Geno Smith and Tavon Austin play on Sundays now, but that doesn’t mean the Kansas State football team is taking West Virginia lightly.
While the two were clearly game-changing athletes for the Mountaineers, their replacements have held their own this year, even if the team’s 3-4 record doesn’t necessarily reflect it.
“It’s a change in faces, but they have the same type of players,” safety Dante Barnett said. “It’s the same offensive system and they seem to be getting things done, they just don’t have Tavon Austin and Geno Smith running the team.”
Instead of Smith, head coach Dana Holgorsen has juggled the quarterback position, starting the year with Paul Millard before installing Ford Childress and eventually landing on Clint Trickett.
Linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said the team still has what it takes to connect on long plays with Trickett at the helm.
“They still have the big-play capabilities and they have a running quarterback that can get out sometimes,” Moore said. “We want to stop the run and eliminate the big plays, that’s it.”
Helping to replace Austin’s production has been the play of running back Charles Sims, who through seven games has four touchdowns and averages nearly 80 yards per game. The Mountaineers are also getting production from Wichita native and Butler County Community College transfer Dreamius Smith, who also has four TDs and averages 53 yards a game.
Despite the new faces for West Virginia, K-State head coach Bill Snyder doesn’t see much difference in the team’s gameplan.
“I don’t see a substantial amount of difference,” Snyder said. “They don’t have the Austin youngster, quite obviously, and they don’t have Geno Smith. But the other young guys play well. I don’t think they’re aborting their system because of personnel.
“I think they have good schemes on both sides of the ball, and I think they are just trying to get new guys and young guys that have not worked together to fit into the system. So, I don’t see a great deal of change.”
One thing working in K-State’s favor is West Virginia’s inability to play well on the road.
The Mountaineers have one marquee victory this season, a home win against Oklahoma State on Sept. 28. But in its three road games this year, West Virginia has been outscored by an average of 25 points in big losses to Oklahoma, Maryland and Baylor.
Holgorsen knows what kind of atmosphere his team will face in a sold-out Bill Snyder Family Stadium in a homecoming game.
“I have been to Kansas State several times, and they have built that up from nothing to what you see there today,” Holgorsen said. “It is a heck of a place to play a college football game. There is going to be 53,000 people there — they are loud and they are rowdy. Their student section is great, which is right behind our bench.
“It is a challenging place to go play. All venues in the Big 12 are challenging places to go play. It will be a tremendous challenge for our football team.”
Defensively, the Mountaineers have had some ups and downs so far this season. They rank eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense with 196 yards per game, and ninth in pass defense with 257 yards per game.
Snyder said he thinks the two teams are similar in that both are still trying to find their identities midway through the season.
“Statistically, they don’t rank real high in our conference, and I can’t tell you that I know exactly why that’s the case,” Snyder said. “Sometimes you try to do a little too much trying to find the right answers.”