WVU looks for efficiency while Kansas seeks stability
While this week’s opponent, Kansas, goes through preparations for this week’s game without its head coach, West Virginia coach Neal Brown cited changes to practice structure due to COVID-19 as a common problem for every team.
Those practice problems have led to two overriding issues, Brown pointed out, and he had his team concentrate on them last week during a bye week: Passing efficiency and tackling.
“I think offensively, we’ve not thrown the ball efficient enough to be able to win the games we have to win down the stretch here,” Brown said of his Mountaineers (2-1, 1-1 Big 12). “Defensively, we spent a lot of time on tackling. I think that’s something we need to get better at.”
Doesn’t everybody? Yet, those issues can be tough to trace statistically as a real problem for West Virginia.
When Kansas (0-3, 0-2) visits Morgantown, W.Va., the Jayhawks will be facing the only Power 5 school ranked in the top 20 nationally in rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense and red zone defense. And West Virginia’s 166.3-yard passing allowance ranks first in the Big 12 and eighth nationally.
The Mountaineers’ offense, engineered by quarterback Jarret Doege, ranks 27th overall with a 440.7-yard average that effectively blends the run and pass. That attack could be on point for a breakout performance considering Doege already has involved 14 receivers into a passing attack and has completed 66 percent of his passes.
Junior running back Leddie Brown, meanwhile, is averaging 106.7 yards a game.
“Our ability to rush the football is much improved from a year ago,” Brown said. “We are not a finished product by any means. We’ve got to do a better job protecting the passer. We’ve got do a better job in short-yardage situations.”
Kansas coach Les Miles is expected to be at the game after quarantining since he tested positive for the COVID-19 last week. He has participated in Zoom meetings and been in routine contact with assistants, and said Sunday night he “feels pretty good.”
Should he not experience symptoms or run a fever, school officials say he would be on the sideline for Saturday’s game.
With or without Miles, the Jayhawks will be trying to end a 50-game road losing streak in Big 12 play.
“There’s no controversy. Our team knows Les Miles is the captain of this ship,” said offensive coordinator Brent Dearmon. “Every coach, every player, everybody within the facility looks up to that guy and everything he brings to this football team. So (we’re) doing everything we can to bring him and get him involved in his situation.”
The Kansas staff did reveal a starting quarterback for the first time this season. Junior Miles Kendrick was named after freshman Jalon Daniels, who started the last two games, suffered an undisclosed injury. Senior Thomas MacVittie, who started the opener, has returned from a shoulder injury.
The Jayhawks rank last in the Big 12 in production (296.0) and scoring (14.7). Their top threat, running back Pooka Williams, left the Jayhawks’ last game, a 47-7 loss to Oklahoma State, in the third quarter with an undisclosed injury after gaining just 32 yards on 14 carries.
Kansas also allows a league-high 44 points. Its last Big 12 road win came on Oct. 4, 2008, at Iowa State.
–Field Level Media