West Virginia could be bounce-back game for Kansas State
MANHATTAN, Kan. — The message new Kansas State coach Chris Klieman delivered in the locker room after a gut-check loss at Texas last weekend was almost identical to the one he relayed after the Wildcats upended then-No. 5 Oklahoma to shake up the Big 12.
“We have to wipe it clean pretty quickly,” Klieman said, “and you have to go back to work.”
It is that blue-collar approach that has not only endeared Klieman to Kansas State faithful but allowed the Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) to exceed most outside expectations in his first season in charge. Yes, there was the victory over the Sooners. But there was also the rout of down-the-road rival Kansas, a road win over Mississippi State and a solid victory over TCU.
The Wildcats have a chance to add to their bowl-eligible resume, too. They face West Virginia (3-6, 1-5) on Saturday, head to Texas Tech and wrap up the regular season against Iowa State.
None of those teams has a winning conference record.
Don’t try to convince Klieman that anything is a given, though. It would be wasted effort.
“We have to go back to work and have to continue to get better, continue to improve,” Klieman said. “I thought Texas did a really good job of shutting down our rushing attack. It’s something we have to get back going to set up everything we need to in the passing game. The guys are excited to be back playing at home, and we look forward to a great afternoon in Manhattan.”
The Mountaineers are also in their first season under a new coach, and it’s been a rocky start for Neal Brown. They have dropped five straight and have not lost six in a row since 1986.
Last week was especially ugly. The Mountaineers fell behind Texas Tech, 35-10, in the first half, and an offense that set all kinds of scoring records under Dana Holgorsen couldn’t catch up.
“We played as bad of a first half as you can play,” Brown said. “We gave up touchdowns on the first five drives. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a game like that. Everybody and everyone’s under evaluation.”
That includes the quarterback. Austin Kendall was replaced late in the third quarter against Texas Tech by Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege, who got his first action of the season.
“We’ve got a plan. I don’t think it does me any good to share it,” Brown said. “Our quarterback play hasn’t been tremendous, but it hasn’t been the reason why we’ve struggled, either. On the areas that we’ve got to get fixed, that’s not No. 1 on the list.”
West Virginia outgained the Red Raiders last week but turned the ball over on downs several times deep in Texas Tech territory, and Kendall threw an interception into the end zone in triple coverage to end another drive.
“Struggling to run the ball in the red zone is really tough,” Brown said. “We had negative runs in the red zone. I like our pass plays. We didn’t execute them.”
Injuries along the West Virginia offensive line have played a part in the poor run game. The Mountaineers are averaging just 75.8 yards per game, third-worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The team has 682 rushing yards, whereas Kansas State’s James Gilbert has 558 by himself.
The Wildcats’ leading rusher is dealing with an ankle injury that Klieman said “is just not responding as well as we would have hoped.” That puts Kansas State in a bind because Jordon Brown, his backup, also has been dealing with an ankle injury that limited him in practice this week. Third-string running back Joe Ervin was cleared to play this week after the freshman went through concussion tests.