MORGANTOWN - Both Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) and West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) enter Saturday's 2:30 p.m. regular season finale with a lot riding upon the outcome of the two team's first meeting since WVU delivered a 21-0 beating to the Jayhawks during a 1941 meeting at Mountaineer Field.
Kansas, and first-year head coach Charlie Weis, will be looking to avoid a second straight winless campaign in the Big 12 while the Mountaineers look to improve to 7-5 overall and improve its stock in the upcoming bowl season.
"That is the nature of the conference we are in," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Last year, we played three or four teams in this situation. Now, we don't get to play any.
"Our last eight games have been against ranked teams that will play in a bowl game. Every team that we have played this year has been motivated to play. Last year, it was different. I don't think we have lined up and played an unmotivated football team this year. The fact that we are going to line up and play a motivated team for the 12th time this season is the way they should be."
The Jayhawks had last weekend off after suffering a 51-24 setback at the hands of Iowa State. WVU beat the Cyclones by a 31-24 margin the day after Thanksgiving. Senior quarterback Dayne Crist, who played for Weis during his tenure at Notre Dame, completed 9-of-20 attempts for 156 yards with one touchdown and one interception while junior James Sims and sophomore Tony Pierson combined for 153 yards on 27 carries.
"They have a lot of formations," said sophomore linebacker Jared Barber. "They basically run about five plays out of all of those formations. We just have to stay grounded and disciplined. We need to tackle everybody and hold everybody in."
Big 12 Matchup
Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12)
at West Virginia (6-5, 3-5 Big 12)
Game time: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
Barber and his defensive teammates had one of their better performances on the year in the win over ISU, holding the hosts to under 400 yards of total offense, but 234 of those coming on 46 carries.
"I didn't know until this week that they're actually first in the Big 12 in rushing," continued Barber. "I'm pretty excited to see how we will do since we've played well against the run this year.
"Their quarterback is a good runner as well. He makes good decisions. He reads his keys well. We just have to contain him."
Thanks to performances by seniors Shawne Alston and Tavon Austin, the Mountaineers have climbed up to No. 6 in the conference, averaging 171.9 yards per game. Kansas is No. 2, behind No. 1 Baylor (217.0 ypg), averaging 216.6 yards per outing.
"You have the material, and you do like you do every week," said Holgorsen. "You look at what they do in certain situations, and what they do against specific defenses. You just try to figure it out.
"When it gets down to it, it's still just football. We are going to look and see what their tendencies are. We want to defeat some blocks and make tackles."
The game features three of the Top 10 rushers in the Big 12. KU's Pierson trails only Oklahoma State's Joseph Randle (110.2 ypg) and Kansas State's John Hubert (75.1), averaging 73 yards per outing while WVU's Andrew Buie is ranked No. 7 in the conference, rushing for an average of 65.2 yards per game. The Jayhawks' James Sims is averaging 123.6 yards per game in seven Big 12 contests.
WVU's defense had some success against both, holding Hubert to only 52 yards on 16 carries in a 55-14 loss to the Wildcats, then limiting Randle to a mere 74 yards on 21 attempts in a 55-34 setback two games later.
"Kansas is a difficult team, because they have a new offense every week," said Darwin Cook. "They have about five different offenses they can use. We just have to prepare for every offense.
"We won't know what they'll be in until the first drive, and then we can put in our game plan. Coach DeForest has a nice defense lined up, and he's kept it simple for us."
The key to victory, however, may very well be determined by WVU's offense.
Austin, who was named to the AFCA All-American team, continues to show why he will be an early draft pick in the NFL's upcoming draft.
The senior is the NCAA's active leader in receiving catches (280) and all-purpose yards (6,947) and is second only to teammate Stedman Bailey (37) in receiving touchdowns with 29.
"He (Austin) is definitely proving to be a headache," said Weis. "You have to make sure that you account for him on every play or he will find a way to beat you."
Making that task even harder is the return of senior running back Shawne Alston, who rushed for a season-high 130 yards in WVU's win over Iowa State, as well as senior quarterback Geno Smith and Bailey.
"They (WVU) have the ability to score from anywhere on the field and presents a number of challenges for our defense," continued the KU head coach. "We are going to be disciplined on defense and make sure we tackle well."
Smith, the Mountaineers' career record holder in just about every passing statistic, completed 22-of-31 attempts for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the win over ISU while Bailey latched onto seven passes for 82 yards and one score.