Morgantown, WV – Two of the Big 12 Conference's top teams square off in Morgantown on Saturday night, as the 17th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers play host to the fourth-ranked Kansas State Wildcats.
Kansas State has risen to No. 4 in the AP poll following a fantastic 6-0 start, which includes three conference wins over Oklahoma (24-19), Kansas (56-16) and Iowa State (27-21). The Wildcats needed to rally from an early deficit last week against the Cyclones, and head coach Bill Snyder was not thrilled with the way his team performed.
"I'd like for us to have played better than we did across the board," Snyder said following the game. "We had some issues. It was out of character for us to be a highly penalized team and we were. That's not the right direction for us to be going."
Now bowl eligible for the third straight season, the Wildcats debuted at No. 4 in the first BCS standings, ranking behind Alabama, Florida and Oregon.
Just a few weeks ago, it was the Mountaineers who were the fourth-ranked team in the country following a 5-0 start, but they slipped all the way to No. 17 following a 49-14 loss at the hands of Texas Tech last week. It was their first conference setback as a member of the Big 12, and it snapped their nine- game winning streak dating back to last season.
Being newly-formed conference rivals, this marks only the third meeting between these two programs with each school winning once, although they haven't met since 1931.
The Kansas State offense has been clicking on all cylinders, scoring 40.8 ppg while putting up 427.5 ypg. It has scored 50 points or more in three games already, although it is coming off one of its most sluggish performance of the year with a 27-point effort against Iowa State.
Quarterback Collin Klein is currently falling short of the pace he set during his amazing 40-touchdown season a year ago, but he has still been solid this year, passing for 1,074 yards, rushing for 510 yards, and accounting for 17 total scores. He has also improved his efficiency this season as he is on pace to finish with a career-high in completion percentage (.669) and a career-low in interceptions (two).
John Hubert makes up the other half of the dynamic rushing duo for the Wildcats, carrying the ball 98 times for 606 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which rank him in the top five in the conference.
No Wildcat receiver averages more than 50 yards per game. If K-State has such a thing as a go-to guy in the passing game, it's Tramaine Thompson (17 catches, 283 yards, three TDs).
Even with the offense piling up huge point totals, the defense has remained stout, allowing 16.5 ppg with a season-high of just 21 points allowed.
Ty Zimmerman is among the conference leaders in interceptions with three and he also has a fumble recovery to his credit. Arthur Brown has a team-high 47 tackles, with four tackles for a loss and a sack.
West Virginia has an even more prolific offense than Kansas State, ranking in the top 10 in the nation in both points per game (45.7) and yards per game (543.7), and most of that production is due to the sensational play from its quarterback.
If the season ended today, there'd be very little doubt that Geno Smith would walk away with the Heisman Trophy. The signal-caller has put up astronomical numbers, passing for 2,271 yards (378.5 ypg) while leading the country in completion percentage (.753), touchdowns (25), QB rating (180.8), and fewest interceptions (zero). As great as he's been, Smith is coming off his most pedestrian game of the year in the loss to Texas Tech (29-of-55, 275 yards, TD), and head coach Dana Holgorsen knows there was a lot that wasn't working in that game.
"It probably started with our inability to run the ball," Holgorsen said of the loss. "We didn't do a good job of finishing blocks early in the game. We didn't make anybody miss at the running back spot. That wasn't the only problem. We weren't able to throw the ball down the field when we had guys open so it was a combination of a lot of things. We just never got into a rhythm."
Andrew Buie has been an effective runner for WVU this year with 504 yards and five touchdowns on 104 carries, but he only managed 71 yards on 21 carries against Texas Tech.
Smith's fantastic season has certainly elevated the play of receivers Stedman Bailey (55 receptions, 766 yards) and Tavon Austin (67 receptions, 761 yards, eight TDs), who rank fourth and sixth in the country in receiving yards, respectively. Bailey is also tops in the country in receiving touchdowns with 14, five more than any other player.
With a dominant offense has come a suspect defense however, as the team has surrendered 37.3 ppg and nearly 500 ypg. The unit cannot get off the field on third down either, allowing opponents to convert 51 percent of their third- down attempts.
The defense has forced just 10 turnovers through six games, with Doug Rigg accounting for two of those with an interception and fumble recovery. Isaiah Bruce (57 tackles, five TFL) and Terence Garvin (six TFL, four sacks) are other defensive standouts.