Tale of the tape: KU vs. West Virginia

Friday, November 15, 2013

When Kansas has the ball

Kansas rush offense vs. West Virginia rush defense

The Jayhawks returned to their rushing ways during last week’s loss to Oklahoma State, hitting the Big 12’s top-ranked rush defense for 202 yards and an average of 4.1 yards per rush. Tony Pierson’s big day (87 yards on six carries) accounted for a lot of that, and James Sims’ steady and hard-earned afternoon added to it. But the Jayhawks’ biggest lift came from freshman quarterback Montell Cozart, who finished with 55 yards and showed serious skills running the ball, even when the yards he gained came when called plays broke down. KU coach Charlie Weis said he liked the extra element that Cozart’s running ability adds, even on broken plays, and there’s no doubt KU will continue to emphasize the ground attack against a West Virginia squad that ranks eighth in the Big 12 against the run, giving up 198 yards per game. Edge: Kansas.

Kansas pass offense vs. West Virginia pass defense

Weis has not revealed whether Cozart or junior Jake Heaps will start against the Mountaineers, but the two were listed as co-first stringers for the first time all season on this week’s depth chart. Whoever gets the nod figures to have a couple of things going in his favor. For one, WVU features the worst pass defense in the conference (324 yards against per game) and, two, KU will have almost a complete corps of wide receivers back and ready to play, with Andrew Turzilli and Josh Ford back for a second straight game and Rodriguez Coleman expected to return to the field after missing last week’s contest. Heaps certainly has the edge in experience, but, playing behind an offensive line that has been inconsistent, Cozart’s ability to get out of trouble and then make throws on the run might be the better option for the struggling Kansas offense. Still, given the fact that KU’s passing attack also ranks 10th in the Big 12, it’s hard to give the clear edge to either side in this category. Edge: Push.

When West Virginia has the ball

West Virginia rush offense vs. Kansas rush defense

The Mountaineers rank eighth in the conference in rushing offense (128.3 yards per game), but they feature several dangerous running backs who have experience, toughness, speed and big-play ability. Senior transfer Charles Sims (847 yards and 8 touchdowns) leads the way, averaging 85 yards per game and five yards per carry. But reserves Dreamius Smith (a former KU signee) and Wendell Smallwood have proven to be quality backups and have given the Mountaineers a different look when Sims has needed a break. As a team, the Mountaineers average 4.0 yards per carry, but quarterbacks Clint Trickett and Paul Millard are very little threat to run. That should allow KU, which ranks seventh in the conference in run D (195 yards per game), to key on the backs, but whether that will be enough to slow down Sims and company remains to be seen. Edge: West Virginia.

West Virginia pass offense vs. Kansas pass defense

Kansas caught a break for this week’s game when WVU starting quarterback Clint Trickett went down because of an injury early on during last week’s overtime loss to Texas. The injury, which is believed to be a concussion, may keep Trickett out this week and force West Virginia to turn to Paul Millard, who filled in admirably last week during WVU’s near upset of Texas. Millard has played in six games this season and completed 69 of 125 pass attempts for 877 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions, so it’s not as if he’s a rookie coming out of nowhere. But he does not do the same things that Trickett does, nor does he have the same command of the offense and trust from his teammates. Sims also plays a big role in WVU’s passing game (he leads the team with 41 receptions), and receivers Daikiel Shorts, Kevin White and Ronald Carswell all have more than 400 yards and two touchdowns this season. KU’s secondary, which has been good all season, was exposed a little last week at OSU, and you can bet the Jayhawks are eager to bounce back. Edge: Push.

Special teams

The Mountaineers rank last in the Big 12 in both kickoff and punt returns, while Kansas ranks third on kickoff returns and fourth in the punt-return game. Starting cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver who has been returning kickoffs the past few weeks, has emerged as a real weapon for KU, and Shepherd, who had a 69-yard kickoff return last week, currently leads the Big 12 with a 26.8 yards-per-return average. The two teams rank first (KU) and second (WVU) in the conference in punting, and the Mountaineers have been slightly more successful kicking field goals this season, with place kicker Josh Lambert having hit 14-of-18 field goal tries, including a long of 50 yards. Edge: Push.