When West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference, it began a yearly series with schools that they had very rarely played in the past and most often, had not competed with in a very long time. One of those teams is the Jayhawks of Kansas, who the Mountaineers had played against just once in their storied history prior to joining the conference. This is a series that has been dominated by one side and historical trends show that there is a good chance that dominant program will come away with the win on Saturday.
The only non-conference game ever played between WVU and Kansas took place during the 1941 season. Obviously, this was a very different era in college football. WVU was an independent at the time and added wins that season against the likes of Waynesburg College, West Virginia Wesleyan, and Washington & Lee. Meanwhile, Kansas was a member of the proto-Big 12, then known as the Big 6 and including Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas State, Kansas, and Iowa State. Neither team was having a particularly good year, with the Mountaineers coming in at 3-3 while the Jayhawks sat at 2-4 as they traveled to Morgantown. Bill Kern was in year 2 coaching WVU but would only be around for one more season as the former NFL tackle would move on to coach the Del Monte Pre-Flight School Navyators to a 7-1 record in 1943. Yes, that was a real Division I college football program in 1943. World War II did a lot of weird things to college sports. Refocusing, WVU hosted Kansas at Old Mountaineer Field and it wound up being a long trip back to Lawrence for coach Gwinn Henry’s Jayhawks. WVU dominated the game from start to finish, adding their fourth win of the campaign by a score of 21-0. Neither team would finish particularly well with the Mountaineers dropping their final three games after this while Kansas would split their last two.
It would take 71 years, but WVU’s addition to the Big 12 renewed the series between the Mountaineers and Jayhawks, this time as an annual staple. The first of these games took place in Morgantown during the 2012 season. Led by Geno Smith, WVU blew out an overmatched Kansas team by a score of 59-10. Smith threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns while Andrew Buie put up 100 yards on the ground on just 12 carries. The WVU defense held Kansas to 274 yards from scrimmage while the offense was so successful that it ran up 647 yards and the punt unit only came onto the field once. This saw WVU move to 7-5 as the regular season wrapped up while the Jayhawks fell to a dismal 1-11 in Charlie Weis’ first season in Lawrence.
The series moved to Kansas the next season in what was one of WVU’s worst years in recent memory. The Mountaineers struggled throughout the day with Paul Millard under center. He averaged just 5.8 yards per pass, throwing for 242 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Charles Sims was a bright spot, running for 99 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown while also catching two balls for 29 yards and a score. He was, however, outpaced by his Jayhawk counterpart James Sims, who torched the WVU defense for 211 yards and three touchdowns, providing the majority of the Kansas offense. Nick O’Toole punted a whopping eight times and the Mountaineers fell to a 4-7 record with a 31-19 loss.
The third meeting between Kansas and WVU was much better for the Mountaineers as they came away with a 33-14 win at home. The connection of Clint Trickett and Kevin White was huge with Trickett going for 302 yards, a touchdown, and an interception while White hauled in six balls for 132 yards and a score. Rushel Shell also put up big numbers with 113 yards on the ground and a TD of his own. Three different quarterbacks saw snaps for Kansas but none were successful, combining to go 13/28 for 111 yards. With the defense holding the Jayhawks to just 65 yards on the ground, they could get very little offense moving with a total of 176 yards from scrimmage. WVU moved up to 3-2 while Kansas dropped down to 2-3.
In 2015, it was once again a blowout in the favor of the Mountaineers. Skyler Howard put up an efficient 133 yards, a touchdown, and interception through the air while adding 129 yards and a score on the ground. Two other rushers broke the century mark as Wendell Smallwood tallied 115 yards and Shell added 108 yards with each adding two touchdowns as well. The defense stifled current Virginia Tech starting quarterback Ryan Willis, keeping the then-freshman to just 127 yards on 13/36 passing for a quarterback rating of 3.1. The Kansas offense struggled throughout the day as the defense held them to just 3.1 yards per play and kept them scoreless throughout the day. WVU added their sixth win of the season but Kansas fell deep into the tank, reaching 0-11 on the year.
The following year, WVU was able to pick up their third straight win that, while never in question, was a better showing for the Jayhawks. The Mountaineers held their hosts scoreless for the first half while putting up 31 points of their own. Howard threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns and also added 64 yards to a powerful 341 yard rushing attack. A combined 291 yards from quarterbacks Carter Stanley and Montell Cozart, and wide receiver Steven Sims, Jr. was not enough to overcome a stifling WVU defense that forced three turnovers on the day. The Mountaineers notched their seventh win on that day, well on their way to a 10-3 finish. This loss dropped Kansas to an abysmal 1-8 in a season that eventually finished with a 2-10 record.
Two years ago, the Mountaineers marched into Lawrence with a high powered offense that had put up big numbers all year under the direction of Will Grier. This day was no different as Grier topped 360 yards on the day and the WVU backfield ran up 288 yards on the ground. David Sills V had a huge day with 130 yards and two touchdowns while Kennedy McKoy scored twice in the run game. However, it was a much better showing for the Jayhawks as they put up 34 points against the WVU defense. Quarterback Peyton Bender struggled, throwing two interceptions, but tailback Khalil Herbert ran wild, notching 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns on a whopping 36 carries. However, it was not enough as WVU racked up 28 points in the second quarter and 21 in the fourth to move to a 3-1 record on the year while the loss dropped the Jayhawks to 1-3.
Last season, WVU steadily dominated Kansas on both sides of the ball but four turnovers from Grier kept the Jayhawks in the game. In a 38-22 final, Grier threw for 332 yards but the biggest standout was a battle of freshman running backs. WVU defenders were able to hold Kansas star Pooka Williams to just 65 yards on 12 carries while the Mountaineers’ own Leddie Brown ran for 107 yards and a touchdown on just 11 carries while also catching one pass for a score. David Long had a huge game with 10 tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup to pace a strong defensive effort. In this case, WVU won their fifth straight over the Kansas Jayhawks and picked up some serious momentum in the series overall.
WVU and Kansas have only played eight times with all but one of those games being contested in Big 12 Conference play in the last seven seasons. It has been a series dominated by the Mountaineers, carrying a 7-1 record into this coming Saturday’s game in Lawrence. Kansas is coming off a big win and WVU has shown some struggles so far, but history seems to say that the Mountaineers have a great chance to come out on top.
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