'We're very motivated': Why West Virginia has had Kansas State football's number the past 5 years

Arne Green
Topeka Capital-Journal
West Virginia running back Leddie Brown dives for a touchdown during last year's game against Kansas State. K-State will look to snap a five-game losing streak against the Mountaineers on Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan.

MANHATTAN — In his six years at Kansas State, Skylar Thompson has seen it all.

Well, almost.

He has yet to see the Wildcats walk off the field winners against West Virginia.

"It's definitely on our minds — on my mind — but especially our senior class," Thompson said of ending a five-game losing streak against the Mountaineers, who visit Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday for an 11 a.m. matchup. "We haven't beaten West Virginia since 2015, the year before I got here, so it's definitely been discussed in our team meetings and stuff like that."

Also on the Wildcats' minds is extending their own three-game winning streak. Last week's convincing 35-10 victory at Kansas made them bowl eligible at 6-3 and evened their Big 12 record at 3-3 after a 0-3 start.

"(West Virginia) is something we use at motivation, but also just going back to what's gotten us to where we're at right now and winning three games in a row," Thompson said. "And that's been our preparation throughout the week and just focusing on what we're facing right now and being where our feet are at today and focusing on the task at hand."

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K-State coach Chris Klieman has only been around for part of the skid against West Virginia, but as was the case leading up to last week's 13th straight victory over Kansas, Klieman downplayed the significance of such streaks.

"I try not to do that, no matter what the game is," he said. "Whether you've won a bunch of them in a row or not won. I've just never been a fan of that, even last week when we had won a bunch in a row against KU.

"It's more of, it's the 2021 team against their 2021 team. It's different people in different spots, and the dynamic of each team is a little bit different. It's this year's version against their version, and it's going to be a big challenge for us."

So a more pertinent question might be why West Virginia has had the Wildcats' number of late. Three of the five games during the streak were decided by five points or fewer, including a 24-20 decision in Manhattan two years ago, but last year the Mountaineers won handily, 37-10 in Morgantown.

"I thought last year they won the line of scrimmage against us on both sides," Klieman said. (They're) well coached. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Neal (Brown).

"(Their) guys are always ready to play. They're in the right spot. They make plays, and it's in all phases — offense, defense and special teams. That's what I think makes it such a challenge for us, (that) we have to be on our A game in all three phases."

West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) has been up and down, losing to Texas Tech, but beating Iowa State and falling by three on a last-second field goal at Oklahoma. A 24-3 loss to Oklahoma State last week snapped a two-game winning streak.

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"Some of it is matchups, too, and they have tremendous skill at wide receiver and running back, and an experienced quarterback," Klieman said. "So, you can't just say, ‘We're going to try to shut down the run game. We're trying to eliminate somebody out of the wide receiver group,’ because we have so many people that can beat you.

"Then on defense, they've got a bunch of veteran guys that played a lot of football. They know where they fit, and they do a good job running to the ball.”

The Mountaineers rank ninth in the Big 12 in total offense at 373 yards per game, but senior quarterback Jarret Doege leads the league in passing with 2,180. Senior running back Leddie Brown rushed for 102 yards against K-State last year.

Defensively, West Virginia ranks fourth in the conference, allowing 355.9 yards per game. But the Mountaineers held K-State to 225 total yards last year, limiting running back Deuce Vaughn to 22 yards on nine carries.

"We put last year behind us," said Vaughn, who is enjoying a big sophomore season with 866 rushing and 421 receiving yards. "They have a really good defense. You can see on film that they pop.

"But we have to realize that last year's team and this year's team are completely different. We need to assess what we do well and really work on taking their strengths and weaknesses and out and try to execute as much as possible."

Thompson, who missed last year's West Virginia game with an injury, has put together the best five-game stretch of his K-State career, throwing for 1,318 yards and eight touchdowns with just two interceptions. But he, too, is wary of the Mountaineers' defense.

"They're pretty unique on defense," Thompson said. "I think their scheme is a little bit out of the ordinary.

"It's not like your traditional structure, and they do some different things that are different to the eye of myself and others. So it's going to be a great challenge for us this week, but I know we're excited for it."

K-State knows the only way to extend its own winning streak is to put an end to its five-year drought against West Virginia.

"We're very motivated to beat West Virginia," said senior center Noah Johnson. "(But) it's a lot like last week. We never want to make it too much about our opponent.

"It's always about us."