Mountaineer defense slipped up vs. Kansas

After a slow start Saturday the West Virginia offense scored on four consecutive long drives to build what appeared to be an insurmountable 28-3 lead late in the second quarter. Everything looked easy as expected against a weak Kansas squad, and Mountaineer fans put up their feet to relax and enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

But then our serenity was rudely interrupted. Apparently some of the Mountaineers on the field thought the game was already over as well and were thinking of the flight home. The Jayhawks began shredding the West Virginia defense up and down the field, while the WVU offense went dormant for five possessions from late in the second through the end of the third quarter.

Suddenly this wasn’t nearly as much fun. By the time the Mountaineer offense regained its footing it had become a competitive game, and the West Virginia defense appeared to have no answers. Halfway through the fourth quarter what had been expected to be a one sided affair was a one score game with the Mountaineers leading 42-34. Fortunately the reawakened West Virginia offense put up three fourth quarter touchdowns and the defense managed to grab two late turnovers to preserve a 56-34 win.

At this point WVU fans have few worries about the offense, as quarterback Will Grier continued his outstanding play with 347 passing yards and the running game was solid with 288 yards rushing. But our enthusiasm must be tempered with the realization that this was against a defense that had surrendered a total of 87 points to Mid-American Conference teams the two previous weeks.

The numbers on the defensive side were sobering. Kansas ran the ball 50 times for an embarrassing 367 yards. Jayhawks running back Kahlil Herbert was putting up stats like he was former Kansas Hall of Famer Gale Sayers. Overall the Jayhawks piled up 564 yards, 24 first downs, and were 10-20 on third and fourth down conversions.

Admittedly West Virginia was missing some key players who either didn’t start the game or had to leave because of injuries. And we all have followed college football long enough to know that we can’t draw too many conclusions from just one game. From week to week things change in ways that are difficult to explain. Case in point: Oklahoma holds powerful Ohio State to 16 points in Columbus and then allows Baylor, a winless team which had lost to Liberty and UTSA, to run up and down the field at will for 41 points.

So maybe this Mountaineer defense isn’t quite as bad as it looked Saturday. Let’s hope. Because if it is, we are in for some tough times ahead.

West Virginia is off next week, and there are no more easy Saturdays on the horizon as the Mountaineers play the next eight consecutive weeks against much better opposition, beginning with a trip to TCU on October 7th.