By Cam Huffman
West Virginia and Kansas have won a grand total of six games between them in 19 tries this season, but heading into today’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan., the coaches are treating the Big 12 contest as if it were the Super Bowl.
WVU (4-6, 2-5) needs a win in today’s noon game — which will be televised on Fox Sports Net (ROOT Sports locally) — and then another on Nov. 30 at home against Iowa State to become bowl eligible and continue its streak of 11 straight bowl appearances. Kansas (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) just needs wins. Period.
“These last three games count the same for me,” said KU head coach Charlie Weis, who’s 3-18 at Kansas and deep into his second season with the Jayhawks still hasn’t won a Big 12 game. “These are our playoffs. That’s the way we’re approaching it.
“(The Mountaineers) are obviously coming off a disheartening (47-40 overtime) loss where they had Texas, a top team, beat (in Morgantown),” continued the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator and Notre Dame head coach. “But you have a late fourth-down conversion and a late field goal, then end up losing in overtime. It was a disheartening loss. They played really well.”
A 6-6 finish doesn’t meet the expectations in Morgantown, where WVU has won three BCS Bowl games in the last decade, but a .500 season and a low-level bowl game is all that’s left on the table at this point. Head coach Dana Holgorsen, now 21-15 in his third season at WVU, is confident that’s motivation enough.
“It’s a reward for the seniors,” said Holgorsen of a possible bowl appearance. “That’s the No. 1 thing. You can say it’s for development, you can say it’s for recruiting, to go win one and get a trophy in that case. That’s all good, and it’s a good experience for everyone. But a reward for the seniors is the most important.”
With so much on the line — at least in the coaches’ eyes — both are trying to keep a few of their cards hidden from view.
Kansas has started junior BYU transfer Jake Heaps in every game this season, and he’s thrown for 1,204 yards and seven touchdowns, despite a lack of protection up front and a number of dropped passes. Freshman Montell Cozart, a more mobile signal caller, has played in each of the last four games, including the entire second half in a 42-6 loss to Oklahoma State last week. Cozart completed 6 of 17 passes for 58 yards and ran 18 times for 55 yards. With a weak and battered offensive line, Cozart’s ability to use his feet may earn him a starting role down the stretch.
But Weis isn’t giving anything away.
“I know who’s starting at quarterback, but why should I tell them?” he asked. “That’s really what it comes down to. You can’t go to practice with an ‘or’ in mind, because if you have an ‘or’ you really have nobody. But why should they know?
“Not that we’re trained killers on offense, but you have to practice. What do they do when Jake’s in the game? What do they do when Montell’s in the game.”
Holgorsen, perhaps using the same theory, also hasn’t named a starter under center.
Clint Trickett, a junior transfer from Florida State, has started each of WVU’s last six games, but the Mountaineers won just two of those and have lost four of their last five — a 30-27 overtime win at TCU the only victory. Trickett was knocked out early in last week’s loss to Texas with a concussion, and junior Paul Millard played most of the game, completing 16 of 32 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. Ball security was a problem, though, as he threw a pair of interceptions and fumbled twice.
Making the situation even more confusing, redshirt freshman Ford Childress, who was the starter for two games early in the season before missing the last six with a pectoral injury, has been cleared to return.
Holgorsen said on his radio show Thursday night that any of the three quarterbacks could get the start.
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Today’s game will be the third all-time meeting between the two schools. WVU won 21-0 at Old Mountaineer Field in 1941 and prevailed 59-10 at Milan Puskar Stadium last season.
The Mountaineers will be without their top stars from that one, though. Andrew Buie rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown in that Dec. 1, 2012 contest, but he’s no longer with the WVU program. Geno Smith completed 23 of 24 passes for 407 yards and three touchdowns, but he’s now a New York Jet. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, his top two targets, are also now playing on Sundays.
KU does return two of its biggest weapons in running back James Sims and wide receiver Tony Pierson. Sims rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown in last year’s game, while Pierson caught a 42-yard pass and ran for 30 yards on seven carries.
They’ll need big games for a Jayhawk offense averaging just 15.9 points per game.
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.