Sat 10/20/12 7:00 PM
Milan Puskar Stadium
Texas Tech 49-14 L
Iowa State 27-21 W
Series: Tied 1-1
First Meeting: 1930
Last Meeting: 1931
MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES
Kansas State QB Collin Klein vs. WVU Bucks and Stars
West Virginia's ability to control Klein will depend heavily on the play of their outside linebacker\defensive end\safety combinations, who will be pressured in both the running and the passing games. The Mountaineers will likely have a number of players filling those two positions, with Josh Francis, Terence Garvin, Tyler Anderson and Shaq Petteway among those who will face the two-way challenge from Klein.
First, Klein's operation of the zone read will put great pressure on the edges of WVU's defense. While the Mountaineers have been solid against interior runs this year, it has been inconsistent against plays to the outside. With Klein operating the spread option, the ball will go where defenders are the fewest -- putting pressure on them to make plays in space. If Garvin or Francis get blocked, or worse, take themselves out of the play with a bad read, the Wildcats are going to be off to the races.
It will also be interesting to watch WVU's personnel packages on first down, and in clear running situations. Will the Mountaineers go with Anderson, a stouter defender? Or will they opt for speed to combat the Widlcats' ability to get to the corner when the ball is handed or pitched? In that case, Francis might get more time.
This won't be the only task the bucks and stars face. They will also be heavily involved in pass defense, as Klein routinely swings the ball out on wide receiver screens or looks for other short routes. Like Texas Tech did a week ago, West Virginia will have to tackle swiftly and surely, and prevent big gains from materializing from short passes.
KANSAS STATE RETURN GAME vs. WVU COVERAGE TEAMS
A large percentage of K-State's non-offensive touchdowns over the past few years have come from kickoff and punt returns, and the Wildcats might have some of their best all-time units this year.
Against this onslaught, WVU fields coverage teams that have been uneven at best. The Mountaineers have shown the ability to cover well, fill lanes and bottle up returners, but they have also been gashed on occasion for big runbacks. That has led to a punt return average of 10.6 yards for opponents, and a kickoff return yield of 22 per try.
K-State has speed on its return units, and is good at executing its blocking assignments to get space for its returners. Like most other aspects of their game, the Wildcats are fundamentally sound, and don't hurt themselves with silly penalties in the kicking game. WVU can't depend on a block in the back or a hold to bring back a K-State return -- it's going to have to stay in lanes, get off blocks and tackle crisply in the open field.
This aspect of the game has been overlooked in all the hype around the quarterback duel and the angst over West Virginia's defense, but it could easily be the determining factor in the nighttime showdown. An extra score, or a couple of short fields, could well spell the difference.
THINGS TO WATCH
In my column for the Blue & Gold News last week, I discussed how a number of "little" problems added up for a bad offensive day for WVU. Chief among those faults were dropped passes, bad pass routes, poor decisions and off target throws. Each alone didn't doom the offense, but together they added up to a tidal wave that inundated any hopes of a consistent performance.
Watch West Virginia's receivers early in their routes. Are they making a decisive cuts or moves as they run, or are there signs of hesitation? Are there two receivers in the same area? Are receivers dropping balls? (There might have been more drops in the Tech game than in the rest of WVU's games this year combined.)
While some of these physical mistakes are going to happen from time to time, they can't pile up, because they combine to kill drives and possessions. West Virginia has to play a much cleaner game mentally than it did a week ago, and the presence (or absence) of these sorts of mistakes are a good indication as to whether or not they are doing so.
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Wildcat quarterback Collin Klein's throws aren't pretty. Many times the ball comes out looking like it was tossed with the wrong hand. However, we aren't evaluating Klein as an NFL passer here. The question is, can he continue to be efficient with his throws?
K-State head coach Bill Snyder is smart. He doesn't try to put Klein in a position where he can't complete passes. As a result, there are a lot of wide receiver screens and short, safe throws in the K-State offense. That works because the defense is so concerned with the running game, there are usually a few gaps in which the ball can be thrown safely -- and where it doesn't matter it it wobbles in flight.
How does West Virginia defend against this? It needs to smother those short throws. It needs to avoid playing too much two-deep and three-deep zones, and challenge receivers on those short routes. When catches are made, it has to tackle crisply. In short, it has to play like Texas Tech's defense did against the WVU offense last week.
Is this Mountaineer defense capable of doing that? We should find out this week. Watch West Virginia's philosophy against the pass. Are corners dropping out? Or are they challenging the short routes? Are Darwin Cook and Terence Garvin making their presence felt against the pass? The Mountaineers need those players and positions to perform well -- otherwise Klein is going to dual-threat the home team to death. Note that while Klein isn't a stellar downfield thrower, he is productive with the pass -- he has 13 games since the start of the 2011 season in which he has at least one passing and one running touchdown in a game, and he has 21 completions that have gone for 20 or more yards this year.
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Klein is hardly the only threat in the K-State attack. Overlooked and underappreciated running back John Hubert is also a serious threat who has to be accounted for. He has four 100-yard rushing games this year (tops in the Big 12) and averages 6.2 yards per carry.
The argument can be made that Hubert benefits from the presence of Klein's rushing presence, but so what? The same statement could certainly be made of the synergy that existed between Pat White and Steve Slaton at West Virginia. In the end, it doesn't matter why a player is productive -- the fact remains that he is, and he has to be stopped or slowed in order to win a game.
With that said, what does WVU do against this tandem? Do they key on Klein, always crash on him and force the give to Hubert? Or do they try to keep the ball inside and play wide against the potential handoff? It would be a mistake to put too much attention on Klein, but it's also too much to expect that the Mountaineers are going to shut them both down. The key will be to limit big gains, but just as many Mountaineer opponents found when facing White and Slaton, that's not going to be easy.