MORGANTOWN - Dana Holgorsen believes his West Virginia football team isn't too far away from being a winning squad.
''I think we are close,'' the Mountaineers coach said. ''I think we've been close all year. We are playing quality teams. We are getting better. We are playing a lot of young guys. I'm hoping it happens this year.''
Now's the time to prove it.
During the course of the next three weeks, West Virginia (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) plays two teams with a combined three wins, none in conference play.
First up, Kansas.
The Jayhawks (2-7, 0-6) are currently on a six game losing-streak and have been outscored 251-85.
Kansas hasn't won a conference game since November of 2010.
''Offensively, (Kansas has) been spotty, another situation where they have been playing two quarterbacks,'' Holgorsen said. ''What they do with the two is different. They have the (Jake Heaps) kid, who's a pocket guy and comes in to throw it around. He's got a couple of weapons. Then when they put (Montell Cozart) in it turns into more of a running quarterback game. They are going to utilize him to try and move the ball forward.''
Heaps has connected on 50 percent of his passes for 1,204 yards and seven touchdowns, while Cozart has completed only 11 passes for 133 yards, two more than he has rushing.
Running back James Sims is the Jayhawks best offensive option as he averages 78 yards per game. He's complimented by Darrian Miller, who has 349 yards on the season.
Tony Pierson is the only Kansas receiver with more than 200 yards as he has totaled 321 on 23 receptions with one touchdown.
''I've studied them about four or five times pretty closely because the teams we've already played have played Kansas,'' Holgorsen said. ''They have different plan of attack every time they line up. They're looking for an identity on offense like many Big 12 teams are when you play two different quarterbacks who do different things for you. They have a few different guys like Sims and Pierson that scare you. The quarterback has some athletic ability. We are going to have to identify what their plan of attack is, talk about it on the sidelines, and change our defensive attack or communicate what they are trying to get done.''
The Mountaineers' defense took a hard hit on Saturday when Jared Barber went down in overtime against Texas. The linebacker, who is tied for a team-high 71 tackles, is now out for the remainder of the season.
''It's disappointing,'' Holgorsen said. ''I think he had another 14 tackles in the game on Saturday. He was playing at an extremely high level, the effort was great, his attitude is tremendous. He's been one of the team leaders for us on defense. He's out with an ACL. He'll have surgery in the next week, we'll lose him for the next six months.''
With Doug Rigg still out, the Mountaineers are starting to look thin at linebacker, but according to Holgorsen, he expects some of the younger players to seize the opportunity.
''Nick Kwiatkoski has played at an extremely high level,'' he said. ''We are thankful that he has. Tyler Anderson is going to get snaps inside. We've moved him all-around. He's been playing fantastic on special teams. Jewone Snow had his best game on special teams, he'll get reps. Sean Walters is another young guy that needs to step up. They don't have the experience to have been playing at the level that Barber and Rigg have. They need to take advantage of this opportunity and play ball.''
Injuries have affected the offense as well as quarterback Clint Trickett is still recovering from an injury he suffered in the first half against Texas.
''Trickett's shoulder is fine, his head is in a much better spot on Sunday and Monday,'' Holgorsen said. ''We will anticipate him being in practice and will see how he reacts to it. It's going to be non-contact with the quarterback. But we are going to see how he reacts to tests that they give him.''
The Mountaineers' quarterback play could have a big role in this matchup as Kansas' defense has been pretty solid against the run as of late.
In last week's game against Oklahoma State, the Cowboys came in averaging 180 yards per game. The Jayhawks held them to 85.
''They're playing with tremendous effort, and their defense is keeping them in games,'' Holgorsen said. ''They are really good against the run. They're going to play similar to Texas last week. They are going to try to outnumber us in the box. Their corners and safeties are going to try and man you up. Teams have been having trouble getting behind them in those situations. We have to figure out a way to run the ball. When we have the chances to make the plays down the field with three receivers we need to do a better job of that than we did last week.
''We still are playing for something. It's at the point, where I'm talking about bowl games. We need to win the next two to go to a bowl game. We have around 12 seniors, they deserve that. The disappointment in our locker room on Saturday was tremendous because our guys care. They're in-tune to what we're doing around here, they recognize who we are, and where we need to be going from here. I anticipate getting the same work ethic and effort out of the guys this week that we've had the past couple weeks.''