WVU finally pulls away from KU, 56-34
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Veteran West Virginia University head football coach Dana Holgorsen left Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon with a partial smile on his face.
His Mountaineers (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) held off the host Jayhawks of Kansas (1-3, 0-1 Big 12), 56-34, and his team will have a week off before taking to the airways again when they pay a visit to No. 16 TCU – a 44-31 winner over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday — in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 7.
“Glad to get out of here with a win,” explained the seventh year leader of the Old Gold and Blue. “We looked good at times and we looked bad at times.
“We had guys going down left and right. That’s no excuse because we expect the next guy to step up and do the job. But, the bye week comes along at a good time. So, we can get these guys healthy.”
Already without the services of sophomore linebacker David Long, who just returned to practice last week after suffering a knee injury over the summer, and redshirt junior defensive back Toyous Avery, WVU fans, players and coaches had to wonder if the injury bug was going to plague the defense all season when senior safety Kyzir White went down late in the first quarter.
“Getting 11 (David Long) back and going is gonna help. Not playing with #8 (Kyzir White) a lot hurts. And, getting 16 (Toyous Avery) back is going to help. Take those three out and you’re replacing them with freshmen.”
Two of those freshmen – Morgantown’s Dylan Tonkery and Florida’s Lamonte McDougle – combined for one of the biggest plays of the young season.
With Kansas trailing by 15, 49-34, and still plenty of time remaining (5:16) and a Jawhawk offense which was shredding a porous Mountaineer defense, McDougle recorded his first forced fumble of the year when he got to KU’s Peyton Bender.
Tonkery was Johnny-on-the-spot for the Old Gold and Blue, pouncing on the loose ball at the KU 31 to allow the visitors to tally their seventh, and final, touchdown of the game – a 3-yard run by junior quarterback Will Grier.
It was the second turnover of the game for the hosts on an afternoon where the KU offense piled up 564 yards of total offense – 375 rushing – and kept the WVU defense on its heels from the opening kickoff.
Senior Al-Rasheed Benton picked off his first pass of the season on KU’s next possession to end any hope of a miracle finish.
“They (KU) played a real good game in the third,” added Holgorsen. “Give them a lot of credit. The momentum was on their side. We needed something to get the momentum back and that happened when our offense started clicking again in the fourth and our defense started making some plays.”
For the fourth game in a row senior running back Justin Crawford eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark and Grier, who completed 25-of-39 attempts for two touchdowns and one interception, passed for more than 300 yards.
“It feels good,” junior wide receiver David Sills Jr. explained. “You can’t take any team in the Big 12 for granted.”
Sills was again Grier’s favorite target as the duo hooked up eight times for 130 yards and a pair of scores while sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy came off his one-game suspension to add 105 yards and two six-pointers on 12 carries.
All that offense, however, was needed as the Jayhawks’ sophomore running back Khalil Herbert, who came into the game averaging 49 yards per game, ripped through the Mountaineer prevent unit for 291 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries.
“Too many missed tackles,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “And, there were times when our freshmen played like freshmen and our backups played like backups.
“We just never did get comfortable out there. We didn’t do a good job of adjusting when they overloaded one side or the other and we weren’t disciplined in our pursuit. There were just too many times when their guy would cut back and we had nobody there to tackle him or if we did, we’d miss.”