Sat 11/30 4:00 PM ET
Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 4-7 / 2-6
Kansas 19-31 L
Record: 2-9 / 1-7
Kansas 34-0 W
Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 2012
Last Meeting: 2012
MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
Both teams have struggled to find a consistent performer at quarterback this year. West Virginia, beset by injuries, inexperience and inaccuracy, is still looking. Iowa State thinks it has found its guy. On the field, that's the biggest match-up (even though it's not head to head) to track this week.
We don't need to recap the issues of WVU's quarterbacks -- they are quite familiar to Mountaineer fans. Change the names around, though, and it's been a similar story for many of the leagues teams, which have employed a total of 19 different starters under center this year. At ISU, the season began with Sam B. Richardson under center, who had shown promise in 2012. However, his play was inconsistent, and by mid-year freshman backup Grant Rohach was seeing time. He moved into a starting role in Game 11, and now has three contests in that role under his belt.
Rohach has shown steady improvement, and was at his best against Kansas last week, giving the Cyclones hope that his upward arc continues. While his numbers aren't any better than Richardson's, his presence has seemed to provide a spark to the Iowa State attack, and that intangible seems to have given the team some zip that it lacked in earlier losses.
For West Virginia, it's a rehash of the same issues. Who's going to start? Will that player be pulled if things don't go well? What's the real status of the injuries of Ford Childress and Clint Trickett? All of those items just add to the uncertainty that has plagued this team all year, and it's a difficult series of questions to get by before the game even gets started. Not knowing who the QB is going to be has to be at least something of a mental drain, and having three different QBs start this year also has to contibute to leadership questions. That is not to say that West Virginia's quarterbacks can't lead, or arent good leaders. It's simply to say that there's no way one person has been able to establish himself as "the guy".
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A more direct match-up to eyeball is that of ISU wideout Quenton Bundrage against West Virginia's corners and free safety. Bundrage has had a breakout year, catching 41 passes for 858 yards and seven scores. While those numbers aren't at the top of the Big 12, which is stacked with quality performers, Bundrage has given the Cyclones a downfield threat they have lacked. He's averaging 14.2 yards per catch, and has performed well in big games, turning in 283 yards and four scores against Texas and Iowa, and grabbing two other scoring strikes against Oklahoma State.
ISU will try to get operating room for Bundrage with quarterback runs and quick passes wide in order to bring safeties down to help. Given their propensity to come up aggressively against the run, this will be a key area for Mountaineers safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook to watch.
A NUMBER WORTH COUNTING
It's not only a number, it's a concept and a placeholder, with unclear origins. But it's the single biggest factor in the game.
This didn't appear to be a problem on West Virginia's side until the Kansas game. Whether it was the weight of another tough loss -- this one to Texas -- the realization that the Pinstripe Bowl was WVU's only realistic postseason destination or the won-loss record of the opponent, the Mountaineers played with zero emotion and enthusiasm. With even a bowl bid out the window now, is Senior Day and the idea of going into the offseason with a win rather than a loss enough to get a full push from WVU?
This might equally apply to the other side as well. Iowa State had their big emotional push, beating down Kansas on their own Senior Day. It's hard to imagine a 2-9 team putting that together two weeks in a row, but according to WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, the Cyclones have played hard all year. Whether that's the case or not, I have no idea, but just like WVU, head coach Paul Rhoads' team has suffered some close losses that could have gone the other way.
That fact applies to most every team with the records of ISU and WVU, so it's not as if either is any special case. They've come up short in key situations. They've been battered by injuries. And this week, they bring down the curtain on disappointing years. Which one will find the personal push and motivation to get a win?
One other thing -- this isn't a zero-sum game. Both teams might come out and play with passion and fire. Both might come out and lay an egg in terms of emotional investment. But however it plays out, it's going to come down to individual will and "want to".
BEER OF THE WEEK
OK, I haven't had this yet. But I want it. So it better show up under the tree.
Goose Island puts out a number of seasonal beers, and one of the Chicago-based company's offerings this year in its Bourbon County label is the Bourbon County Stout special brewing of its 1000th batch. It was born at the brewer's original brewpub site, and has about every "dark" flavor you can imagine in a stout: chocolate, caramel, and smoke being predominant. It was then aged for five months in bourbon barrels, giving it oak undertones.
I connected through Chicago airports multiple times this year, but never had the time to head for a pub that stocks the Bourbon County offerings. For this spring's trips, I'm looking for a long layover there so I can do just that.
I view most adverstising slogans with a jaundiced eye, but I have to admit I was captivated by this one: "One sip has more flavor than your average case of beer."
ONE MORE THING...
This season has been one to forget for most fans, but unfortunately some good things, like the baby with the bathwater, get tossed out in the process. One of those is the contributions and achievements of the small senior class, which was part of 30 wins, two Big East league titles, three bowl appearances and the memorable Orange Bowl win. That's something they can hold on to, even though their final year wasn't what they had hoped for.
The thing to remember in this case is that while most of us classify the experience of a season in terms of games only, these guys have the total experience to look back on. The toils and tribulations of conditioning and practice, the camaraderie of friends going through the same experiences -- all of those have hopefully been good for this small group that stuck it out over the long haul.
So here's to you, Tyler Anderson, Will Clarke, Darwin Cook, Trevor Demko, Pat Eger, Dozie Ezemma, Curtis Feigt , Nick Kindler, Nate Majnaric, William Marable, Ivan McCartney, Doug Rigg, Shaq Rowell and Charles Sims. From scholarship player to walk-on, from star to back-up, the hope is that your careers at West Virginia were far more than just the wins and losses. I have the strong feeling that's the case.