MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: Stepping back from the cliff
After a disastrous outing at Missouri two Saturdays ago, WVU football fans were already at the edge of the cliff believing we were looking into the abyss of a long suffering season. It is indeed human nature for fans to overreact to a single performance of our teams, and most of us were no exception.
But behind the scenes in Morgantown, something different was happening. A group of players and coaches didn’t hang their heads but instead were determined to get better. And the result was an unexpected, but resounding 44-27 upset of North Carolina State on Saturday.
Although the Mountaineers started the game well, with 3:13 remaining in the first half N.C. State owned a 21-14 lead, and there was an uncomfortable feeling this one was soon to get away. But the Mountaineers responded with a 62-yard scoring drive to tie the game at the half, and then on their first possession of the third quarter followed with another 89-yard drive which began at their own 5 after a botched kickoff return attempt. The resulting field goal gave WVU a lead it never relinquished.
Two other key sequences were important to securing the victory. A blocked punt set up a short field which West Virginia converted into another touchdown to take a 10-point lead. Then after a Wolfpack interception deep in Mountaineer territory, the defense rose up to hold them to a field goal to prevent what otherwise could have been a huge momentum swing.
Even with three new starters at guard and center, West Virginia found a way to successfully run the ball, particularly on the perimeter. After averaging 1.1 yard per carry in their first two games, the Mountaineers gained 173 on 28 rushing attempts. Quarterback Austin Kendall also was steady and made enough good plays to enable WVU to put 44 points on the board. Redshirt freshman Sam James had a breakout game at receiver with 155 yards on 9 receptions. Overall it was a rude welcome to former WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson who now shares the same role with the Wolfpack.
While last week fans sheepishly identified punter Josh Growden as the outstanding player of the game, he again deserves mention as he contributed with four punts pinning the Wolfpack inside their 20-yard line. Overall special teams play was solid. On defense the Mountaineers held N.C. State to just 6 points in the second half after relinquishing three first half touchdowns, an encouraging sign
One upset win doesn’t mean that WVU has turned a corner, as there are many difficult roadblocks ahead.
But it was encouraging to see this team come out and play with confidence and energy after being embarrassed the previous week, and to actually get stronger as the game progressed.
We have seen too much of the opposite on occasion in recent years.
THIS SATURDAY: The Kansas Jayhawks have been one of the worst programs in major college football for several years, and even after making a high profile coaching hire this season in Les Myles things still looked grim after a home loss to Coastal Carolina. But last Friday as a three touchdown underdog they shocked Boston College 48-24 in an impressive performance. It was the first road win by Kansas over a Power Five opponent in 11 years, spanning 48 games.
So suddenly the Jayhawks are both hungry and confident, and will be fired up for their conference opener this Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.
The Mountaineers will have their hands full. WEST VIRGINIA 31 KANSAS 23.