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Jayhawks Open Big 12 Play Against West Virginia

On the eve of Kansas’ Big 12 opener, the KU athletics department released the renderings for the $350 million project to improve Memorial Stadium, as well as renovate Hoglund Ballpark and the Horejsi Family Volleyball Arena. The project will be done in phases and is estimated to take close to five years.

There is no question that these improvements are being done to help the Kansas athletics department keep up with the increasingly competitive arms race that is Division I college sports. The improvements will undoubtedly help the Jayhawks’ recruiting efforts in all sports, as well as heighten the fan experience.

Saturday morning, the attention will shift to the gridiron, as Kansas will attempt to justify the complete overhaul to Memorial Stadium with a landmark victory over a Big 12 conference foe. Coming off of back-to-back losses at the hands of MAC teams, the Jayhawks will look for just their second victory over West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the conference back in 2011.

THE MATCHUP

When Kansas and West Virginia line up Saturday morning, it will be just the seventh all-time between the two schools. West Virginia leads the series 5 to 1, having won the last three. Kansas last defeated the Mountaineers back in 2013 behind a 22 carry, 211 yard, 3 touchdown performance from James Sims en route to a 31-19 win.

With the six previous games, just two of them have been played in Lawrence, with just one win each. The separation in the series history comes in Morgantown, where WVU is 4-0 against Kansas. David Beaty and Dana Holgorsen face off for the third time in as many seasons, with Beaty still searching for his first victory over the Mountaineers.

BREAKING DOWN THE MOUNTAINEERS

West Virginia bolsters one of the most high-powered offenses in college football, averaging over 46 points and 581 yards per game. Unsurprisingly for a high-scoring offense, WVU leans pass-heavy, lead by transfer quarterback Will Grier, who comes to Morgantown via the University of Florida. Grier has thrown for over 1,000 yards and added 11 passing touchdowns, compared to just two interceptions in three games.

Shifting to the ground game, West Virginia also poses a threat with arguably the best running back in the conference in Justin Crawford who has already torched teams for 326 yards and five scores on just 43 carries.

Defensively, West Virginia has allowed an average of just 22 points per game, with their worst performance, if you can call it bad, coming at the hands of Virginia Tech to open the season, where VT won 31-24. The Mountaineers’ secondary has intercepted three passes and forced four sacks, with one of them coming from linebacker Benton Al-Rasheed who paces the team with 13 tackles.

THE JAYHAWKS

The Kansas Jayhawks are in the midst of a two-game losing streak following losses to Central Michigan and Ohio. Inconsistencies on both sides of the ball have plagued KU thus far, but transfer quarterback Peyton Bender’s streaky play has left Kansas out of games due to slow starts, having thrown five interceptions. When firing on all cylinders, Bender leads a much improved offense, throwing for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns.

Khalil Herbert churned out an impressive 137 yards and two TD’s last week against Ohio, in what looked to be the Jayhawks’ best rushing performance in the young season. Thus far, KU has played a game of musical chairs at the tailback position, but perhaps Herbert’s strong game to end non-conference play has put him ahead on the depth chart.

Defensively, what looked to be one of the most disruptive front lines in the Big 12 has come out flat to begin the season. Dorance Armstrong  and Daniel Wise have combined for just one sack and that will be put to the test against a top offensive line in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. In the secondary, another test will be prevalent coming from the powerful WVU passing game. Kansas allows just under 300 yards  per game through the air. Their inexperience and youth at the corners has clearly been a thorn in their side. If the Jayhawks hope to stay competitive with West Virginia, they will need a much improved approach from its secondary, paced by sophomore safety Mike Lee.

PREDICTION

West Virginia wins their third-straight game, pushing KU’s losing streak to the same number.

Final Score: West Virginia 42, Kansas 27.

STAT COMPARISON                                                                       West Virginia            Kansas

Points Per Game 46.3 31.7
Points Allowed Per Game 22.3 34.3
Total Yards 581.3 452.7
Yards Passing 369.3 343.3
Yards Rushing 212.0 109.3
Yards Allowed 413.3 431.0
Pass Yards Allowed 234.3 297.0
Rush Yards Allowed 179.0 134.0

PLAYERS TO WATCH

West Virginia

Will Grier, QB – (69-105, 1027 YDS, 11 TD, 2 INT)

Justin Crawford, RB  – (43 CAR, 326 YDS, 5 TD)

Gary Jennings, WR – (23 REC, 363 YDS, 1 TD)

Kansas

Peyton Bender, QB – (85-146, 1030 YDS, 6 TD, 5 INT)

Khalil Herbert, RB – (22 CAR, 147 YDS, 2 TD)

Steven Sims Jr. – (10 REC, 202 YDS, 2 TD)

THE DETAILS

Kickoff is slated for 11am with Jared Lenz and Nick Lewis on 90.7 KJHK Lawrence. Pregame will begin at 10am live from the KJHK studios.

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featured image courtesy of KUsports.com