“They’ve made big plays and we didn’t,” Weis said of opponents. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
Short, bittersweet and to the point. Weiss’ second Jayhawk team is badly struggling to remain competitive despite showing flashes of improvement. KU isn’t getting blown out quite as often as in seasons past, and Weis insists his team is showing signs – such as winning the third quarter in the last game against Oklahoma State by a 3-0 score.
“That’s a sure sign,” said Weis, 38-45 overall as a collegiate head coach with stints at Notre Dame and Kansas. “It’s when it goes bad in the third quarter that you have to worry.”
Well, maybe. One should also be worried when Kansas ranks as poorly as it does in so many areas. The Jayhawks, who have yet to win a Big 12 game under Weis in almost two seasons, currently rank 199th in points per game average, 113th in passing yards, 98th in points against and 91st in rush yards. There’s just no way to overcome those stats when all are factored. Teams can win with solid to exceptional play in one play phase even being far below average on the flip side. But an anemic offense, a bad defense and mediocre special teams? That’s a disaster, and Weis is in the thick of it.
Weis said he still thought KU was giving effort and showing enthusiasm – though that’s typically a telling statement in itself. Kansas (2-7, 0-6 Big 12) has yet to play any league opponent within a single-digit differential, and only the TCU game has been decided by less than two touchdowns. To be fair, the program was in decline even as Weis was hired, and over three different coaches since 2009 has won just two Big 12 games. Looking at just the Big 12 statistical rankings, Kansas is last in scoring offense, total offense and pass offense and second-to-last in rush defense and eighth in total defense at 436.9 yards per game.
West Virginia, even without being able to execute incredibly effectively itself, should be able to win this game going away. The lone question for the Mountaineers is – after last week’s emotionally draining overtime loss to Texas – if they have enough gumption to at least put forth reasonable effort against an awful foe in a venue that should have zero feel. Kansas drew 32,264 for its last home game, a 59-14 loss to then-No. 8 Baylor, and blowouts to Texas and Oklahoma State since have not helped energize the fan base. WVU, with tight losses in three of its last four games, could also be lacking in that area.
“I wouldn’t say they’ve blown leads,” Weis said of West Virginia. “Anytime you are up and you end up giving it up, that’s the perspective. They were a little bit unlucky the last game. It’s fourth down and there’s a fourth down conversion up by midfield. In this league, there are so many teams that are tough, that are high powered, you never ever can rule these teams out. You never can have enough points. The flip side is they have done a really good job scoring. They dropped 40 on a really good defense this past week. I think their team is definitely improved even though they are obviously really disappointed in the result of these games."
WVU (4-6, 2-5) has match-up advantages at the skill slots, in the placekicking and punting game, along the defensive line and at linebacker against KU’s run game. West Virginia should also get no worse than a stalemate against KU’s pass “attack,” which is featuring a quarterback in BYU transfer Jake Heaps that has completed 50 percent of his passes (107 for 213) for 1,204 yards and seven scores against an equal number of receptions. Heaps has the ability to get the ball downfield, but lack of protection, a mediocre run game and playing from behind and thus facing heavy rush defenses sitting on the pass has hurt his overall numbers.
KU does have a solid possession wideout in Tony Pierson, as the 5-10, 170-pounder has 23 catches for 321 yards and an average of 14 yards per catch. But that’s the team leader, and no other receiver has even 200 yards in receptions. The rush game isn’t any better; primary back James Sims shows 703 yards for his 165 carries, an average of 4.3 yards with a paltry four touchdowns. WVU must be aware of tight end Jimmy Mundine, who leads the team with four TD catches.
Kansas is at least decent on special teams, placing third in the Big 12 in punt return average and sixth in kickoff return average – though they’ve had widely varying attempts at each. Punter Travor Pardula is second in the Big 12 in average (45.4) behind WVU’s Nick O’Toole; placekicker Matthew Mymen, however, has made just five of 10 field goals. He was taken out last game, with Ron Doherty replacing him and, thus far, holding down the position. Defensively, this is, again, a not even adequate team. They have solid players in spots, with JaCorey Shepherd totaling two interceptions and 11 pass break-ups. Linebacker Ben Heeney averages nine tackles per game, and primary rusher Michael Reynolds has 5.5 sacks.
Kansas netted just 274 yards against WVU last season, the Mountaineers best performance of the year. The Jayhawks will likely at least threaten that mark, but should be no match, either in personnel or execution, for a West Virginia team that seems to have improved immensely over the past few weeks. The Mountaineers have found a bit of a run game, and should be able to execute adequately enough to get out of Lawrence with a win – barring an injury situation in which WVU has to go to a non-scholarship quarterback.
“They are better at running the football than most people give them credit for,” Weis added. “More than most teams I have seen recently, they have become more multi-dimensional. They are not having to hang their hat on just being able to run or throw the ball.”