Jayhawks Open Final Homestand with West Virginia

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LAWRENCE, Kan. – The Kansas football team returns to the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium as the Jayhawks close out the 2015 season with a two-game homestand, beginning with West Virginia, Saturday, Nov. 21.

Kansas (0-10, 0-7 Big 12) defeated the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-4 Big 12) in their only trip to Lawrence since joining the Big 12 Conference, and looks for its first win of the 2015 season with an 11 a.m. kickoff.

Saturday’s contest marks just the fifth meeting between Kansas and West Virginia, with the Mountaineers leading the all-time series 3-1. The two squads first met in 1941 when WVU shutout the Jayhawks 21-0. It would be 71 years until West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference and the two teams would meet again in Morgantown, Dec. 1, 2012, where WVU won 59-10. In games played in Lawrence, KU owns a 1-0 mark over the Mountaineers, winning 31-19, Nov. 16, 2013, to break a 27-game conference winless streak. In all four games played, the home team has come away with the victory.

West Virginia enters the weekend as the sixth-best scoring offense (33.0) and sixth-best total offense (452.0) in the Big 12 Conference, and ranks 42nd and 34th in the nation, respectively. The Mountaineers have gained 225 first downs (106 rushing, 88 passing and 31 penalty) while scoring 37 touchdowns. WVU has gained 4,068 yards (2,018 rushing and 2,050 passing) from scrimmage while converting 40 percent of the time on third down (57-of-143). Running back Wendell Smallwood leads the team and ranks second in the league at running back, averaging 124.3 yards per contest and has scored six touchdowns to go along with 1,119 yards rushing. Quarterback Skyler Howard completes 56.9 percent of his passes (149-of-262) and has thrown 18 touchdowns to go along with 10 interceptions. Wide Receiver Shelton Gibson enters as West Virginia’s leading pass catcher as he averages 64.0 yards per game and has hauled in 25 passes for 576 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.

The Mountaineers enter Saturday’s game with fifth-best scoring defense and total defense in the Big 12, giving up 27.6 points per game and 426.3 yards per game, respectively. Teams have completed 159-of-287 of their passes for 2,148 yards and 19 touchdowns, while gaining 1,689 yards on the ground and eight scores. Opponents average 187.7 yards rushing per game and 238.7 yards passing to make up 426.3 yards of total offense. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski leads the defensive effort with 62 tackles and ranks 11th in the conference with 6.9 stops per game. Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu paces the team with 8.5 tackles-for-loss including a team-high 6.5 sacks. Four other defenders have tallied at least seven TFLs, while nine have recorded at least one sack. Most impressively, West Virginia ranks eighth in the nation and second in the Big 12 in turnovers gained (22), thanks in large part to its pass defense that has snagged 16 interceptions. Those 16 picks lead the Big 12 Conference in one fewer game than the No. 2-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys with 15. Karl Joseph has picked off five passes, while cornerback Daryl Worley has tallied four to go along with his team-high 10 breakups. Worley leads the league and ranks 11th in the FBS in passes defended with 1.6 per game.

A collegiate coach for 22 years, Dana Holgorsen has a four-year track record as a head coach going 33-27 in that span. An accomplished offensive coordinator, Holgorsen is regarded as one of the nation’s brightest offensive minds, often orchestrating offenses that rack up yards through the air each week. Holgorsen has commanded the offensive schemes at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State where he coached TTU quarterback Graham Harrell to nation-leading total offense numbers. The same season, Red Raider wide receiver Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff award as America’s top receiver after leading the country in receptions and receiving yards per game. At Houston, Holgorsen mentored quarterback Case Keenum to gaudy offensive numbers in 2008 and ’09 where he averaged over 400 yards per contest, which also led the country. During a one-year stop at Oklahoma State in 2010, Holgorsen once again dialed-up explosive offensive plays that helped the Cowboys lead the nation in total offense and finish second in passing offense and third in scoring offense. Oklahoma State averaged 520.23 yards per game and 44.23 points per game that season including a 597-yard performance against Kansas where they averaged 7.2 yards per play.  After accepting the job as West Virginia’s head coach, Holgorsen has once again commanded lethal offenses led by quarterback Geno Smith and Tavon Austin in 2012. Both were finalists for some of college football’s most prestigious awards and were drafted in the early rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft.

The Jayhawks are one of the youngest teams in the country as they rank first in first-time players (39) and are tied for first in first-time starters (33). Among the first-time starters, 10 have been true freshmen or redshirt freshmen. On offense, the Jayhawks have started at least four freshmen in four of their last five games, including six (five true and one redshirt) against Oklahoma (Oct. 31) and six (four true and two redshirt) at TCU (Nov. 14).

Since 1937, a freshman has only led the Jayhawks in passing five times. By throwing for 203 yards at TCU (Nov. 14), rookie quarterback Ryan Willis became KU’s all-time freshman leading passer with 1,377 yards. He is also the first freshman to lead Kansas in single-season passing since Jordan Webb in 2010. A look at the all-time freshman passing leaders:

1. Ryan Willis 1,377 2015
2. Mario Kinsey 1,215 2001
3. Jordan Webb 1,195 2010
4. Kerry Meier 1,193 2006
5. Frank Seurer 797 1980
6. George Gear 223 1945

Quarterback Ryan Willis connected with freshman wide receiver Tyler Patrick for a 10-yard touchdown pass at TCU (Nov. 14) to become the first freshman to throw a touchdown pass in six-straight games since Kerry Meier accomplished the same feat in 2006. The six-straight games ranks third-most in the KU single-season passing records with Todd Reesing holding the top-two spots at 13 and seven, respectively.

Junior Mathew Wyman may take that term literally as he assumed all four kicking duties Saturday at TCU (Nov. 14). Wyman averaged 43.4 yards on 11 punts, drilled a 42-yard field goal, kicked off four times with three touchbacks and converted two PATs. If one were keeping track of the yardage, Wyman booted the ball 815 yards throughout the course of the game. He is one of four kickers in the FBS who handle all four kicking duties: Lumi Kaba,Texas State; Rigoberto Sanchez, Hawai’i; and Austin Rekhow, Idaho.

Junior safety Fish Smithson leads the Jayhawks with 100 tackles on the season, 39 more than any other player on the Kansas defense. If that’s not enough, he leads the FBS averaging 7.8 solo tackles per game, while ranking 15th in the country in total tackles at 10.0 per contest. Both those numbers lead the Big 12 Conference. The only other league player with more tackles than Smithson this season is Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe, who tallied 102 in 11 games, one more contest than KU has played.

Kansas closes out its 2015 campaign as it plays host to in-state rival Kansas State for the annual Sunflower Showdown, Saturday, Nov. 28. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m., and can be seen on Fox Sports 1.

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