Mountaineers face off against ECU Pirates

West Virginia wide receiver Gary Jennings celebrates his touchdown in the second half of an NCAA college football game Sunday against Virginia Tech in Landover, Md. (AP Photo)

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia (0-1) and East Carolina (0-1) enter Saturday’s noon showdown at Milan Puskar Stadium with one goal in mind – the running game.

“James Madison (who beat ECU 34-14) is a very good opponent,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “If you watch their tape, that is a very good team. Especially when we play them next year too. That is a great opponent that they played in the first week. You look at it in that game, they have a little different mentality than what they were last year. You can tell that they are doing things a little differently on the perimeter.

“Their front is still schematically about the same. James Madison hit some big plays where guys got out of their fits, which I would expect to be corrected this week from East Carolina coming in. The main thing that I always tell the team is that it has got to be about us. We have to focus on doing what we do. We are going to attempt to run the ball and then Will (Grier) is going to take what they give him on the perimeter. We are going into this game with the mindset of trying to compete and do what we do.”

The Mountaineers experienced limited success in their season opening 31-24 loss to No. 18 Virginia Tech. Senior Justin Crawford rushed for 106 yards on only 13 carries, but was unable to break loss from the Hokies prevent unit and get into the end zone.

WVU ran the ball 35 times and gained 221 yards (6.3 ypc).

Conversely, the Pirates surrendered 422 yards on the ground in their season-opening game.

“A quick recap of the JMU game, it was what I thought it was on tape,” explained ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery. “Our first time starters at all spots struggled. I’ve got to do a better job, me personally, of managing our emotions before and during the game.

“The number that stands out is 422 to 80 – our rushing yards on offense versus the rushing yards we allowed. Overall, it was a poor performance. The lack of our run game on offense and poor red zone efficiency really started from the beginning.”

And, the second-year leader of the Pirates is expecting more of the same when ECU takes on the Mountaineers for the first time since the 2009 campaign.

“West Virginia presents a new challenge on offense and they are led by Will Grier,” continued Montgomery. “People around here are familiar with the last name and running back Justin Crawford, who is probably one of the most elusive and strongest backs we have seen over the last couple of years.

“He (Grier) is a really, really good football player and he has an array of weapons out there on the perimeter as well.”

And, it doesn’t end there for ECU as Spavital also can call upon the services of Martell Pettaway (2-19), and Kennedy McKoy (8-50) and Grier put his running ability on display in the opener (11-52) behind an offensive front with three first time starters.

“There were a lot of unknowns going into this game, especially with Matt Jones, it being his first career start,” added the offensive coordinator. “He hadn’t played very much the previous year. I thought collectively they did a great job. Going into the game the plan was to move the pocket I didn’t think that we were going to hold up very much in protection. Throughout the course of the game, protection was great. We had two sacks, which were some freaky things that they fell into. They twisted up front and Matt got up to the wrong level and they ended up getting a sack. That’s going to happen, especially when you are snapping it that many times a game. I was pleased with how the o-line was playing, they had a physical edge.

“When Grant (Lingafelter) went down Josh Sills went in and I thought that kid played tremendously well given the circumstances. I am very pleased for the o-line. I told them that “championship teams have to continue to improve“. They can’t let that first game be the best ball that they play all year. They have to continually improve or we won’t be playing our best ball at the end of the season. They responded to that challenge and they are ready to get back to work. This group is very excited to get back out and play right now. Saturday can’t come fast enough for these guys. They want to get out there and keep building on what they started the first week.”

*WVU is 97-19-6 all-time in home openers/32-4-1 in Milan Puskar Stadium season openers/7-0 this decade/6-0 under Dana Holgorsen.

*Quarterback Will Grier threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns against VT, marking the most yards thrown by a quarterback in their WVU debut.

*Nine Mountaineers earned their first career start against the Hokies.

*WVU holds an 18-3 edge in the series which began in 1970.