Despite starting off with a sluggish first half, West Virginia rolled to a 38-17 win over Kansas this weekend, falling just shy of our predicted 40-17 win. Milan Puskar Stadium allowed fans in the stands–at 25% capacity–for the first time this season. And the Mountaineers welcome fans with a win over the Jayhawks.
West Virginia’s Defense Is Legit
The story of the game begins on the defensive side of the ball. After surrendering ten points in the first quarter, the Mountaineers’ defense held strong the final 54 minutes. They gave up no further scores–and barely any yards–by the Kansas offense after that. Kansas’ Pooka Williams–seemingly frustrated by his lack of offensive line play–took matters into his own hands on special teams with less than two minutes left by returning a kickoff for a touchdown. But the defense itself only surrendered a field goal and touchdown.
Indeed, after those first two drives–on which Kansas managed 63 total yards of offense–the defense stiffened and allowed only 94 more yards. In total, the Mountaineers held Kansas to a season-low 157 yards–62 on the ground and 95 through the air. As for Kansas’ talented backfield, the Mountaineers held Velton Gardner to 45 yards and Williams to 21 yards.
The Mountaineers also forced two turnovers. Alonzo Addae added an interception to his total. And Darius Stills demonstrates plus-athleticism for a defensive lineman with this diving interception in the second quarter.
🚨 BIG MAN INTERCEPTION 🚨
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 17, 2020
True freshman Akheem Mesidor, who we talked up as a defensive surprise and applauded when he signed as a potential playmaker, had sacks on back-to-back plays. Jeffery Pooler added two sacks, and Jared Bartlett added another. The Mountaineers’ defense definitely welcomed fans back home.
Ground And Pound Continues
From the moment of his arrival, Head Coach Neal Brown sought to instill a blue collar mentality driven by defense and a power run game. The identity of that team seems clear through four games. The Mountaineers now average 177 rushing yards per game (while averaging just north of 70 last season), and Leddie Brown, one of our predicted offensive surprises, rumbled for 195 rushing yards and a touchdown. He added 36 more through the air and another touchdown.
In fact, after an anemic first quarter, the West Virginia offense turned to Brown routinely in the second quarter, helping the Mountaineers rip off 38 unanswered points. Brown acted as a calming influence on the offense, and this took pressure off of Jarret Doege, who had no answer for the pressure the Jayhawks through at him early.
For those who favor blunt assessments, we should make this clear. Doege looked shaken the entire first half. Not all of that lies on his shoulders. The Mountaineer receivers still have a major problem with drops. Sam James dropped four (4) passes in the first half. Bryce Ford-Wheaton dropped another. But Doege also struggled to make good reads at times. He also failed to consistently make easy throws through the first two-and-a-half quarters. And while Doege did complete some downfield throws, a point of emphasis for this game, other deep passes floated more than they should have.
West Virginia has also struggled with penalties in conference play. In two straight games, the Mountaineers amassed 12 penalties for over 100 yards. Things looked better on the stat sheet against Kansas. Referees only assessed eight penalties for 76 yards. Thus, the team technically “improved” in this arena, but they still have a lot to clean up.
Mountaineers Welcome Fans With Win
After a shaky first quarter, the Mountaineers rumbled. In fact, after yielding the first 10 points to Kansas, the Mountaineers scored 38 straight. And while the Jayhawks closed the gap on a late-game kickoff return by Williams, West Virginia closed the game without issue. And, like that, with solid defense and a stellar running day by Brown, the Mountaineers welcomed fans back home with a win.