(Photo Courtesy of wvusports.com)
The WVU defense came to ready to play against Kansas State in the first half. Two interceptions in the first three drives helped the Mountaineers control the game early. Kansas State quarterback Will Howard’s inaccuracy was on full display as Nicktroy Fortune and Sean Mahone both came up with turnovers early. It was a slower start for the offense as Evan Staley missed a 51 yard field goal and then connected on a 19 yard try on the next possession. A couple golden opportunities off turnovers wasted. The sloppy play kept the game tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Kansas State opened the second quarter with a 52 yard field goal miss. The offense then started to find their groove with three straight touchdown drives. Jarret Doege was able to buy enough time to find Bryce Ford-Wheaton on a 58 yard toss to setup an Ali Jennings 5 yard TD reception. A 32 yard connection between Doege and TJ Simmons setup Leddie Brown’s 9 yard touchdown run. And finally, Alec Sinkfield found room on a 36 yard scamper to setup Winston Wright’s 15 yard touchdown grab. This left the Mountaineers with a 24-3 lead with a little over 3 minutes left in the half. A defensive breakdown in the secondary allowed the Wildcats to tack on a late touchdown to close the gap 24-10 at halftime.
The second half brought more of the same from these two teams. Kansas State gained just 63 yards on 4 second half possessions. The results were three punts and an interception returned for a touchdown by WVU. Casey Legg replaced Evan Staley at kicker after Staley’s injury and was able to knock through a 48 yard field goal to open the half. Then, Dylan Tonkery read the screen pass perfectly and snatched the tipped ball out of the air and returned it 20 yards to paydirt. West Virginia forced the Wildcats into 3 straight punts and just 50 total yards on the next 3 possessions.
The Mountaineers were able to control the clock and keep the chains moving on some key third downs. WVU had an uncharacteristically good day on third down converting 9 of 18 attempts, adding 1 conversion on 2 fourth down attempts. The Mountaineers held the ball for over 34 minutes in the game and outgained Kansas State 485-220. Penalties got cleaned up this week with only 5 for 50 yards. Complimentary football was played at its finest this afternoon in Morgantown and that saw a 37-10 win against a nationally ranked opponent.
The key takeaway from the game was the inability of WVU’s edge offensive lineman winning their one on one battles. This has plagued the offense all season. Doege has had a small pocket to work with but that pocket has quickly collapsed from the outside, making it difficult to extend plays. Toward the middle of the first half, Neal Brown and Gerad Parker made the adjustment to use tight ends more and help the edge that led to bigger plays and touchdowns rather than field goals. They’ve made a similar adjustment in almost every game this season and it seems like something that might need to stick around for the offense to continue having success.
Last week I said Jarret Doege played his best game as a Mountaineer. He upped that this week. 22-34 for 301 yards and 2 TD’s. Most importantly, no interceptions. Doege wasn’t completely clean in the pocket but instead of aimlessly trying to extend plays and getting sacked, he smartly threw the ball in the stands when necessary. Receivers helped him out this week by catching more balls than usual. Ford-Wheaton still dropped a TD pass for Doege, but it turned out to not be a huge factor in the outcome. If Doege can be this solid going forward, this WVU team will take the next step before we know it.
Running back: B
I knew it would be tougher sledding in the run game against this Wildcats defense. That showed in Leddie Brown’s yards per carry. Just over 4 yards per carry is still acceptable, but below his season average. 102 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown for the cherry on top. It was another solid day for the Doak Walker Award candidate and an even bigger day for the spell back Alec Sinkfield. 85 yards on 14 carries including an offense opening 36 yard scamper in the first half that led to a touchdown minutes later. The backs just continue to be the most consistent play of this team and something we won’t have to worry about this season.
Coincidentally to Doege’s performance, the receivers had their best game of 2020 also. Or is that not coincidentally? The success of one will help the success of the other. Either way, the drops were fewer, receivers were open sometimes, and some tough catches were even made. Winston Wright keeps his rightful spot atop the consistency board with 4 grabs and a TD. Most promising, Ford-Wheaton was able to pull in a few deeper shots that saw him go over 100 yards for the first time this year. Seeing this unit improve is a relief, but hopefully this trend continues and gets them to a C rating in weeks to come.
Offensive Line: C
There’s no doubt this offensive line is better than last season’s. That can be seen in the rushing stats for the Mountaineer offense. The tackles are holding this group back from making this unit consistently improve. Neither Yates nor Hughes can hold a block for 3 seconds to give Doege a chance to step up and get deliver the ball on time and target. WVU has done a great job game plan wise to work around this with a heavier run attack and quick hitter throws. Eventually, the tackles will have to hold up to win a close game and this will be the next improvement mark for this group.
Defensive Line: A
It’s always tough to keep a mobile quarterback bottled up. Akheem Messidor, Jeffrey Pooler, and the Stills did just this and more. Will Howard totaled -9 yards rushing today. Yes that takes sacks into account but for a guy averaging 4.6 yards per carry entering this game, that’s called being held in check. No, I take that back. That’s called domination. Dare I say the best defensive line in the country?
While the defensive line took care of the quarterback run option, the linebackers absolutely stuffed Deuce Vaughn. 9 carries for 22 yards made the Wildcats’ leading rusher virtually a non-factor and force Howard to win this game with his arm. That’s just not Howard’s style of play. He won’t win games with his arm very often. Tony Fields led the team with 15 tackles, showing up literally everywhere. Jared Bartlett added 5 more and a sack. Dylan Tonkery also scored a touchdown. Great day for the backers.
Defensive Backs: B
There’s opportunistic, then there’s flat out playmaking. Today the secondary did the latter. Two interceptions in the first three possessions for this group flashed the playmaking ability they all possess. They were also inches away from a few more. A late coverage breakdown in the first half put a touchdown on the board with a pass over the top. All in all, holding the quarterback to 51% completion percentage, 184 yards and 3 interceptions is an exceptional day at the office. Letter bump for the coverage breakdown.
Special Teams: C
Evan Staley, while he probably shouldn’t have been sent out to kick the 51 yarder, still isn’t reliable outside of 30 yards. You never like to see a guy go down, but with Staley’s injury, WVU might have a new starting kicker in Casey Legg. Legg connected on both of his field goal attempts, one from 45 yards and just seems to be more consistent looking. On the punting side, Kolton McGhee didn’t wow anyone with a 38 yard average and none downed inside the 20. The kickoff coverage unit gave up another big return for 46 yards. The whole unit just seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe some personnel changes will help out with this.
Offensive Player of the Game: Jarret Doege
Jarret Doege is settling into being the veteran on this team and making veteran plays. He’s no longer forcing things, creating turnovers, and is just trying to take what is given to him. Throwing for over 300 yards in his third straight game is impressive given the receiving corps he has to throw to. With the mistakes being made at a minimum currently, Doege is showing just why Neal Brown has kept him as the leader of this team. His stability will pay dividends late in the season.
Defensive Player of the Game: Tony Fields
Tony Fields returned after being ejected for targeting against Texas Tech. I think he made up for the time missed in that game. 15 tackles covers the other 6 or so he may have missed last week and increases his team lead in tackles. Even if he doesn’t return next year, we may be talking about this guy as one of, if not the best transfer gets in WVU history. He’s been that good. He will be the heartbeat of what this defense can accomplish against some higher powered offenses in the gauntlet coming up on the schedule.
The Mountaineers will travel to Austin to take on Texas next Saturday. Game time has yet to be announced. The Longhorns play Oklahoma State this afternoon.