It's not that the Wildcats are particularly proficient at throwing downfield. KSU has had far bigger vertical threats than it currently possesses, and its 169-yard average won't scare any solid FBS defenses. The difficulty in defending K-State is the intelligence and timeliness of when they take chances. Co-Offensive coordinators Dana Dimel and Del Miller head a physical, run-based offense that will stretch coverage across the breadth of the defense, forcing linebackers already worn by the run game pounding to consider the play action, then quickly pick up fast-moving wideouts across the face.
It creates match-up problems not because of the speed issue - often linebackers are almost as fast as slot receivers - but because of the responsibilities defenses must account for initially before taking on a secondary assignment like a receiving target who has come into their area. That slight hesitation creates some room for both throwing and rush lanes, and opens the field in the corresponding areas desired by Kansas State.
"Definitely very disciplined," WVU bandit safety Jarrod Harper said. "You look at what they do as far as a scheme, they’re very disciplined and they don’t make a lot of errors, turnovers and mistakes. We have to be disciplined in what we do on our coverage and our blitzes. Just have a great week of practice. Learn our opponent and become familiar with them and come Saturday go out and go out and execute."
A key for West Virginia will be fitting better in the run gaps. The Mountaineers were beaten at the point of attack by BYU, then gashed into the second level on a series of hard, physical runs that mimic what Kansas State will attempt. As defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said, part of the issue was fit and part of it - perhaps the most worrying - was the higher pad level and BYU's ability to bring the physicality to the Mountaineers. Keep an eye on how WVU plays the Wildcats in the initial downs, and how often Bill Snyder's team comes away with an advantageous down and distance situation, particularly after challenging West Virginia between the tackles.
K-State doesn't want to stretch plays out via the zone read, or run horizontally looking for gaps to open. Both Dimel and Miller want to pound between the tackles, outnumbering the 3-3-5 in the blocking schemes and using 5-10, 208-pound back Charles Jones behind 6-1, 235-pound fullback Winston Dimel - son of the Co-OC. That makes them even against WVU's front six, with five offensive lineman and a blocking back, and typically segues into an edge with where the play is headed. That means Harper and spur safety Kyzir White will be imperative in protecting against the run while also assuming difficult pass assignments.
Kansas State likes to run three wide formations, or go to a 21 personnel grouping (two backs, one TE, two WRs), which will often create at least one to two match-ups per play in which the hybrid safeties are typically eyeing run first, then refocusing on KSU's wideouts if QB Jesse Ertz pulls the ball. Ertz also has a series of run-pass options in which he could give or pull the ball, then decide to run or throw. It further stresses a defense already locked in on assignments and the ability be match the blue collar play and tackle effectively.
"Early in the game we struggled a bit," Harper said of a BYU contest in which WVU allowed the Cougars more than double their average rushing yardage on the way to surrendering 521 total yards. "We made a couple adjustments and it seemed to help. We definitely have to clean up our run fits and our holes that were hit. We need the running back to start bouncing instead of hitting it downhill. Gotta be disciplined, gotta stay home. The quarterback, just like previous years, is a quarterback who can run. He isn't afraid to pull the ball and stick his nose down and get a few extra yards. Have to be disciplined. If your assignment is the quarterback on certain plays, stay with the quarterback, stay home and be patient."
That's another question, along with the above. Snyder shows incredible patience and willingness to continue to stay the course, knowing the rewards come not in the first or second quarters, but in the late third and into the fourth. That series of QB power runs showcased in the first half suddenly becomes more devastating late when defenses wear down, or morphs into a throw off the run when an assignment executed all game is suddenly blown in an effort to get greater numbers to the ball. Defenses must match the patience of play, and be willing to acknowledge that holding Kansas State to three points, even on a prolonged drive, isn't a negative.
The Wildcats are perfect over their last 41 red zone trips, scoring all 41 times in the 10-game stretch. And 31 of those resulted in touchdowns, a better-than-average 75.6 percent (most teams aim for a 66-percent rate). This season, Kansas State is 16-of-16 with 14 touchdowns, so a field goal is a win defensively.
To its credit, West Virginia showed some resiliency, if not pure patience, in the win over BYU. The defense forced four turnovers, including one for a score and two late interceptions that finally sealed the game. But they aren't likely to get those careless miscues by a K-State team which has turned the ball over just twice over their first three games. Add in perhaps a psychological edge to KSU, in that WVU has yet to defeat the program in Big 12 play, and is just 1-5 all-time in the series. The lone victory came in 1930, in a 23-7 win. That, along with last season's 24-23 loss, represents the most points West Virginia has ever scored versus K-State, giving one an idea of the defensive proficiency demanded in this match-up. KSU is the only blemish for Mountaineers over the last nine games (8-1).
"It definitely stuck with us," Harper said of last season's loss. "Since being in the Big 12, we are 0-4 against these guys. They're a program, very well coached.This is definitely a game we are looking forward to. Last year you look back, if we would have beat Kansas State we probably would have gone to a better bowl game. We’re looking forward to it and we’re ready to get back to work this week. Have a good week of practice, have a good week of preparation and come Saturday we’ll be ready to go out and play."