Kansas coach Charlie Weis didn’t mind having an extra week to prepare for West Virginia’s Tavon Austin.
Coming off a bye, the Jayhawks (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) close out their disappointing debut season under Weis by making their first trip to Morgantown since 1941 where they’ll play the Mountaineers (6-5, 3-5) on Saturday.
Kansas is the only Big 12 team that didn’t qualify for a bowl. If the Jayhawks lose their 11th in a row, it would be the longest streak since Kansas lost 17 straight from 1953-55.
The Jayhawks’ last game comes against a West Virginia defense that surrendered fewer than 30 points for the first time in two months. They’ll also face a tempest in Austin, who followed up a 572-yard performance against Oklahoma two weeks ago by scoring on a 75-yard touch pass to secure a win last week at Iowa State.
Since being transplanted in the backfield from his wide receiver spot two games ago to help shore up West Virginia’s running attack, Austin ran for 344 yards and two scores against Oklahoma and had 74 yards more against Iowa State. He also caught 10 passes for 181 yards and a score in the two games.
“He is faster than most people on the field,” Weis said. “He just outruns everyone. That’s not coaching. That’s just unusual talent and unusual speed.
“He’s a very, very dynamic player. Whether they line him up in the backfield and give him the ball or whether they play him at wide receiver, no matter where he is, he’s a pain in the butt that you’ve always have to account for.”
Austin and 20 other seniors will play in their final home game for West Virginia, which can finish no better than a tie for fifth in its debut season in the Big 12 after starting 5-0.
West Virginia and Kansas have two of the nation’s worst defenses. West Virginia has been able to make up somewhat on offense for the deficiencies on the other side of the ball. Kansas hasn’t.
The Jayhawks have been limited to 17 points or less in five of their previous seven games. One of the few bright spots is junior James Sims, who on Saturday could become the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2007 despite serving a three-game suspension to open the season.
Kansas runs the ball 63 percent of the time. That’s because the Jayhawks average just 152 yards through the air with more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (seven).
“We haven’t exactly been lighting it up in the passing game this year,” Weis said. “As we’ve kind of evolved through this season, I’ve felt that it was important in my first year here to get something that we’re good at so that you can hang your hat on that one thing on a weekly basis.
“Going into every game plan, we all start with OK, how are we going to successfully run the ball with what we have at our disposal against who we’re going against and what they do? ... The rest of the game plan just kind of falls off of that.”
Last week West Virginia became eligible for a bowl for the 11th straight season. After more than a month of trying to get that elusive sixth win, coach Dana Holgorsen believes the pressure has eased a bit.
“But if we just relax and feel good about it, then we will probably get beat this week,” Holgorsen said. “That is the nature of college football.”
West Virginia will learn its bowl destination on Sunday. Until then, the Mountaineers will try to avoid a fourth home loss this season, something that hasn’t happened since 1990.
And for most West Virginia fans, it will be the final chance to view in person a passing game that may not be seen in these parts for quite some time with senior record-setters Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.
There’s also been speculation on whether junior Stedman Bailey, a Biletnikoff Award finalist who leads the Bowl Subdivision with a school-record 21 receiving TDs this season, will return or enter the NFL draft. Bailey has not indicated his intentions.