Jayhawks must find way to limit Mountaineers’ prolific receivers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen knew he had two of the Big 12’s top wide receivers entering the 2018 season in David Sills V and Gary Jennings. At the moment, though, it’s junior Marcus Simms putting together a breakout year.
Simms will go after his fourth straight 100-yard receiving performance Saturday when No. 9 West Virginia (4-0, 2-0 Big 12) hosts Kansas (2-3, 0-2).
“The better he plays, the more he’s going to get targeted,” Holgorsen said. “He’s arguably our top wideout right now.”
Simms’ speed makes him a good long-ball target. Quarterback Will Grier and Simms combined for a 45-yard score last week in a 42-34 win at Texas Tech and an 82-yard TD a week earlier in a 35-6 rout of Kansas State.
Simms caught nine passes against the Red Raiders and has taken advantage of opposing defenses that focus on Jennings and Sills. Simms has a team-high 24 catches for 433 yards and is on pace to surpass last year’s totals of 35 catches for 663 yards.
“I said this last year watching Marcus play, I was so concerned about this guy because he has unbelievable dynamic speed,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. “This guy’s got such strong hands. Guys are hanging all over him and he makes contested play after contested play.”
Still, Jennings and Sills are no slouches.
Jennings, who led the Big 12 with 97 catches a year ago, leads the league with six TDs this season. Sills caught a pair of TDs against Kansas in West Virginia’s 56-34 win last year and ended up tied for the national lead with 18 TD catches. He has five this year.
“Will has such faith in them that he’s just going to throw it up to them and they come down with the ball,” Beaty said. “When you’ve got that kind of confidence in guys, it makes for a fun offense for sure.”
West Virginia is ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since 2012 and is looking to remain one of the few unbeaten teams left in the Big 12.
A once-positive season for Kansas is quickly turning sour. The Jayhawks have lost two straight to start the league schedule after lopsided wins over Central Michigan and Rutgers. Kansas has dropped 12 straight league games.
FIRST HALF, SECOND HALF
West Virginia failed to score an offensive touchdown after halftime last week after piling up 35 points in the first half.
“I don’t think it’s a recurring problem,” Holgorsen said. “It didn’t happen in the other three games. We watched the video. First half, it looked really good. Second half, it looks like crap. They know. We’ve got to go out and do better.”
Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley has earned his second start after throwing for 247 yards and three TDs in a 48-28 loss to Oklahoma State. Peyton Bender was benched last week after starting the four previous games.
ONE SAFETY SHORT
West Virginia safety Josh Norwood will sit out the first half against the Jayhawks after he was flagged for targeting on a sideline hit to Texas Tech’s Ja’Deion High. Norwood, a junior college transfer who played 11 games at Ohio State in 2016, is tied for the team high with four pass breakups.
Freshman Pooka Williams Jr. leads the Big 12 with 118.5 rushing yards per game. After sitting out the opener, he’s had a carry of 40-plus yards in four straight games.