MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Nov. 16, 2013, aka the day West Virginia’s pride sank with the Kansas goal posts to the bottom of Potter Lake, was a painful one for Jared Barber.
And he wasn’t even in Lawrence.
A week after tearing knee ligaments, Barber watched from his Morgantown couch as the Jayhawks stopped their string of 27 consecutive Big 12 losses by embarrassing West Virginia 31-19.
“That was tough,” recalled the linebacker, who was unable to walk that day, making him only slightly less effective than WVU’s upright defenders who yielded 315 rushing yards.
“We thought we were going to go there and smoke ’em, but they absolutely got after us.”
“We thought we were going to go there and smoke ’em, but they absolutely got after us.” — WVU’s Jared Barber on losing to Kansas in 2013
For collateral damage, the upset loss smashed the Mountaineers’ hopes of finishing .500 and becoming bowl-eligible. Helpless from 900 miles away, Barber remembered texting the seniors, being “upset because we didn’t get them six wins and let their careers finish strong on a high note.”
This week Barber’s a senior as the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4) seek to clinch a bowl bid in their first trip back to Lawrence. They’re also 28-point favorites, meaning once again they must combat the impulse to take lightly the Jayhawks (0-10, 0-7). Only once in the past 30 years has WVU carried such a large line into a road game—it was favored by 40 at Temple in 1993.
“We will probably mention what happened two years ago at Kansas,” said coach Dana Holgorsen, though player comments suggest he probably won’t need to remind them.
“It was terrible,” said receiver Daikiel Shorts.
“The worst feeling of my freshman year,” added running back Wendell Smallwood.
Indeed, the Mountaineers have not forgotten the 30-mph gusts that made for one-way passing. Or the shame of the watching the league’s puniest program reel off 31 unanswered points. Or the aftermath of a few thousand fans spilling onto the field to get the goal posts wet.
“We were in a bad place that year,” said West Virginia assistant Ja’Juan Seider. “We didn’t have great leadership.”
Though the current Mountaineers have been outscored by an average of 24 points in three road losses, there’s a robust core of upperclassmen vowing not to walk lethargically into another ambush. That means generating enthusiasm inside the gameday ghost town that is Memorial Stadium. Kansas ranks 109th nationally in terms of crowd capacity, averaging 29,143 fans at a venue that seats 50,250.
“We’re going to have to bring our own fire, bring our own energy, because there’s not going be any energy there,” West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard. “We’ll make sure we’re excited because it’s going to be dull.”
Kansas starts a true freshman quarterback, Ryan Willis, who began the season as a third-stringer. He’s surrounded by three freshmen on the offensive line and another at receiver. The Jayhawks stand 121st in scoring (16.9 per game) and 126th in points allowed (45.9).
These are facts Barber is trying to ignore.
“I’ve been on an Orange Bowl team and I’ve been on a 4-8 team where Kansas beat us,” he said. “So I understand anything can happen.”