Mountaineers' one task against Kansas: Shut down run game
December 1, 2012 5:00 AM
Orlin Wagner/Associated Press
Kansas running back James Sims (29) celebrates with teammates after a big play as Iowa State defensive lineman Ben Durbin (15) walks off the field during the first half in Lawrence, Kan., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012.
By Jenn Menendez Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
West Virginia will close the regular season today against coach Charlie Weis and his 1-10 Kansas Jayhawks, a team that excels at little but the running game.
A potential 7-5 regular season finish rides on the Mountaineers' ability to stop the Jayhawks highly effective and ever-changing rushing attack.
Kansas ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing offense, and it attacks the defense in many ways, which has had defensive coordinator Joe DeForest burning the candle late this week in preparation.
"It's more formations in the run game. It's 11 guys in the box one game, then they spread everybody out like Baylor next game," said DeForest earlier this week. "Then they'll run zone read. Then they'll run option. Then they'll run [the] power game. Then the quarterback will run.
"Last three days I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out 'What are they going to do against us?' "
He has studied tape from every game this season, and notes how different each game has looked.
"Against Oklahoma [Kansas had a] different game plan. Against Iowa State, a different game plan. Baylor, different game plan. [Texas] Tech, totally different formations," DeForest said. "So you're preparing for five different offenses, basically. But once you find out what they're doing, they stick with it pretty much."
The Mountaineers defense has not been praised for much this season, but the run defense has been respectable.
While the West Virginia pass defense ranks 120th -- worst in Division I-A -- the rushing defense is ranked 40th, allowing just 141.2 rushing yards a game.
Matchup: West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) vs. Kansas (1-10, 0-8), 2:30 p.m. today, Milan Puskar Stadium. Mountaineers are favored by 21 points.
West Virginia: Snapped a five game losing streak with 31-24 win at Iowa State to become bowl eligible. ... The last home game for key seniors, including QB Geno Smith, WR Tavon Austin, RB Shawne Alston, C Joe Madsen, LB Terence Garvin. ... No. 40 ranked rushing defense will be tested by Jayhawks. ... No. 2 in Big 12 in turnover margin (+6) with 17 gained, 11 lost.
Kansas: Has the second-ranked rushing attack in the Big 12, No. 19 in Division I-A, gaining 216.6 rushing yards a game. ... RBs James Sims and Tony Pierson have combined for bulk of those yards. ... Have peeled off a run of 55-yards or more in four consecutive games. ... Had a week off to prepare for West Virginia. ... First in Big 12 in red zone defense (75 percent.
Hidden stat: Center Joe Madsen has registered the most snaps of anyone on the offense this season, coming in at 838 plays. LB Terence Garvin leads the defense with 767 plays.
"They have a lot of formations. They basically run about five plays out of all those formations. We just have to stay grounded and disciplined. We need to tackle everybody and hold everybody in," linebacker Jared Barber said of Kansas this week.
Weis generally turns to running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson.
Pierson ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in rushing, with 73 yards a game, but Sims is the workhorse. He has gotten more than 20 carries in each of the past six games and has rushed for more than 100 yards in six games this season.
"Their running back is really patient. He makes guys miss," said Barber. "He's also a pretty big back. He's fast, and he also has a lot of power. He's a great back and a great runner. He reads his line really well. We just have to tackle him, and we'll be alright."
Weis said this week his team will rely on ball control to try and keep the West Virginia offense off the field.
"Obviously, one of the strengths of our offense is ball control and running the football," said Weis. "Obviously, you win games by scoring and 17 points is not going to get it done. We are going to have to do better than that, but I think that the less that their offense is on the field, the better."
While the Mountaineers' bowl destination is unknown, signs are that a 7-5 finish would mean a trip west to San Diego's Holiday Bowl. But other games can't be ruled out just yet, including New York's Pinstripe Bowl if the cards fall right or Houston's Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Regardless, the 7-5 finish is the goal. And slowing Kansas comes first.
"They are a top-20 team in the country when it comes to rushing offense," said coach Dana Holgorsen. "They switched their quarterback midseason to the redshirt freshman, Michael Cummings. He is a talented kid that will continue to get better and better.
"They will run the zone read with him, establish the run and try to put the ball in play when they need to. They will bring in Dayne Crist to throw the ball down the field at times. Our job defensively is identifying their sets and the different looks we will get."