No. 23 Mountaineers travel to Kansas State with momentum
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — It’s widely accepted that the adage “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” dates to the early 1800s, or about the same time Bill Snyder took over the Kansas State program.
If it holds true, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen must think highly of his coaching counterpart.
That’s because Holgorsen decided to play coy with his injury report heading into Saturday’s game at Kansas State, calling everybody “day to day.” It was a subtle jab at the 78-year-old Snyder, who refuses to disclose or discuss injuries.
“I’ve said for a long time I admire coach Snyder and what he’s done, and one of those things he’s done more than anyone is be incredibly guarded on who is going to play,” Holgorsen said. “If they want to play they’ll practice, and if they do that they’ll travel and maybe they’ll help us win.”
The injury issue could play a big part in Saturday’s game.
That’s because the No. 23 Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) could face any of three quarterbacks when they visit the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3). Jesse Ertz is the injured starter who has been out for a month, though Snyder has refused to say whether he’s done for the season. Alex Delton has started the past couple games but left with injuries, leaving Skylar Thompson to finish both of them.
The prevailing thought is Thompson starts against West Virginia, but only Snyder really knows.
“He’s grown beyond some expectations, perhaps that is probably fair to say,” Snyder said. “He has played very consistently, knock on wood, with the opportunities he’s had. I’m very pleased with him.”
That’s about as much praise as you’ll get from the winningest coach in school history.
West Virginia still harbors hopes of playing for a conference championship after knocking off Iowa State last weekend. But a trip to Manhattan, where the Mountaineers have never won, is a tough start to an even tougher finishing stretch: rapidly improving Texas and a trip to No. 5 Oklahoma.
“We have a big challenge. Our job this week is to continue to build on what we did last week,” Holgorsen said, “which is practice hard, prepare hard, be tough, give effort.”
That goes for the Wildcats, too. They can become bowl-eligible with a victory.
“I am a firm believer of if we play to our full capabilities, we can beat anyone on our schedule,” Kansas State wide receiver Dalton Schoen said. “That goes back to playing to our capabilities and playing a full game. We need to play all four quarters and all three phases of the game, which we have not done yet this season. If we can do that, then we can be something pretty special.”
OK, so Snyder wasn’t born in the 1800s. But his ability to relate to players that could be his grandkids has impressed the 46-year-old Holgorsen.
“It’s hard enough for me,” he said. “They go out and play their tail off. It looks to me like they’re having fun doing it. It’s unbelievable.”
There is no uncertainty at QB for West Virginia. Will Grier is fourth nationally in yards passing, and his ability to pick apart defenses should terrify a Kansas State secondary that gave up more than 400 yards through the air to lowly Kansas a couple weeks ago.
GROUND AND POUND
The Mountaineers prefer to air it out, while the Wildcats go with an old-school ground-and-pound game. They’ve reached 200 yards rushing five times this season.
Kansas State has won the only two meetings in Manhattan, but the teams have been evenly matched lately. West Virginia needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to squeak out a 17-16 win last year in Morgantown, while the Wildcats won a nail-biter the previous year at home.
The Wildcats have an edge in special teams, where coordinator Sean Snyder learned this week he’s a candidate for the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant. Not only do they have return threats in D.J. Reed and Byron Pringle, they have a Lou Groza Award candidate in kicker Matt McCrane, whose leg strength and accuracy are among the best in the country.
“You look at them on all three sides of the ball and they’re disciplined, they’re well-coached and they’re solid in basically everything they do,” West Virginia assistant Mark Scott said. “Their special teams and their specialists, the impact they have on the game is probably greater than anyone else we’ve faced this year.