University of Kansas

What to watch for, keys to victory, prediction for KU football vs. West Virginia

West Virginia quarterback Will Grier
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier AP

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium in Lawrence


Radio: KFH (1240-AM, 98.7-FM)

Line: West Virginia by 21  1/2

The Lowdown: With Late Night in the Phog one week away, Kansas is running out of chances to keep fans interested in football season following a disappointing 1-2 start. A win over West Virginia, though, would go a long way toward erasing negative feelings that resulted from consecutive losses to Mid-American Conference foes.

KU key to success: Get some back-end answers. KU’s glaring, can’t-miss deficiency so far has been its secondary, as the team has allowed 13 20-plus-yard passing plays — a number that ranks in the bottom 15 nationally. That type of explosive pass has been West Virginia’s specialty through a 2-1 start, so the Jayhawks will need to find a quick fix for their biggest issue if they hope to be competitive.

West Virginia key to success: Play clean football. A three-touchdown favorite typically won’t lose unless some wacky things help to swing the result. The Mountaineers’ defense has allowed some big plays this season, so preventing KU receiver Steven Sims from breaking free would be a good start. West Virginia also hasn’t been turnover-prone this season, and keeping up that trend will be important for the Mountaineers as they try to avoid the upset.

West Virginia player to watch: Quarterback Will Grier — a transfer from Florida — ranks second nationally with 11 passing touchdowns, eighth with 369 yards per game and 17th with 14.9 yards per completion. It’s safe to say the Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year has lived up to expectations.

Key Matchup: Grier vs. KU’s defensive backs/safeties. The Jayhawks have had some positives in the last two weeks, but none of it has mattered because of how much the secondary has struggled. KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen says one of the biggest issues has been getting guys to trust the technique they practice. Too often during games, KU’s players have freelanced, which has led to numerous openings down the field. KU’s offense is making progress, and the defensive line can be a difference-maker, but again, KU’s fortunes Saturday will start with how well it can cover West Virginia’s receivers.

Prediction: West Virginia 45, KU 31. This will be a good test to see how much KU’s offense has improved from last season. The Jayhawks’ 30 points against Ohio last week were the most scored against an FBS opponent in the David Beaty era, and there should be opportunities again Saturday while going against a Mountaineers defense that has struggled to prevent big plays. It’s tough to see KU’s defense making drastic improvement in one week, but thanks to the Jayhawks’ offense, this still might end up being closer than Vegas expects.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell