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MONDAY MORNING QUARTERBACK: WVU has more work to do than previously thought

Most WVU Mountaineer football fans knew the 2019 football season was to be a work in progress, but for most of the first half in Saturday’s season opener matters looked even worse than we envisioned.

Despite forcing two turnovers West Virginia could do nothing to take advantage. James Madison sliced and diced the Mountaineer defense on an early scoring drive and was dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. WVU could not run the football and the passing game was ineffective.

But somehow the Mountaineers managed to get to halftime with only a 7-3 deficit, helped by a block of a short James Madison field goal attempt. Then as the second half began West Virginia gradually took control of the game. On the opening play wide receiver Tevin Bush grabbed a pass over the middle from quarterback Austin Kendall and turned it into a 41-yard gain. Kendall than hit transfer receiver George Campbell on a 28-yard touchdown pass for the home team’s first lead at 10-7.

After the teams traded field goals the key play of the game occurred early in the fourth quarter as the Dukes’ quarterback Ben DiNucci was flushed out of the pocket and his pass over the middle was intercepted by Keith Washington at the JMU 30. In just three plays Kendall hit Bush on a 22-yard score and West Virginia had a 20-10 lead. The Mountaineer defense then began to assert itself on the line of scrimmage, containing the Dukes running game and forcing five sacks as WVU held on for a hard fought 20-13 win.

What was a major concern to WVU coaches and fans was the complete inability of the Mountaineers to effectively run the football. West Virginia managed only 34 yards on 24 carries, easily the worst such rushing performance in recent memory. The longest run of the day was a paltry five yards. With absolutely no help running the ball and continually being faced with long yardage situations, the performance of Austin Kendall was certainly acceptable. He completed 27 of 42 attempts for 260 yards, playing with an inexperienced receiving corps which also had a few drops mixed in.

New head coach Neal Brown had to be relieved to get the first win under his belt, because he surely knows that there will be some bumpy roads ahead. The problems with the WVU offense, particularly the running game, will need to get sorted out and that will take time. There are too many good offenses in college football to win many games scoring 20 points.

THIS SATURDAY: WVU fans had a tense afternoon but at least had the satisfaction of a win. If you were a Missouri fan, however, last Saturday evening was a nightmare. The Tigers, who were 17 point favorites in a road game at Wyoming, took an easy 14-0 lead and then fell apart, suffering a 37-31 upset loss. Missouri is led by quarterback Kelly Bryant, who transferred from National Championship winner Clemson in the middle of last season after losing his starting job. This will be the home opener for the Mizzou folks, and don’t expect its team to play as poorly as it did Saturday. The Mountaineers’ work in progress hopefully will continue on the upward climb, but they will be underdogs on Saturday. MISSOURI 31 WEST VIRGINIA 20.

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