MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
A pair of Bilentikoff semifinalists -- WVU's Kevin White and Kansas State's Tyler Lockett -- won't go head-to-head on the field, but their final numbers will have a big impact on the outcome. White bounced back from a pair of three-catch games to record a little-noticed school record 16 receptions against Texas, and although the Horns held him to his lowest per-catch average of the season (8.3 yards per reception), the productivity was vital for a Mountaineer offense that has struggled over its past two outings. White will likely need to have double-digit receptions, and at least 125 yards and a score, to give the Mountaineers a chance to win.
Lockett, who also contributes in the return game, just passed his father Kevin's career receiving yards standard with 3,073, and has a good shot at career receptions (he trails by 14) and touchdowns (trails by two) this season. Of course, if he comes anywhere near breaking those totals in this game, the Wildcats are likely to come away with a win. He's also averaging 18.7 yards per punt return this year -- a huge number that works out to nearly two first downs per attempt. When he gets a runback, it's like the Wildcat offense has already run five plays and racked up a pair of first downs. Add in a 29.9 career kickoff return average, and he's a weapon that comes to bear every time K-State collects the ball.
WVU must keep Lockett from recording big plays in order to have a chance to win. It can't allow scores in the return game, nor long pass plays. The Mountaineers, in other words must do what K-State does best -- keep the ball in front of the defense, make tackles, and live to fight the next play. On offense, White has to make a big play or two of his own - go up and catch a deep ball over the defense, or break a tackle and score from 50 yards out.
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Third downs will be another battle to highlight, as West Virginia's stingy defense in that play phase will try to put a crimp in the efficient Wildcat attack.
It's not likely that WVU can hold Kansas State to a 30% mark, but if it could keep it around 37 or 38%, that could be enough for the victory. Conversely, a success rate creeping up to 40% or higher on the scale skews things in favor of the visitors. For many schools, time of possession is not as big of a factor as it once was, but for K-State it's vital. Not so much in and of itself, but when the Wildcats possess the ball, they are likely doing so with a number of third down conversions -- and that's a direct marker in judging their success.
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
True to its agricultural tradition, Kansas State's first few athletic teams were known as Aggies. The Wildcat name was first used in 1915, but lasted just a couple of years, when it was dropped in favor of the accurate, yet totally unimaginative "Farmers". Fortunately, common sense prevailed, and in 1920 the Wildcat returned for good.
While Willie does get credit for being one of the more engaged and active mascots around, the Kansas State "tradition" of allowing a member of its cheer team to dress up as an opposing school fan and be targeted with a hit is certainly not something that adds to the mascot's cachet, except on a sophomoric level.
THINGS TO WATCH
Can West Virginia put together four drives of ten plays or more that result in touchdowns? Something along those lines will likely be required to get a win against K-State. As Matt Keller detailed quite well in his pre-game thoughts (see link below), the Wildcats excel at preventing big plays and forcing offenses to put together long drives of short gains in which to beat them. At some point, K-State figures, their opponent will make a mistake to kill a drive. A fumble, a dropped snap, a penalty -- any such mistake will cause the offense to get behind the chains and eventually force a punt -- or perhaps an even bigger mistake.
This sort of play has not been West Virginia's forte this year. Can it string together long drives without the benefit of a breakout play?
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West Virginia has benefited from a 25-yard per game average in penalty mark-offs this year. That might not sound like a lot, but that's extra field position that can have a big impact in games. In this contest, however, the advantage is reversed. WVU averages 6.5 flags per contest, resulting in 58.5 yards of walk-offs. K-State, on the other hand, is nearly error-free, drawing just 32 foul calls for an average of 32.2 yards per game. West Virginia has to stay close in this stat area, which, along with turnovers, will be another big factor in the contest.
Speaking of turnovers, WVU has committed 22 this year. K-State has just eight. Amazingly enough, though, the points off turnovers totals are very close. Wildcat foes have turned those eight giveaways into 77 points, while the Mountaineer defense has allowed just 97 off those 22 miscues.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
K-State ranks just 74th nationally in rushing offense, but that doesn't mean it can't run the ball effectively. While the Wildcats don't routinely rip off big runs, the are capable of grinding out possessions, and have four players averaging at least four yards per carry. One of those is backup QB Joe Hubener, who sees spot duty in relieve of starter Jake Waters, and does a respectable job. He has never lost a rushing yard in his career at K-State, and can bulldoze foes with power, ala erstwhile Oklahoma QB Blake Bell. Add in Waters' 406 net yards this year, and the Wildcats get a good bit of rushing productivity from their quarterbacks.
Behind them, Charles Jones and Demarcus Robinson split carries from the running back position. Neither has huge individual numbers but their combined 783 yards and 15 touchdowns give K-State a more than adequate rushing attack. It's not electric, and doesn't feature a lot of highlight reel plays, but it does mirror the Wildcat program -- safe, sound, fundamental and effective.