Kevin Kinder \

West Virginia Has Yet To Beat The Big 12's Most Blue Collar Team In Kansas State

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia fully understands the challenges of playing a bruising team like Kansas State.

And often because of the Wildcats' play, they come out bruised as well. Such was the case with K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz, who finished the KSU's last game with bloody knuckles after a solid 7-of-8 performance for 94 yards and two scores in a rain-shortened 35-0 win over Missouri State that was called at halftime. The junior is yet another a long line of steady, workmanlike signal callers, which along with a stout running game and solid defense have become the trademark of head coach Bill Snyder's program.

Ertz has completed 31-of-55 passes this season for 418 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He has been sacked seven times, and as per the norm, is active in Kansas State's run game as well. Though Snyder would like to see a higher completion percentage than Ertz's current 56.4 percent, the quarterback has made intelligent choices in the passing game, and shown resiliency even in the 26-13 loss to then-No. 8 Stanford. KSU actually outgained the Cardinal 335-272, with Ertz completing 16 of 34 passes for 207 yards, with one touchdown and his lone pick of the season.

"He's a great developmental player who came into his own," WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's not uncharacteristic of Kansas State guys to be like that. He continues to get better, and he's not the only one. There's a bunch of them. We've been going against them for years, and we have seen those guys develop into really good football players. It's what Kansas State does.

"He has been there for awhile and I think he understands what they are trying to do. They have had great staff continuity and great development of players. They have always been a run-first offense. The key is to get the run game going and then when it's time to sling it around they can do that as well. They are very multiple and he's very good at what they are asking him to do. He resembles the guys they have had for a long, long time. They ask a lot of those guys in the run game and reading defenses. The whole bloody knuckles, that's just what a Kansas State Wildcat is. They are good football players and they are tough. It's what they do."

Kansas State's defense has held every opponent, including Stanford, to 300 yards or less. The Wildcats have outscored their last two foes 98-7, and offer another high caliber edge rusher in Jordan Willis. The senior leads the team with two sacks and also has 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble and recovery. Willis continually disrupted Stanford's pocket passing, and was able to flush the quarterback while also controlling the edge in the run game. It sets up another key match-up for West Virginia right tackles Marcell Lazard and Colton McKivitz, who split time in the win over BYU.

The positive is that WVU's offensive line has yet to give up a true sack this season. The stat sheet was clean through the first two games, and the sack credited to Brigham Young came on a play where quarterback Skyler Howard escaped and then ran for the sidelines for a slight loss. It was among the handful of times Howard was forced to scramble, with one of those resulting in a five-yard touchdown run for a 28-19 lead late in the third quarter.

"I question if that one was a sack," Holgorsen said. "He scrambled out of there and got back to the line. I don't know how they call that a sack. Some of that is the O-line. I think we have continuity there and coach (Joe) Wickline has done a good job of widening the pocket. Ron Crook does a wonderful job with the O-line. Wickline is more of a game plan kind of a guy and oversees things and helps us adjust during the game. Skyler has done a good job getting the ball out quickly and getting us in the right play. The wide receivers are in the right spots. It's 100 percent better than last year."

Holgorsen said the difference between how Howard is delivering the ball this season and last is significant. The senior has hit on 74-of-108 passes for six scores and three interceptions. Howard has showcased confidence in both the intermediate and deep throws, and has had exceptional accuracy early. There's still a poor decision on occasion, like the interception on the second drive versus BYU. But overall, at 324.7 yards per game and an efficiency rating of 157.05 - 26th in the NCAA - Howard has demonstrated that he has the ability to run Holgorsen's best offense in at least four years.

"We watched the BYU game and then turned on the Kansas State game from last year and it's a completely different person," Holgorsen said. "He has better zip on the ball and he threw it as accurately as he ever has last week. The receivers are in the right place and he has time to throw. That makes a difference."

West Virginia is among the few undefeated teams - there are 27 - not yet ranked in either poll. Baylor, the Big 12's lone other unbeaten, is 13th. The Big 12 has just three teams ranked (TCU and Texas) and its reputation has suffered nationally after a poor showing in major out of conference games.

"It doesn't look any different to me than it ever has been," Holgorsen said of the league. "There's no favorites, and we don't care who is the favorite. We just go out and play the next game. There are nine teams you have to play and it doesn't matter what their record or ranking is, it will be a challenge. We worry about what we can control, which is going out there and doing our best and winning games. We have done that the last three weeks and that's what we will worry about this week as well. We have confidence in our abilities. We think we are pretty good, but we also know we have to get better and better. The Big 12 is a challenging league. Our job is to get better and prepare for the next game, and we have a tough one against Kansas State this weekend." 

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