WVU shows improvement with TCU win

It turned cool and windy in Morgantown but the West Virginia Mountaineers remained red hot as they trounced TCU 34-10 for their second straight unexpected one sided victory. The win leaves WVU at 6-0 and near the top ten, far exceeding virtually all preseason expectations.

Coach Dana Holgorsen repeatedly refers to playing well “on all three sides of the ball” (I have a hard time visualizing three sides of a football but that is a discussion for another day).

While the offense at times struggled to control the line of scrimmage (quarterback Skylar Howard was sacked five times), they avoided any turnovers for the second straight week and were efficient on third down, converting 8 of 16. But what was most remarkable were at least four sensational catches by the wide receivers. Howard was the first to acknowledge that the receivers made his passing stats perhaps look much better than his actual performance.

Special teams, a problem in September, also were solid for the second straight week with outstanding kick coverage and forcing two turnovers. The first fumble recovery on the opening kickoff led to a quick WVU touchdown and set the tone for the afternoon.

Perhaps most surprising this season has been the play of the West Virginia defense. Beginning the year with only two returning starters it was projected to be a weakness, but through half the season this has not been the case. In three Big 12 games the opposition has not scored more than 17 points. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has to be given credit for an outstanding job with the stop unit.

After taking a 14-0 lead, TCU had regained momentum with two scoring drives to cut the lead to four. But the Mountaineers did what good teams do by immediately responding with a touchdown drive to retake control of the game. They didn’t allow their own momentum to be lost as they used nearly 8 minutes in the opening drive of the second half leading to a field goal. This was followed by another long scoring drive for a touchdown to put the game away. The Horned Frogs ran only 5 plays in the entire third quarter.

Running back Rushel Shell had perhaps his best day as a Mountaineer, running hard and gaining 117 yards on 24 carries. Justin Crawford, whose quickness is a good contrast to Shell, was limited by injury but hopefully will return to action next week. Howard was 16 for 23 passing for 231 yards.

While the great start has excited WVU fans, half of the season still remains. The quality of opponents in the second half is stronger, so there will yet be some very difficult afternoons. Let’s not look too far ahead. Instead take it one week at a time and see how it all plays out.

THIS SATURDAY: West Virginia travels to play Oklahoma State in a noon game this coming Saturday. The Cowboys were considered a Big 12 contender at the start of the season and have quality wins over Pittsburgh and Texas, with a loss on the road at Baylor and a home upset to Central Michigan. This will be a tough road environment but I am staying with the Mountaineers.