MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Two years ago the West Virginia University football team traveled to Lawrence, Kansas and was defeated 31-19 by the Jayhawks, which ended a 27-game conference-losing streak.
“It was terrible,” wide receiver Daikiel Shorts said. “We just didn’t go ready to play.
The Mountaineers (5-4) will look to avoid a similar fate when they take on the winless Jayhawks (0-10) on Saturday afternoon.
Redshirt senior linebacker Jared Barber was sidelined for the Kansas game two years ago, but he still remembers how that day played out.
“It was the week after I tore my ACL,” he said. “I don’t really remember too much of it, I just remember sitting on my couch watching it. I didn’t know what was going on, I was texting guys who weren’t playing. I was actually texting one of the media guys, Sean Merinar, asking what’s going on? They just said everybody was dead, just out of it. I don’t know exactly what happened, I wasn’t there.”
A lot of things have changed for WVU since November of 2013. That was the first time in 11 seasons that the Mountaineers failed to become bowl eligible.
“I think we are a completely different team,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said on Tuesday. “They have a different team. We are a different team. We have 20 seniors that have been here for four years in the Big 12. We weren’t successful in Lawrence, Kansas two years ago. It’s something that we will talk about a little bit, and it’s my job to make sure that they understand the situation that they are in. For those who didn’t make that trip, I am going to explain to them what it is going to be like, and a lot of the guys down in the locker room will explain to them what it is going to be like.”
This time around WVU has more experience and veteran leadership under their belts. They know what happened two years ago and want to avoid it happening again.
“Leadership, experience, we have a lot of guys on this team who played in that game,” redshirt senior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski said. “They were down there. They felt the same things. It’s definitely something that we are looking back on and just moving on from. As for leadership and experience it is definitely higher than it was two year ago.”
Even though Kansas has a goose egg in the win column, the Mountaineers are aware that they can put teams’ backs against the wall. Last week the Jayhawks gave TCU (9-1) everything it had, but the Horned Frogs managed to squeak out a 23-17 win.
“They play well,” redshirt senior cornerback Terrell Chestnut said of the Jayhawks’ performance last week. “They took advantage of the opportunities they had and gave TCU a run for their money. They play well when they want to and that’s why you can’t take teams like that for granted.”
Knowing what Kansas can do and what happened two years ago is what is helping the Mountaineers stay focused.
“It’s easy to stay motivated,” redshirt junior cornerback Nana Kyeremeh said. “This is the same Kansas team that beat us two years ago in Kansas. We were sleep walking through the season thinking we would beat them. They took away our bowl hopes. It’s easy to be motivated against Kansas. They’re going to play hard against us.”
“I think our guys do a good job,” Barber said. “Kansas has no wins. It’s a tough place to play, but we understand what happened two years ago. A lot of guys on this team have played there, who went there. So I think we are mostly juniors and seniors obviously who were there. So I think we have a good understanding of what we need to do.”
WVU is 0-3 on the road this season. The three road losses come at the hands of No.7 Oklahoma, No. 10 Baylor and No.11 TCU. Their opponents outscored the Mountaineers 146-72.
“Getting on the winning track has been good for our team, good for our confidence,” Holgorsen said. “With that, human instinct is they kind of relax a little bit. So we’ve got to be on guard for that. We’ve got to go get a road win.”
WVU has found success in their run game in recent weeks and will turn to juniors Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood to get the job done.
Last Saturday against Texas, Smallwood rushed for 165 yards as he went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Shell had a career day against Texas Tech two weeks ago, rushing for 111 yards on the ground.
The Mountaineers rushing offense is ranked 18th in the nation. Kansas’ rushing defense ranks 121st in the country.