It’s the same basic game plan that was set-up by Oklahoma with one significant difference: Talent. Kansas lacks any semblance of a pass rusher like Eric Striker, and their front, while underrated, won’t be able to require the double teams plus the max protect that the Sooners used to allow the backend to shift more numbers there as the game progressed.
The Jayhawks showed similar tendencies in a 23-0 loss to Texas, which tried to attack vertically without much success due to underthrows and multiple miscommunications by the wideouts. The Longhorn receivers often beat KU coverage deep, but Texas never consistently hit on the long throw, something that should be expected of Clint Trickett.
Part of Texas’ issue is that the Longhorns, under Mack Brown and now Charlie Strong, aren’t built in the same fashion as is West Virginia, and, frankly, are feeling the loss of numbers after Strong dismissed nine players before the situation was worsened by a pair of injuries to the two-deep. KU will remain in its 3-4 look and try to force West Virginia to throw without extra defenders in the box. It worked for OU because the Sooners controlled the point of attack for the majority of the game, and were able to pressure the pocket effectively with just its front seven, which forced the Mountaineers to add a back, and often two, into the protection set.
That caused fewer options in the passing game, which created a greater numbers advantage for Oklahoma, which allowed for double teams on the outside, especially with Kevin White, which tightened passing windows, which create difficult conditions when combined with the pass rush and lack of consistent running game. West Virginia needs to stay ahead of the chains to an extent, though it’s not quite the worry this game that it was in the last. The Mountaineers also need to establish some semblance of a run to keep the defense honest in the pass game and create greater chances.
Texas, because of poor punting, was pinned deep in its own end for much of the second quarter, which limited play calls to an extent. UT did get the backs involved in the pass game, something West Virginia will also attempt, and with the versatility of Wendell Smallwood and others, combined with tempo, the Mountaineers should at times be able to get the ‘Hawks on their heels. That has to be exploited via the fastballing style whenever possible, especially with the lack of quality depth for KU.
The worry, and what Kansas did against Texas and would like to do versus WVU, is create slower game play with less snaps than what with which the Mountaineers have grown accustomed. The game, interconnected on all three sides of the ball, is best managed by Kansas’ defense in concert with an offense that will try to control the ball and grind long drives by stringing first downs together. There’s no question KU will challenge West Virginia for big plays, but the preference, at least under former coach Charlie Weis, is to keep explosive, spread offenses off the field instead of continually trying to stop them or somehow match scoring.
Kansas’ defense hasn’t been stout in leveraging the ball, and the Mountaineers should have some success on the edge in the run game and with receiver slip screens. Because the pass rush isn’t often great, West Virginia might be less likely to use screens to the backs in this game, but that will be dictated by down, distance, alignment and other factors, as it always is. It will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers try and attack the middle of the field, where Kansas is at times susceptible because of how spread it must become against teams like WVU and Baylor. The Mountaineer should have some options out of the stem routes, or, even simpler, called basic crosses or slants across the face.
Keep an eye on the Kansas secondary as well. The Jayhawks often sucked up into coverage, losing Texas’ receivers deep, or weren’t able to keep up without safety help over the top. KU won’t be able to play press man against West Virginia without a cover two look because of the speed of White and Mario Alford, and forcing the safeties to be concerned with the vertical threat obviously opens greater options underneath. Once West Virginia exploits that, and begins to establish the run, check to see if the Kansas safeties begin to creep up, or are sucked in by play action. It happened multiple times against Texas – a less-skilled offensive team than WVU – even on some scramble plays in which the defensive backs simply lost wideouts in coverage. Trickett doesn’t have the mobility of UT quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, but as plays are extended, if they ever are, KU tends to badly break down on the back end.
There seems, frankly, to be too much talent combined with too many options for West Virginia to struggle too much against the Jayhawks. The biggest concern is ball security, not turning it over in exceptionally bad situations, and staying away from being too far behind the chains; WVU has converted 50 percent of its third downs and 38 percent of its fourth downs, almost regardless of distance. The Mountaineer offense also needs its defense to get off the field on third down, and not allow Kansas to shorten the game in terms of possessions for the Mountaineers.