MORGANTOWN, W. Va — Big 12 football comes early as the West Virginia Mountaineers host Kansas at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. ET on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
Jayhawk coach Lance Leipold makes his first trek to the Mountain State after taking the helm in 2021 and he looks to change a concerning trend for his program. WVU has taken 10 of 11 meetings with Kansas and hasn’t lost to the Jayhawks since 2013.
Leipold’s squad dominated in week one, coasting by FCS Tennesee Tech 56-10. It looks to earn its first 2-0 start since 2007. That year, the Jayhawks finished the season in the AP top-10.
On the opposite sideline, Neal Brown aims to maintain his perfect record against Kansas. However, his three meetings haven’t gone quite like the historical trends, as two have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Brown isn’t underestimating his opponent, and he brings a hungry team back to Milan Puskar Stadium. The Mountaineers face the Jayhawks on the heels of a stinging rivalry loss to Pitt on the national stage in week one, but they know they did a lot of good things on the field. This week, they seek to prove it.
Here are the biggest things to watch out for on Saturday:
The main event: Daniels vs. Daniels
The quarterback battle will take center stage in Morgantown as two highly-anticipated signal-callers each vie for his first FBS win of the season. Oh, and they’re both named Daniels, but they’re not related.
WVU’s JT Daniels has stolen headlines even before he hit the college football scene in 2018. He was the crown jewel of Brown’s transfer portal additions in the offseason as part of the massive Division I quarterback carousel, and after just one game, the Mountaineer coaching staff is clearly happy with their new passer.
Daniels impressed coaches, fans and pundits with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score against Pitt, but it was what he did off the field that truly solidified optimism in the redshirt junior.
“I didn’t think that a hit would bother him or a dropped pass or any kind of setback….He was even keel,” Brown said. “He was really good in-game being able to tell you what he saw, and that’s not the case with every quarterback, that was something that was extremely positive.”
Jalon Daniels will lead the Jayhawk offense on Saturday after making his first opening day start in week one. The junior dual-threat QB is one of the most efficient passers in the Big 12, finishing the 2021 season with a 69.2-percent completion rate. He kept that trend going against Tennessee Tech, finishing the game 15-for-18 for 198 yards, a touchdown and a pick while scoring another touchdown with his feet.
“They’re just a different team with him playing quarterback,” Brown said. “He’s got confidence.”
WVU’s depleted secondary
The Mountaineers already had a patchwork group of defensive backs before the season, but that corps has a new challenge against Kansas.
Cornerback Charles Woods left the Backyard Brawl in the first quarter with a lower leg injury. He was helped off the field and carted into the locker room, then later returned to the sideline in a walking boot.
As late as Tuesday, Brown was unsure of the preseason All-Big 12 cornerback’s status for Saturday and couldn’t provide any update on him.
The Mountaineer secondary was dealt another blow in the fourth quarter when Wesley McCormick was ejected for targeting. When that happened, WVU’s secondary was reduced to two freshmen and two transfers.
The unit could very likely look like that once again in week two. McCormick will miss the first half of Saturday’s game as he completes his targeting punishment, while Woods could sit out the game as he recovers.
“We’ll just have to get some other guys ready,” Brown said. “That’s the thing about injuries — or, if you’re talking about targeting — one person’s bad luck is an opportunity for others. We do feel like we have more athleticism in that room with guys we can play.”
Stills chasing history
The Stills family dynasty is alive and well as Dante Stills continues his quest for WVU history.
WVU’s coaches said that Stills played the best game of his college career against Pitt, recording 1.5 sacks, two tackles-for-loss and six combined tackles.
“He was mentally in the game. It is the best shape he’s ever been in,” Brown said. “He looked like what we expect him to look like. I felt like it was his best complete football game he’s played in our time here.”
Stills will etch his name in the Mountaineer record books if he continues that pace this week. He is just two tackles-for-loss short of Grant Wiley for the second spot on the all-time list at WVU, then he will trail Julian Miller for the top spot with 49.