After a disappointing 0-2 start, West Virginia traveled to Blacksburg for the second of a home-and-home series against rival Virginia Tech. Last season, WVU eked out a win over Virginia Tech in Morgantown. This year, they left no doubt, leaving Blacksburg with a convincing 33-10 win. Like that, the Mountaineers defend the Black Diamond Trophy, keeping it home until the next time these two rivals play.
Mountaineers Defend the Black Diamond Trophy
Overcoming Slow Start
Not only did the Mountaineers overcome a slow start to the season, but they also overcame a sluggish start against the Hokies. The teams traded punts to start the game. Then, the Mountaineers found themselves pinned down at the one-yard line. West Virginia mounted a methodical 92-yard drive that stalled in the red zone, but they found three points to take the early lead.
The Hokies, however, returned serve with their own drive, helped by several chunk plays through the air. Virginia Tech capped the drive with a Grant Wells touchdown strike to Kaleb Smith for 28 yards. Shortly into the second quarter, the Hokies took a 7-3 lead. The Mountaineers fumbled on the ensuing drive but the defense held the Hokies on downs. The teams then traded punts before WVU made a second field goal to pull within one.
After forcing a punt on the next drive where the Hokies were trying to take a final score into halftime with possession in the second half, the Mountaineers flipped the script. On a six-play, 70-yard drive, West Virginia punched it into the end zone for the first time with seconds left in the half on a dart throw by J.T. Daniels to Sam James. West Virginia carried that 13-7 lead into halftime.
Defense Picks up the Pace
After giving up 155 yards in the first half (and blowing a few coverages that Wells couldn’t take advantage of), the Mountaineer defense picked up the pace in the second half. Indeed, they gave up just 88 yards and a field goal in the final two quarters. The secondary, helped by the solid play of freshman Jacolby Spells, settled in and gave Wells trouble. This shift in coverage strength allowed the defensive line to take over as well. Indeed, in the fourth quarter, they gave up just 42 yards, and Spells sealed the game with a pick-six with just under ten minutes to play.
Some critical stats show just how well the defense played once they settled in. The Hokies converted just 20% of their third-down attempts, and they went zero-for-two on fourth-down attempts. In total, the Hokies managed just 14 first downs, the vast majority of which came in the first half. The Hokies also averaged just four-and-a-half yards per play on offense.
Impressively, the Mountaineers held the Hokies to just 35 rushing yards for 1.9 yards per attempt. Through the air, the Hokies fared a little better with 193 yards. That said, Wells completed only 46% of his passes. True to his season average, Wells managed a touchdown and an interception.
Offensive Line Wears Hokies Defense Down
Through the first half, the Hokies’ defense looked sound, holding the high-octane Mountaineer offense to just 13 points. While they also scored just 13 points in the second half, they also played with a significant lead in the fourth, particularly after Spells expanded the lead. The Mountaineers only had three non-game-ending drives in the second half, and they moved the ball at will scoring on all three drives. They held the ball for over 20 of the final 30 minutes.
The Mountaineers saw production from some different faces, too. Not surprisingly, CJ Donaldson ran for 106 yards. Justin Johnson, on the other hand, scored one of WVU’s two offensive touchdowns and ran for seven-and-a-half yards per carry. Kaden Prather led all Mountaineer receivers with 69 yards. Mike O’Laughlin caught three of his four targets (the other being a dropped touchdown) for 33 yards. The Mountaineers’ leading receiver, Bryce Ford-Wheaton caught three passes for just 23 yards.
Indeed, West Virginia proved how diverse its offense can be. The Hokies focused heavily on their key weapon, but the Mountaineers found more than enough production elsewhere. Daniels finished with 203 yards and a score while completing 67% of his passes.
Moving on to Texas
Next week, West Virginia travels to Texas with a few extra days of practice (or rest). They carry some momentum into Austin, but they will face their toughest test of the season. However, as long as the young secondary continues to grow and the offensive line continues its solid play from the last two games (giving up just two sacks and paving the way to over six yards per carry), West Virginia has a fighter’s chance. Texas, however, is not likely to help the Mountaineers nearly as much as Virginia Tech did (the Hokies racked up 132 penalty yards to both extend West Virginia drives and halt their own). The margin for error, then, will clearly be much smaller. For now, though, enjoy the win over a hated rival Mountaineer fans. After all, you just watched the Mountaineers defend the Black Diamond Trophy.