Getting to know: West Virginia football
After back-to-back losses to MAC teams, the Kansas football team is tasked with trying to slow down West Virginia’s offense in its Big 12 opener Saturday morning.
What was the first thing KU coach David Beaty noticed when he watched film of the Mountaineers?
“Speed, speed, speed,” Beaty said. “I mean, for years that university has been renowned for going down to Florida and getting a bunch of fast guys. They've continued to do that.”
The Mountaineers (2-1) are the first team outside of the Top 25 in both the AP and Coaches polls. They lost their season opener to Virginia Tech, 31-24, before picking up wins against East Carolina and Delaware State.
BREAKING DOWN WEST VIRGINIA:
After transferring from Florida, redshirt junior Will Grier (6-2, 214) hasn’t missed a beat under his new offense. In three games, Grier has completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,027 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. Grier, picked as the Big 12’s preseason newcomer of the year, has 20 rushing attempts for 80 yards. KU coach David Beaty said Grier is tough to play against because he can throw from a variety of arm angles. The Florida transfer is backed up by sophomore Chris Chugunov (6-1, 203), who has completed 10 of his 16 passes this year.
The Mountaineers’ rushing attack starts with senior Justin Crawford (6-0, 200), an all-Big 12 preseason selection. Crawford a Northwest Mississippi CC transfer, has impressed during the first three weeks, accumulating 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging a league-best 7.6 yards per carry. In each game, he’s reached the 100-yard mark. Sophomores Kennedy McKoy (6-0, 201) and Martell Pettaway, along with freshman Tevin Bush (5-6, 174, from same HS as KU safety Mike Lee), all have at least 14 carries for 70 yards.
Grier has no shortage of targets in the passing game, highlighted by junior receivers David Sills V (6-4, 203) and Gary Jennings Jr. (6-1, 210). Sills, who left to play quarterback at El Camino College last year, has 18 catches for 266 yards and a team-high five touchdowns, while Jennings leads WVU with 23 catches and 363 receiving yards. Senior Ka’Raun White (6-2, 216) has 14 catches for 173 yards and two scores, and sophomore Marcus Simms (6-0, 196) has five receptions for 143 yards and three touchdowns.
WVU’s offensive line is filled with experience. LT Yodny Cajuste (6-5, 308), LG Kyle Bosch (6-5, 298) and RT Colton McKivitz (6-7, 306) have all started at least 10 games in their careers. Cajuste, a junior, missed all of last season with a knee injury. C Matt Jones (6-3, 318) and RG Josh Sills (6-6, 315) are the other starters.
In a base 3-3-5 stack alignment, the Mountaineers have a lot of responsibilities on their sophomore defensive ends Adam Schuler II (6-4, 268) and Reese Donahue (6-4, 263) and senior nose tackle Xavier Pegues (6-2, 292). None of them have recorded any sacks, but Schuler and Donahue have combined for 17 total tackles.
With a mostly inexperienced group of defensive linemen, the Mountaineers are led by senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (6-1, 238). Benton leads WVU with 24 tackles (five for loss), including 13 solo. Xavier Preston (6-2, 240) is the team’s strongside outside linebacker and redshirt freshman Dyle Tonkery (6-2, 222) covers the weakside. Tonkery, a strong pass rusher, has 12 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and one sack. Preston has recorded nine tackles.
Senior safety Kyzir White (6-2, 216), the younger brother of former WVU star receiver Kevin White, highlights the team’s stable of defensive backs with 18 tackles in three games, including two interceptions. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry (6-0, 200) has one interception and 13 tackles. True freshman cornerback Kenny Robinson (6-0, 202) had six tackles last week and senior corner Mike Daniels Jr. (5-11, 203) has recorded four pass breakups. Safety Marvin Gross Jr. (6-3, 205) is the other starter in the secondary.
Junior punter Billy Kinney ranks fifth in the Big 12, averaging 39.5 yards per punt. Six of his 16 punts have pinned the opponent inside of its own 20 yard line. Senior kicker Mike Molina has converted on 2 of his 4 field goal attempts this season with a long of 34 yards. Molina, who has a career long of 50 yards, is 18-of-18 on extra point kicks. Receiver Marcus Simms is the primary returner, which included an 80-yard kick return last week.
WVU quarterback Will Grier is considered the third-most popular son in his family. He’s the older brother of teenagers Nash and Hayes Grier, both considered among the most influential people on the Internet for their videos on social media platforms (including more than 15 million followers combined on Instagram).
West Virginia by 21.5. The over/under is set at 71.
Until KU’s defense proves it’s capable of slowing down quarterbacks with its pass rush or secondary, it’s tough to imagine the Jayhawks keeping up with the Mountaineers’ strong passing offense.
Among FBS schools, the Jayhawks rank 113th in passing defense, giving up 297 yards per game and 8.74 yards per attempt.