MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
While any bowl is better than no bowl, there's also no denying that West Virginia was hoping to avoid a trip back to New York this year. It's not a certainty that WVU would be slotted in the game if it wins its final two contests, but it's the next best bet to a lock. With that in mind, will West Virginia play with the desperation it needs?
On the opposite side, the Jayhawks have lost 27 consective league games, and have been uncompetitive through most of this year's Big 12 games. Like WVU, it has motivation, but how strong can it be at this point in the year?
Unfortunately, this is the focal point of this week's game. West Virginia is trying to overcome a hideous rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, while Kansas fans are full into basketball support mode at this point of the season. Neither bodes well for strong performances, so the team that is able to play for the game's own sake is likely to come out on top. WVU hasn't shown any signs of giving up this season, and the coaching staff has not questioned the overall effort of the team, so that could be the deciding factor. Maybe, sometime in the future, we'll get back to the point where we're looking more at match-ups and adjustments than mere survival.
* * *
Will Clint Trickett play this week? Indications seem to be pointing toward no, what with the non-committal answers concerning his practice time and Trickett's own tweet about not hearing what he wanted to hear. Of course, the latter might be a reaction to the fact that his local grocer is out of his favorite food, but it's at least possible that he might not be cleared for Saturday's game. Holgorsen did say on Thursday that Trickett "has taken reps" but that could mean anything -- which is just the way the coach likes it. A definitive starter won't be known until Saturday.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen also said Ford Childress has been cleared to play, but it's hard to imagine that he would appear, given his lack of practice time (a huge Holgorsen issue) over recent weeks. That would seem to put Paul Millard behind center by default, but that's not a disaster. He has shown the ability to hit receivers in stride on short-range routes, which is important for this offense.
* * *
West Virginia's linebacking corps is the place to focus early in the game. With Jewone Snow and Tyler Anderson, among others, expected to play bigger roles in place of injured stalwarts, Kansas will almost certainly try to attack the second level. Look for lots of short passes and crossing routes, as well as increased use of the tight end. Jayhawk Jimmay Mundine has 16 catches for 181 yards and four scores this season, and it won't be a surprise to see him targeted seven or eight times in the game. Backs out of the backfield will also be expected, as head coach Charlie Weis is sure to try to put pressure on 'backers that don't have the speed or range of the players they are replacing.
To combat this, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson might also play another safety as as linebacker, or simply go with one of the nickel packages WVU has employed this season. That might leave the Mountaineers a bit vulnerable to the run, where it would have to depend on the defensive line more than ever to slow down the ground game, but with so many players out there simply aren't a lot of options to employ.
A NUMBER WORTH COUNTING
Kansas is offensively challenged -- a fact that can be demonstrated with any number of statistics. However, the one that stands out is sixty.
A mere five dozen -- that's the total number of points the Jayhawks have scored in the first half of games this year. Even WVU, which isn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard this year, has twice that many points in the opening 30 minutes.
KU's inability to score before the half puts all kinds of pressure on its defense, which has actually started out games pretty well. The Jayhawks haven't allowed a point on foes' opening drives this year, and has yielded only six first downs on those possessions. They held Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech to zero first quarter points, and have generally been competitive. After a while, though, the lack of support from the offense gets to the defense, and things get out of control. KU has given up a whopping 92 points in the second quarter, leading to a 155-60 deficit at the break.
West Virginia obviously wants to continue that trend, but it typically takes a while for the Mountaineer attack to find its stride. That's the last thing WVU needs in this game, especially given all of the question marks surrounding the beaten up defense. A couple of first quarter scores, and West Virginia could bury the Jayhawks early.
BEER OF THE WEEK
If you are a beer snob, stop reading now. I've covered a few lesser-known brews over the past few weeks, so it's time to go back to one of the classics. This week's suds in the spotlight belong to Coors.
Yes, I know, it's not a full-bodied lager, and doesn't have the kick or bite of many of the craft beers I've highlighted over the past few weeks. But I can remember a time when it wasn't available in the east, and when it finally showed up in Myrtle Beach, S.C., it was big news. This was the original Coors, long before Silver Bullets made their appearance, and excitement over having it available (at least once a year) was palpable. I can remember loading up the van with several cases to bring back home -- out own miniature Smokey and the Bandit run.
While it's not going to win any international awards, a Coors is a nice diversion every now and then. It's especially good to get one from the original brewery in Golden, Col., and imagine the water from that cold mountain stream which tumbles past the brewhouse making its way in to be a part of the process. A Coors from the tap in the sampling room there sparkles and bubbles almost like a champagne, and makes a visit to its birthplace (I did so prior to the WVU - Colorado game a few years back) very much worth the trip.
ONE MORE THING...
The Sims is a popular video game franchise that put the player in control of building entire cities and communities, while keeping the population happy, just like a city manager or mayor. Many spinoffs and improvements in the game have come out over the years, but the basic idea of the game has remained the same
The WVU - KU game features its own Sims battle -- West Virginia's Charles vs. Kansas' James -- and the duo will square off in a similar way to their computer counterparts. Both are the major foundation of their teams. Without either, they'd be much worse. And both coaches have tired to be careful not to overuse them. In order to win, though, both have to shoulder a heavy load.
James has 186 touches for 848 yards and four scores this year, while Charles has 209 for 1,189 yards and 10 TDs. Both will be the offensive MVPs of their team at season's end, and they hold the key to victory. At full strength, we'd give West Virginia's version the edge, but the Mountaineers' defensive injury list might give the Kansas entry a bit more room to operate. In a game with few offensive stars, these are the players to watch.