accomplish in that area. As far as on the field, it all carries over. We have been maybe a little bit better in some of the pass game. Collectively, it would be awful hard to make that comparison. I have liked the direction they have gone. Hopefully, we can maintain that. That's the important thing."

  • On tailback John Hubert, who has rushed for a team-high 606 yards with eight TDs: "He is a good running back. He has got a strong lower body and gets yardage that you wouldn't think someone his size would get after contact. He is a patient runner and kinda picks and chooses where he goes. He normally makes pretty good decisions about that. He has been a steady, consistent player for us. I couldn't say defenses necessarily overlook him. Most people have two people who can run the ball, as we do. Defenses are smart enough to know they have to defend both."

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