MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen described a team battling through a sub-.500 season and still searching for an offensive identity after losing its elite quarterback.
Holgorsen was describing Kansas State, the Mountaineers’ next opponent and a team fighting many of the same battles as West Virginia.
The Wildcats (2-4, 0-3 Big 12) are on a three-game losing streak but are better than their record, Holgorsen said, and so are the Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3).
The significance of Saturday’s contest in Manhattan, Kan., is a far cry from the meeting last October when quarterback Collin Klein and No. 4 Kansas State routed Geno Smith and No. 17 West Virginia, 55-14, in Morgantown.
The Wildcats finished the 2012 regular season 11-1 before losing to Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl.
“They played a phenomenal football game when they came here last year, and they finished the year very strong,” Holgorsen said. “A lot of the things I said about them [last year] are going to be the absolute same things I’ll say about them now.”
Now, though, both offenses lack firepower and a true No. 1 quarterback.
West Virginia used three quarterbacks before settling on redshirt junior Clint Trickett, a transfer from Florida State who started the past three games.
Kansas State expected Jake Waters, a junior-college transfer, to fill the large void left by Klein but he has had his share of growing pains with four touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
Waters has split time with sophomore Daniel Sams, the Wildcats’ leading rusher and a more athletic option at quarterback.
“Offensively, they’re searching a little bit for an identity at this point in time, much like a lot of teams — including ourselves,” Holgorsen said. “When you lose a quarterback the caliber of [Klein], it’s going to take some time to get into a rhythm.”
Kansas State opened the season with an upset loss to Division I-AA opponent North Dakota State, 24-21, and the Big 12 schedule has been a challenge.
The Wildcats have lost consecutive games to Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, each by fewer than 10 points.
West Virginia has yet to win on the road this fall.
“There’s never going to be any easy games,” Holgorsen said. “Welcome to the Big 12. This is what we signed up for, now got to play a tough opponent on the road.”
Special on special teams
Kansas State’s special teams will pose “the biggest challenge of the year,” Holgorsen said, but much of that hinges on whether returners Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett will be available.
Thompson, who is battling an unspecified injury, had nine catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns last season in Morgantown. Lockett is recovering from a hamstring injury.
Still, the Mountaineers have their work cut out for them.
“They have no weaknesses special teams-wise,” Holgorsen said. “We need to battle and try to break even.”
Healthy up front
Offensive linemen Pat Eger and Quinton Spain missed some time late in West Virginia’s 37-27 loss to Texas Tech Saturday with unspecified injuries, but Holgorsen said both are healthy and back on track this week.
The positive of that temporary setback was that Marquis Lucas, Adam Pankey and Tyler Orlosky gained valuable in-game experience.
“Those guys need to be able to go in there, play a series and keep it going without us taking a step back,” Holgorsen said. “I thought we improved up front."
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-290-2183 and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.