(TNS) — Kansas State, 5-4, has won two in a row. Another victory will make the Wildcats eligible for a bowl. West Virginia, 6-3, has won three of four and entered the AP Top 25 this week at No. 23. A win in Manhattan would give the Mountaineers a realistic shot at reaching the Big 12 championship game.
K-State key to success: Run the ball. West Virginia traditionally wins (112-15 since 2000) when it scores 30 or more points and almost never loses when it tops 40 (57-4). But the Mountaineers aren’t nearly as successful when their offense struggles. Virginia Tech and TCU both beat them 31-24 this season. If Alex Barnes and Dalvin Warmack can take advantage of West Virginia’s leaky run defense (193.1 yards per game) and keep quarterback Will Grier off the field, K-State’s victory odds will increase.
West Virginia key to success: Go long. K-State has allowed 400 passing yards in three consecutive games, with all three opponents connecting on big plays. Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Tech all found success on passes of 60-plus yards against spotty man coverage. Now Grier gets a turn. The West Virginia passer averages 340.8 yards per game, and he has long completions of at least 60 yards in six games. His four favorite receivers (Gary Jennings, David Sills, Ka’Raun White and Marcus Simms) all regularly get open deep. He should look down field often.
West Virginia player to watch: Junior receiver David Sills is the most dangerous red-zone threat in college football. He leads the nation with 16 touchdowns to go along with 793 receiving yards. Anytime the Mountaineers approach the end zone, the Wildcats will need to keep a close eye on Sills.
Key matchup: K-State special teams vs. West Virginia special teams. Two years ago, after the Wildcats rallied for a 24-23 victory over the Mountaineers thanks to a kickoff return touchdown and some field goals, Dana Holgorsen said it was the first game he had ever been a part of that was won on special teams. Last year, he devoted more resources to West Virginia’s special teams unit and pulled out a 17-16 victory. Special teams helped K-State beat Kansas and Texas Tech. It will also need to dominate in that area against West Virginia.
Kellis Robinett’s prediction: Kansas State 28, West Virginia 27. You know it’s going to be a close game. The last three meetings in this series were decided by a total of eight points. Momentum and home field will be on K-State’s side, and West Virginia has struggled a bit on the road. Here’s guessing the Wildcats pull out a narrow victory.