MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Needless to say, West Virginia is not currently a good enough football team to win a game without dotting all the i’s and crossing the t’s. That was the case against Texas Tech on Saturday, and it ended up costing the Mountaineers dearly in a blowout loss.
“Our margin for error is really small,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “When you aren’t emotionally or mentally locked in for every single play, if you don’t do exactly what you are coached to do and make the routine plays that are right there, you get exposed. And that’s what happened on Saturday.”
Senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue said his unit came into the game too convinced that it had turned a corner after playing its best game of the year against Baylor the previous week.
“I don’t think we handled success well,” Donahue said. “I think we’ve been handling adversity well. We have not had a good shot at handling success yet. That was our opportunity to handle success, and we didn’t do it. It was too new.”
West Virginia’s defensive front was dominant against Baylor, finishing the game with eight sacks and a memorable goal-line stand. Against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5 Big 12) allowed touchdowns on the first five drives. On two of them, the Red Raiders converted short fourth downs.
“That’s on me as a leader. That’s on Darius and Dante [Stills] now that they’ve stepped into leadership roles,” Donahue said. “That’s on the entire defensive line.”
It will take an extreme case of attentiveness this Saturday if the Mountaineers are going to upset Kansas State and maintain any hope of reaching a bowl game. The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3) start five redshirt senior offensive linemen and grind mistake-prone opponents into dust.
“They are the most complicated offense we’ve seen this year, without exception,” said WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. “The formations, personnel groupings, plays. Their blocking schemes. Most teams have 2-3 protections. There’s is exponential. It’s really impressive what they’ve been doing.”
Kansas State’s offense is a carryover from new coach Chris Klieman’s scheme at North Dakota State, where he was 69-6 as a head coach.
“When you looked at the teams that defended [North Dakota State], they had the ability to do some things that I don’t think we can do,” Koenning said.
That reality is acceptable to Donahue, because he knows it will produce better play from West Virginia.
“It’s hard when you play great to still be hungry,” Donahue said. “When you lose and get your butt kicked, if that doesn’t fuel your fire, then this game isn’t for you.”
Brown reiterated his postgame point that quarterback is far from the only issue afflicting West Virginia’s offense. Relative to other positions on that side of the ball, he views Austin Kendall’s play as a strength.
“We’ve got issues on offense,” Brown said. “Our quarterback play hasn’t been tremendous, but it hasn’t been the reason we’ve struggled.”
Kendall is sixth in the Big 12 with 1,969 passing yards, but eighth with 12 touchdowns and ninth with a 122.9 efficiency rating.
That said, Brown indicated a strong probability of backup Jarret Doege potentially seeing some action before the game is well out of reach.
“We do have a plan that you will see on Saturday after kickoff,” Brown said.
Linebacker Josh Chandler will be back in the lineup this week. He has been out since leaving the Oklahoma game with a knee strain. Chandler attempted to come back last week, but Brown held him out because he felt “less than 100 percent.”
Offensive line coach Matt Moore indicated right guard Chase Behrndt is likely to play this week as well. Behrndt warmed up last week, but did not feel comfortable enough to play. James Gmiter slid over to right guard in his place, while Mike Brown started at left guard.
“I think Chase is going to be better this week, so we’ll have a little bit of a different lineup,” Moore said.
Receiver Sean Ryan is returning to practice this week as well. His playing status won’t be known until the end of the week. He’s been out since leaving with an injury late in the Texas game.
Fellow receiver T.J. Simmons is out of his walking boot, but remains questionable against Kansas State.
Brown said a decision will be made regarding kicker Evan Staley later this week. Staley has missed the past two games.