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Bowl berth at stake tonight for Mountaineers

Photo courtesy of Ben Queen WVU defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor says a win over Kansas tonight is an opportunity to get four more quarters as a victory secures a bowl berth.

MORGANTOWN — Entering the final week of the regular season, West Virginia is at a fork in the road.

The first path, one that is cleared and smooth, sees the Mountaineers lose tonight, ending their season. The other leads to a bowl appearance, but features the Kansas Jayhawks standing firmly in the way.

There’s no doubt which road the Mountaineers would prefer. The only question is whether they, after an up and down season, can reach the end goal.

When West Virginia takes on Kansas (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1), having no classes due to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Mountaineers will have had more time to prepare.

There’s a very good chance they’ll need it.

Quarterback Jalon Daniels has reenergized Kansas in the season’s final weeks, making the Jayhawks more of a threat than the notion that follows them. His first start came two weeks ago against Texas, with the sophomore leading the team to its first victory since Week 1.

Kansas lost last week — 31-28 to TCU — but still went for nearly 400 yards of offense while forcing a turnover on defense.

“He’s been electric the last two weeks,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “He’s made play after play versus Texas and TCU, and you can tell he’s confident and he’s changed the demeanor of the football team. Special teams and defense is even playing with more energy because of what he’s doing.”

Daniels is a dual-threat quarterback, throwing for 457 yards and rushing for 82 net yards over the last two weeks. He’s accounted for seven total touchdowns in that time, all while turning the ball over only once.

According to WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley, Kansas’ offensive line meshes well with Daniels’ play style, allowing the Jayhawks to score 85 points over the last two weeks.

“They move the pocket, protect the quarterback, get the ball out fast — all those things that are gonna kind of fit what Daniels is good at,” Lesley said.

Thankfully for West Virginia, the coaching staff didn’t walk into this week blind. Game film of the Kansas-Texas matchup was heavily critiqued ahead of last week’s game, allowing the Mountaineers to understand early Daniels’ impact on the Jayhawks.

“Coach Brown said it all last week when he was talking about preparing for Texas,” Lesley said. “You go back and you watch that film, they just made plays. In key situations the other night against TCU, the same thing. They just made some plays. I think, the more you see that, the more it revolves around that guy. They feel comfortable with him and whatever he’s doing. Very simply, it revolves around him.”

Outside of Daniels, however, one could say that the Kansas cupboard is bare. Despite their late resurgence, the Jayhawks still rank dead last in the Big 12 in total offense and defense. They enter the week with a 2-9 record and are no longer in bowl contention, but they haven’t quit yet.

Still, the Mountaineers smell blood in the water. A win would clinch a 6-6 record, punching a ticket to a bowl game for the second consecutive year.

“We have four guaranteed quarters and the opportunity to get four more, that’s what coach Brown says a lot of the time,” defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor said. “It’s definitely a great opportunity.”

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