MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – West Virginia’s auditions at quarterback and running back became a fight for survival with the Big 12 opener just a week away.
Wendell Smallwood scored on a 2-yard run with 3:22 left to lift West Virginia to a 24-17 win over William & Mary 24-17 on Saturday.
West Virginia overcame a 10-point deficit at halftime to avoid becoming the latest Bowl Subdivision school to lose to an FCS opponent.
“We are fortunate it didn’t happen to us,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “Hats off to William & Mary. They were exactly what we thought they were.”
West Virginia looked lost at times to start the post-Geno Smith era, and the Mountaineers’ defense made some of the same mistakes that made the unit one of the worst in the country last year.
Houston transfer Charles Sims rushed for 120 yards and a score and quarterback Paul Millard threw a touchdown pass in their first starts for West Virginia, and the Mountaineers mustered enough offense to earn their 10th straight win to start a season.
West Virginia now must work out the kinks with the Big 12 opener looming next Saturday at Oklahoma.
“Offensively we are still trying to find our identity,” Holgorsen said.
William & Mary fell short in trying for its first win over an FBS team since 2009 against Virginia.
Michael Graham threw for one touchdown and ran for another. The Tribe built a 17-7 lead but were limited to 108 total yards in the second half and were held out of the end zone after halftime on a hot afternoon.
“It’s obviously very disappointing, no matter who you play or where you play,” said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock.
A two-year backup to Smith, Millard went 19 of 25 for 237 yards with no interceptions. He said getting the start “meant a lot.”
” I wasn’t nervous, just excited about the opportunity,” Millard said.
Millard was chosen over Florida State transfer Clint Trickett.
Holgorsen said the closer it got to Saturday’s game, “the communication between Paul and me was better – that is, his experience on seeing the signals and communicating them. Clint has more game experience, but without being able to experience it in our offense, I felt more comfortable with Paul out there.”
Millard completed his first eight passes and played West Virginia’s first three series. Trickett was ineffective in the next two series and West Virginia was held to 5 total yards in the second quarter.
Millard returned late in the first half and played the rest of the game, throwing a 69-yard touchdown pass to Ronald Carswell late in the third quarter that tied the score at 17-17.
A short punt gave West Virginia the ball at midfield with 7 minutes left. K.J. Myers caught a 15-yard pass from Millard at the William & Mary 16 but fumbled and Daikiel Shorts recovered for the Mountaineers.
Two carries by Sims moved the ball to the 2 and Smallwood bulled up the middle for the go-ahead score.
Darwin Cook intercepted Graham at the William & Mary 40 on the next series and West Virginia ran out the clock.
Despite its second-half troubles, several William & Mary running backs got into the open field, and wide receiver Tre McBride exposed the West Virginia secondary’s coverage weaknesses.
McBride had three catches for 108 yards. Cornerback Ishmael Banks and safety Karl Joseph were victims of long catches by McBride in the first half that set up Graham’s short TD pass to Darnell Laws and Graham’s scrambling 5-yard scoring run on third down.
McBride was wide open on a 40-yard catch late in the third quarter, but William & Mary couldn’t take advantage. John Carpenter missed a 42-yard field goal attempt.