WVU football: Mountaineers want K-State to air it out
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- It might be perceived as a brazen approach when a team has yielded the second-most passing yards in major college football, but West Virginia's defensive gameplan is this:
Make 'em win by throwin' it.
"We'll work hard on stopping the run and you want to make them pass," WVU Coach Dana Holgorsen said of Kansas State, the Mountaineers' opponent this Saturday (7 p.m., WVAH) at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The fourth-ranked and unbeaten Wildcats (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) are No. 108 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing offense and haven't thrown for more than 230 yards in any game this season.
The Mountaineers are No. 118 in pass defense at 364.7 yards per game.
That yardage total balloons to 415.2 passing yards per game allowed against FBS competition (James Madison managed just 112 passing yards against WVU).
James Madison, however, represents the opponent on WVU's schedule that might most resemble what the No. 17 Mountaineers will face this Saturday. The Dukes ran 68 percent of the time against the Mountaineers on Sept. 15, and K-State has rushed 261 times against 118 pass attempts this season - that means the Wildcats run it 69 percent of the time.
"We try to stop everybody with the run and make everybody one dimensional," freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. "It's been working in some cases and not so much in others, but that's our game plan."
West Virginia (5-1, 2-1) has been torched in Big 12 play to the tune of 452.7 yards through the air. Texas Tech threw for 508 yards and six touchdowns last week, and now the Mountaineers will be without top cornerback Brodrick Jenkins (knee).
K-State is No. 11 nationally in rush offense, so that's where WVU will focus its attention. Too much, though, and the Wildcats will break out play action and burn the Mountaineers' vulnerable secondary.
"They run the ball so well that they force you to honor the run and then when you do they pick their spots to throw the ball," West Virginia cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts said. "Obviously we know the numbers in terms of their rushing to passing yardage ratio, but make no mistake about it they can hit you up for big yardage in both categories."
It's a different challenge for the WVU defense. In five games against FBS competition this season, the Mountaineers have seen the opposing quarterback carry the ball a total of 28 times for 5 yards.
K-State's Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, Collin Klein, has carried 98 times for 510 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Wildcats don't carry the reputation of an explosive offense like West Virginia, but that's a bit of a misnomer, Holgorsen said. In fact, K-State has scored 29 fewer points than the Mountaineers this season, but the offense has run 93 fewer plays.
"They're only snapping the ball 63 times per game but they're averaging 40-some points per game," Holgorsen said. "They have big-play potential, they just do it in a different way. Different than Baylor, different than Texas Tech.
"It always comes down to stopping the run. They are going to throw the ball and we have to make some plays down the field. We haven't done a good job of making plays downfield.
"That's a bit of an understatement."
Klein is fourth in the Big 12 in rushing, one spot behind teammate John Hubert. The 5-foot-7, 191-pound Hubert has as many carries as Klein - 98 - but nearly 100 more yards (608) and eight touchdowns.
Hubert has four 100-yard games this season; Klein has two. They have worked to perfect the spread option attack under 73-year-old K-State Coach Bill Snyder.
"You've got your keys, you've got your responsibilities, you've got to look at it and try to develop some tendencies that helps you defend it," Holgorsen said. "You try to junk up the box and stop the run ... and then you're weak on the outside. We've got to make plays out there."
This is the 10th top 5 opponent to play in Morgantown since 1986, and WVU hasn't won against a top 5 opponent at home since 2003 (Virginia Tech).
If it's going to happen, the Mountaineers say it'll be because they took away what K-State does best by forcing the Wildcats to test what WVU does worst.
"It's going to be different because they are running so much," Bruce said. "We encourage that. We want them to run. We feel very confident in our run-stopping game, so we say bring it on."
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at email@example.com or 304-348-7949.