MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: WVU scores big road W
While a few elite programs are able to overwhelm weaker teams by the force of sheer talent, for everyone else winning college football games on the road is very difficult, even against lesser opposition. That certainly was the case Saturday as West Virginia came away with a hard fought 29-24 win at Kansas.
We all know that in close games the difference between winning and losing are often the little things that teams do or don’t do. While the Mountaineers remain far from a good college football team, in wins in three of their first four games they have more often made winning plays than losing ones.
For two straight games, West Virginia has not turned the ball over. In fact, it was the Mountaineers who created a Jayhawk turnover in the fourth quarter on a leaping interception by Keith Washington, which allowed WVU to then drive 51 yards for a score to take control of the game.
Clock management was evident. Late in the first half West Virginia took possession at its own 29 yard line with just 49 seconds remaining yet was able to run 8 plays leading to a field goal to take a 10-7 halftime lead. After the fourth quarter interception with still 10:40 remaining, it was apparent that head coach Neal Brown was looking ahead as the offense patiently worked the clock by using nearly six minutes before scoring a touchdown that gave the Mountaineers a two score lead with just five minutes remaining.
While penalty yardage was a problem the previous week against North Carolina State that issue was substantially addressed on Saturday with only five WVU penalties on the day, none of which were personal fouls, unsportsmanlike conduct, or other egregious mental errors which can sometimes lead to losses in close games.
Special teams play, upon which competitive games can often turn, were again solid. While placekicker Evan Staley missed his first field goal attempt against a stiff wind, he converted his remaining three kicks on the day. Punter Josh Growden averaged 41 yards on his four punts, none of which were returned.
For the second consecutive game the Mountaineers have found a way to establish a reliable rushing attack. While good quarterback play and passing yardage are important for any offense, there are times in games that a team needs to line up and be able to effectively run the football, control the clock and maintain time of possession. On the final 51 yard fourth quarter drive to clinch the win WVU ran 11 plays, of which 10 were runs. By the time Martell Pettaway found the end zone for the second time, West Virginia had run 81 offensive plays at that point of the game to just 40 for Kansas. And while the final five minutes gave some harrowing moments for Mountaineer fans, the end result was still a win.
A look at the schedule tells us that the remaining opponents are all likely better than the one the Mountaineers were able to defeat on Saturday, so expectations must remain realistic. But at least if West Virginia is able to keep doing the little things that make a difference we can have some hope of positive outcomes. Frankly in recent seasons in close games that hasn’t always been the case.
WVU is off this coming Saturday, and will next welcome the Texas Longhorns to Morgantown on October 5th.