WVU (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) shows a marquee win over Oklahoma State, and a trio of close losses against undefeated, top 20 teams to go with a blowout defeat by Maryland. Kansas State (2-4, 0-3) lacks a go-to victory, but has played OSU, Texas and Baylor all to within 10 points along with victories over Louisiana-Lafayette and UMass and the season-opening defeat to two-time FCS champion North Dakota State. And while head coaches Dana Holgorsen and Bill Snyder couldn't be any different in style, approach or personality, both are dealing with inconsistencies across multiple play phases entering a key head-to-head contest on Saturday.
Much like West Virginia last weekend, Kansas State enters with some obvious advantages in being the home team, coming off a bye week and having an edge in confidence after three relatively close games against among the better Big 12 teams, two of which were on the road.
""We are trying to get ourselves better, and in some cases we have," said Snyder, 172-88-1 in his 22nd season over two tenures a KSU. "In terms of our last ballgame (a 35-25 loss to Baylor), we have improved play with our offensive line. I think that was evident to most people. I thought out quarterback play - even though we had some problems, as did our offensive line - was improved collectively. I thought the play of our front seven with the exception of the last drive was improved greatly. I think our effort collectively has improved. Although it wasn't 100 percent, it was better. I think that we are beginning to practice better, which is most significant with me, and I think the result of the areas that I talked about where there was improvement was a result of their practice effort during the course of the week."
Kansas State, led by a running game that averages 184.2 yards, used a 39:24 to 20:36 time of possession edge to hold Baylor well below its season averages in points and yards. The Big 12 defending champion Wildcats are 0-3 in the conference for the first time since 2004, just before the now-74-year old Snyder's brief retirement.
"The ballgame boiled down to us giving up four big plays on defense and two critical penalties on defense that equated to 21 points," Snyder said of the loss to Baylor. "That had a major impact on the outcome of the ballgame. Offensively, we scored three touchdowns on six trips into the red zone. That was 18 points left off the scoreboard because we only got a field goal out of it. If it pays, there is about 39 points we should have had. Those are the mistakes that you have to overcome and get corrected. It is really that simple. There are certainly some other issues that we need to address, but you take those segments out of the ballgame and you certainly put yourself in a position to win the game. From an offensive standpoint, the fact that we did not do a good job of managing our timeouts - we wasted our timeouts in the third quarter - and at the end of the game when we desperately needed them, we didn't have them.
"Being 2-4 is never easy and neither is the response to it. How you respond to it and how you feel about it is difficult for the players, coaches and the people that are invested in this program. The important thing for us is not what could have been, but what are we going to do. That is the way that we have to approach it with the determination that says - what I say every single week - we have to eliminate the costly mistakes. We have to practice with the focus of doing exactly that, improve our practice time and therefore our performance level on game day will improve."
The close losses, like some of those by WVU, have come as much from self-inflicted mistakes as anything foes have done. Snyder is hopeful his team has cleaned up turnover and quarterback decision issues that have plagued them in late-game situations. Jake Waters, a junior, has thrown for 1,036 yards on 62.3 percent passing with four touchdowns and five interceptions.
"I would like to think that we have given a significant amount of time in trying to correct mistakes that we have made and enough focus on it to be able to make the corrections sustained," Snyder said. "An awful lot of times you visit the errors you are making and you get invested in it for a day and then move on to something else. It's significant to be able to focus on that and be able to sustain the improvement and corrections. The off week gives that opportunity. Now, you are also without a week of competition and sometimes that can have a drawback on your players. Up to this point and time, I think we have responded reasonably well.
"I think the result is practice time - focusing on what is significant and trying to improve in areas that certainly need improvement. I thought Jake ran the ball well (against Baylor), and we are trying to bring along his ability to do that. But I thought he had some difficulty throwing the ball. We had less turnovers, but the one at the end was a critical turnover in the ballgame. So we still haven't mastered everything, but we are knocking on the door."
Following the Oct. 12 home loss to Baylor, Snyder gave his team the remainder of the weekend off, then another day during the following week. He said he believes his team to be refreshed after the down time, and provided thoughts on West Virginia's own quarterbacking issues and a much-improved Mountaineer defense that will face its most balanced running attack of the season.
"It seems like they may have settled on the quarterback they want and that just gives you and that young quarterback an opportunity to grow a bit more," Snyder said. "This last week, where they invested themselves in the run game and were very successful against a good run defense in Texas Tech, gave credence to the talent in their offense. I know Dana would like to have balance in his offense, and the fact that they ran it as well as they did creates that balance. They've got some really talented young guys, some awful good running backs. Some wide receivers that have some range to them, some height and some ability to get up and compete for the ball. I think they have a pretty substantial offense.
"They've had some difficulty on defense from time to time, but then you go back and look and they held Maryland, even though they lost the ballgame because they turned it over. They held Oklahoma in a 16-7 ballgame, and you can't do that unless you are playing well on defense. I think they just need to put it all together. … They do an awful lot of things defensively in terms of their fronts and pressures and secondary. I don't know, but it look as though they might be tending to stabilize what they are doing. I don't know if that's an accurate assessment or not. It appears that way. They've got penalized a little bit that has been costly in critical situations that gave life to Texas Tech. But then you go back to the Oklahoma State ball game. They've lost one game and that's to West Virginia."