LAWRENCE, Kan. — One new coach will have a landmark victory by the time Saturday is over.
Neal Brown is seeking his first-ever Big 12 victory, while Les Miles is trying to pick up his first Big 12 win in 15 years when West Virginia visits Kansas for a 4:30 p.m. EST kick.
Both coaches are also in pursuit of their first winning streaks at their new schools. West Virginia is coming off a 44-27 win over North Carolina State, while Kansas took down Boston College 48-24 last week.
The Jayhawks are by far the bigger strangers to this position. Kansas has not logged consecutive wins against Power 5 opponents since beating Missouri and Minnesota to close out the 2008 season.
“I bet it’s a really good atmosphere,” Brown said. “They’re excited about Coach Miles, and I think they’ll be excited about that win over Boston College.”
Miles, aka “The Mad Hatter,” resurfaced at Kansas after spending two years in the coaching wilderness.He was fired by LSU four weeks into the 2016 season after a loss at Auburn in which LSU ran out of time before snapping the ball on the would-be game-winning touchdown. He coached 11 seasons at LSU after spending 2001-04 at Oklahoma State.
Miles was roundly criticized for running a Bo Schembechler-inspired offense in the modern era, and sure enough Kansas is another of his run-first teams behind running backs Pooka Williams and Khalil Herbert. But the Jayhawks also used tempo and showed formational creativity at Boston College in the wake of a 12-7 loss to Coastal Carolina.
“Last week looked a lot different than first two games,” Brown said. “It was a mix of spread and what Coach Miles has done at previous stops.”
West Virginia similarly altered its offense in Week 3 after ranking 129th nationally in rushing offense through two games. The Mountaineers used motion, tempo and other previously unseen wrinkles to keep N.C. State’s defense on its heels.
“Neal Brown is doing a great job in his first year,” Miles said. “You can tell on offense, defense and special teams that they’re improving. I think that they’re certainly a team on the rise.”
Make Carter Stanley win: Williams and Hebert are both capable of breaking the 200-yard mark, having done so already over the course of their careers. Williams had 252 yards against Oklahoma last year, and Herbert went off for 291 against West Virginia in 2017.
Not-so-mighty Coastal Carolina limited Stanley to 107 yards and picked him off twice in Week 2. If Stanley is the reason the Jayhawks offense succeeds, you can only tip your cap.
Ball security: Yes, it always matters. But with thunderstorms and heavy winds forecast, an extra premium will need to be placed on everything from snaps to handoffs to read-option plays.
Sam James: James made his impact as a wide receiver perfectly clear last week, finishing with nine catches for 155 yards. But look for him to potentially be a game-changer in the return game against Kansas. The Jayhawks can’t seem to kick touchbacks — 10 of their kickoffs have been returned for an average of 22.6 yards. The elements are there for James to break one.
West Virginia 34, Kansas 19: One of the toughest things for any rebuilding program is turning winning into a habit. It won’t be a bit surprising if Kansas had a poor week of practice after its biggest win in 11 years.
Granted, the possibility of a letdown also exists for WVU. But the Jayhawks are deservedly treating their win over Boston College as a major accomplishment, while the Mountaineers seem to see their win over N.C. State as the first step in a larger picture.