By Cam Huffman
Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) vs. West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12)
Today, 2:30 p.m.
Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium
WANT TO GO?
Tickets are still available for today’s game. To order, stop by the ticket office or call 1-800-WVU-GAME.
WANT TO WATCH?
The game will be televised by FSN and shown locally on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.
ONE LAST TIME
Twenty-two WVU seniors will play their last game at Mountaineer Field today and be recognized prior to kickoff. Shawne Alston, Tavon Austin, Tyler Bitancurt, Jeff Braun, Nick Cadwell, Ryan Clarke, Josh Francis, Terence Garvin, Josh Jenkins, J.B. Lageman, Cecil Level, Joe Madsen, Donovan Miles, Pat Miller, Pete Miller, Matt Moro, Ryan Nehlen, Corey Smith, Geno Smith, Lawrence Smith, J.D. Woods and Jorge Wright are the players to be honored.
There’s also the possibility that juniors will leave early and enter the NFL Draft. Stedman Bailey, WVU’s career receiving touchdown leader, could fall into that category. He hasn’t made a decision, but it’s possible this could be his final home game, as well.
A SPECIAL WALK
Those seniors, along with head coach Dana Holgorsen, will be the only ones participating in today’s Mountaineer Mantrip, the traditional walk to the stadium, which is scheduled to begin around noon.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Kansas is obviously playing for nothing but pride, and its only conference win of the season.
WVU has a lot more on the line. The Mountaineers are playing to improve their bowl situation.
A win would likely give WVU a shot at being selected for the Holiday Bowl, played Dec. 27 in San Diego, Calif., against the No. 3 team from the Pac-12. A loss would, in all likelihood, send WVU to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl Dec. 29 in Yankee Stadium, facing off against the No. 4 selection from the Big East.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Geno Smith, QB — The nation’s third-leading passer, averaging a little more than 29 completions per game — and throwing a league-best 37 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions on the year — is playing his final home game and will be looking to put on one last show for the Mountaineer fans, before leaving with basically every career passing record in the books.
Tavon Austin, WR — Second in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 233.9 yards per game, Austin will also play his final home game before exiting as the school’s all-time reception leader. He leads the league in receptions per game with 9.6, but he’s seen more time at running back lately after setting a new school record with 344 yards rushing against Oklahoma.
James Sims, RB — After sitting out the first part of the season with a suspension, the junior has made the Jayhawk offense much more dangerous. In Big 12 games, he leads the league, averaging 123.6 rushing yards per contest.
Michael Cummings, QB — The freshman has taken over the quarterback duties late in the year. He doesn’t have the arm of senior Dayne Crist, who started the season under center, but Crist was throwing more interceptions than touchdowns, and Cummings is more of a threat to run the ball. With the freshman taking control, head coach Charlie Weis has used more of an option attack on offense.
KEYS TO THE GAME
It all comes down to rushing the football — on both sides. Kansas has the Big 12’s second-best rushing offense, averaging 216.6 yards per game on the ground, but passing has been an adventure, to say the least. The Jayhawks are last in the league in that category, averaging only a little over 150 yards per game through the air.
That could change against a WVU defense that’s last in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision in pass defense, but the Mountaineer coaches seem confident that WVU can stop Kansas if it can slow down the run game.
Rushing the ball will also be critically important to Holgorsen’s Mountaineer offense. When the team struggled to put up points during a five-game losing streak, it also struggled to run the ball. When Austin took over at tailback and then Alston returned from injury, WVU was finally able to run it again, and the offense returned to its explosive nature.
If WVU can establish the run, it will be hard to stop. It has won every game under Holgorsen when rushing for 150 or more yards in a game, except one. The exception was the 50-49 loss to Oklahoma the last time the Mountaineers played at home.
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH