After losing five games in a row, West Virginia was finally able to get a win last week against Iowa State. Now the Mountaineers head back home to finish off the season against the Kansas Jayhawks. This will also be the final home game that Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will play in. Bailey stated earlier this week that he will enter the NFL Draft.
Last week against Iowa State, Smith seemed more comfortable in the pocket and he had a much better game than the previous five. He threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns. He now returns to Mountaineer Field where he has thrown 23 touchdowns this season and five interceptions. While all his interceptions have been thrown at home, Smith should be able to take advantage of a very poor Jayhawks’ defense. This season their defense has given up an average of 278 yards a game, as well as 23 touchdowns to opposing quarterbacks. Smith should be able to pick apart this defense with ease and throw for big yardage and at least four touchdowns. Smith is seven touchdowns away from getting to 100 total touchdowns in his college career.
The Mountaineers had a very successful time running the ball last week. Shawne Alston led the way with 130 rushing yards and one touchdown. It looks like he is back to full health, which bodes well for West Virginia since they now have a three-headed monster at the running back position. Aside from Alston, Tavon Austin had a decent game with 14 carries for 74 yards. This was nowhere near as impressive as his game against Oklahoma. The Cyclones’ defense doubtlessly saw what he did to the Sooners and they did a good job of limiting him on the ground.
Andrew Buie wasn't really much of a factor last week, but he can still pick up some yards and plenty of first downs. Buie had only four carries for 23 yards; if they want to use him more effectively, then he should be a third down back. He can easily scramble and pick up the first down and then some. When Alston and Dustin Garrison were hurt, Buie filled the void admirably, so he should still be used. Much like the passing game, the running game should have a big day seeing how Kansas’ defense has allowed 188 yards per game to opposing running backs and they have given up 21 total rushing touchdowns. So, expect big days from Alston, Austin and Buie.
While Austin didn't do much in the running game against Iowa State, it was in the receiving game where he shined. He had six receptions for 99 yards and one touchdown. Austin’s speed and agility have been the keys for him to make big plays, and on several occasions make opposing defenses look silly trying to tackle him. He is currently ranked seventh on the Heisman Watch list.
Even though Austin is a great receiver, Stedman Bailey has exploded this season as West Virginia's top receiver. So far, Bailey has hauled in 95 catches for 1,342 yards and 21 touchdowns. He should easily be able to break 100 receptions for the year, and he is on;y nine catches away from hitting 200 for his college career. Another big milestone Bailey should reach in this game is getting over 3,000 total career receiving yards. Last week, he caught seven balls for 82 yards and one touchdown. Also involved in the passing game last week was J.D. Woods. Woods is another senior receiver who will be honored at Saturday’s game; against Iowa State he had six catches for 43 yards. Woods dropped off the map after starting off the season strong, but expect him to make a few big plays this weekend. With the Jayhawks’ defense giving up plenty of yardage to receivers, expect Bailey and Austin to have big games.
Luckily for the defense, they'll get somewhat of a break this week since Kansas' offense is nowhere close to the talent they faced in previous weeks. Most of Kansas’ yards come from their running game. They run for an average of 216.6 yards a game and have scored 18 times on the ground. The WVU defense has done pretty well against the running game this year and if they can keep it going for one more game, then it will be very hard for Kansas to score. The Jayhawks have struggled in the passing game as well, averaging 151.5 yards a game. This bodes well for the secondary since they have been destroyed by opposing quarterbacks in the last few games.
While this looks like a nice simple matchup for the defense, just remember that they can make the worst quarterback look like Peyton Manning. The defense will have to rely on the tough play of linebacker Isaiah Bruce. Bruce is a freshman with a very bright future in front of him if he can stay healthy. The secondary must also play tough against the receivers and stick to them like glue. Their biggest problem continues to be their stamina. By the third quarter they seem tired and out of breath, though that may be attributed to the much more talented receivers they have faced in the past.
With the stats and record that Kansas has it's hard to believe they have any good players on their team, but believe it or not they do. Running back James Sims is the one player the defense has to slow down. So far this season he has 200 carries for 956 yards and eight touchdowns. Sims will more than likely hit the 1,000 yard mark this weekend, but regardless, expect him to have trouble getting through a big defensive line. If he can somehow do that then he will have to deal with Bruce or any of the other linebackers.
The special teams played a huge part in the win over Iowa State. Kicker Tyler Bitancurt went three for four on field goals and was perfect on extra points. Bitancurt has struggled kicking this year, but he might have finally found his groove. On Saturday, expect him to be kicking lots of extra points. In the return game, Austin did very well; he fielded two kicks for a total of 46 yards and received one punt for 42 yards. He has also named to the 2012 AFCA FBS Coaches’ All-American Team as an all-purpose player. Don’t expect to see to many kick returns from Austin this week. Instead he will likely make a few big plays when Kansas has to punt it away.
Kansas is last in the Big 12 with an overall record of 1-10 and a conference record of 0-8. West Virginia will make sure they keep them winless as they honor 21 seniors this Saturday. It should be a very memorable game for them; all of them should get to play based on how poorly the Jayhawks have played this year. Other seniors being honored on Saturday include: linebacker Terence Garvin, cornerback Pat Miller, running back Shawne Alston and kicker Tyler Bitancurt. Kickoff for this game is set for 2:30 and can be seen on Root Sports.
Prediction: WVU-70 Kansas-17
Player of the Game: Geno Smith 45/51 550 yards 6 TDs
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