MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After his team not only lost to Kansas, but required two garbage-time scores to make a 31-19 final actually look presentable, Dana Holgorsen surmised that West Virginia’s defense “laid down” to an extent that affected the guys on the other side of the ball.
So much for compartmentalizing.
“Defensively, we didn’t play with very much energy,” Holgorsen said. “Our offense has relied on our defense all year, and when they saw the defense giving up points, I think our offense shook.”
To be fair, the offense had looked shaken before: Baltimore anyone? Manhattan? The spuh-spuh-sputtering last mile against Texas Tech? But a loss to Kansas—the ultimate shame these days—can leave a coach maddened and grasping at explanations that don’t necessarily fit.
With that, let’s lay down some evaluations of how West Virginia’s units performed Saturday in this, the “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” edition of the Monday Morning Stock Report:
Paul Millard finished 23-of-42 passing for 242 yards, but his turnover woes continued, highlighted by a point-blank interception he threw at 6-foot-3 Ben Goodman. The linebacker returned it 54 yards to the WVU 14 leading to a touchdown.
Millard’s second interception—and his fourth in two games—was spied by linebacker Ben Heeney, whose 28-yard return to the 1 led to another TD and a 31-7 Kansas lead.
While 50-mph gusts prohibited WVU from throwing downfield in the first and fourth quarters, Millard used the short game to be at his most productive during those two periods (15-of-24 for 136 yards). He led all three touchdown drives into the wind, two of those came in the final 6:24.
It’s a shame Charles Sims won’t be going to a bowl this season, considering he tops the Big 12 with 1,317 yards from scrimmage, leads running backs with 43 catches and ranks fifth in rushing (86 yards per game). He finished with 99 yards on 16 carries Saturday and made two catches for 27 yards. He had one score rushing and and receiving, tying him for the league lead with 12 touchdowns.
With Sims gone next season, watch for Wendell Smallwood to show similar versatility. The freshman, who leads WVU’s backs in yards per carry this season (5.9), ran for 33 yards on seven carries and made two catches for 42 yards at KU.
With the Jayhawks sporting the conference’s second-worst run defense, and with Millardone wonders why West Virginia didn’t stay with its ground game even more.
“There’s run plays that are called, and if (the defense) overloads, we throw the screen,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “That probably happened 12 or 14 times throughout this game.”
Former Kansas commitment Dreamius Smith had a ho-hum homecoming, with four carries for 12 yards.
Kevin White was flagged for holding and offensive pass interference, producing almost as many penalties (two) as he did catches (three). The big junior caught a 3-yard touchdown on a fade route but also had one of West Virginia’s three drops.
“I let one get off my hands,” he said. “We just didn’t come out fighting—special teams, offense and defense … especially offense. We make plays against Texas and we can’t make plays against Kansas. It’s just frustrating.”
While Daikiel Shorts made six grabs for 40 yards, he dropped a fourth-down pass at the KU 39 when things turned desperate in the third quarter. Jordan Thompson (three screen catches for 14 yards) also dropped a pass over the middle.
The standout of the group for the second straight week was Mario Alford (three reception for 76 yards), who broke two tackles on a 46-yarder. Vernon Davis, after making one catch all season (and it came on a Jet sweep), caught three passes for 20 yards, including a nice sideline catch.
While it wasn’t a horrible power-blocking performance for the offensive line (4.7 yards per carry), Charles Sims’ 27-yard run on the game’s first snap was the only big play the run game produced. Against a Kansas defense playing out the string, you’d expect more.
“Any week you can lose to any team. This is the Big 12—this ain’t the Big East anymore,” said senior center Pat Eger. “They outplayed us. Hats off to them. It sucks.”
Kansas generated two sacks—the first with a three-man rush that knocked WVU out of field-goal range; the second with a stunt that confused the line and nearly resulted in a safety. Those came during a string of 12 possessions when West Virginia didn’t dent the scoreboard.
Right tackle Curtis Feigt (sprained left knee) departed with about five minutes left in the half and did not return. His absence meant more snaps for Adam Pankey, who figures to be a starter next season. Pankey’s first snap Saturday, however, resulted in an illegal motion penalty.
Trouble was apparent from the Jayhawks’ opening snap, when James Sims gashed WVU for 11 yards up the middle. By afternoon’s end, the senior had 211 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 9.6 per carry. Kansas piled up 315 team rushing yards, reminiscent of the dominant ground games Oklahoma (316 yards) and Baylor (476 yards) enjoyed against the Mountaineers.
Will Clarke’s 10 tackles and two TFLs were a bright spot, but his missed one-on-one tackle led to Sims’ 62-yard second-quarter run off a read-option. “He had his arms around him. He’s bear-hugging him. Should have been a TFL. Got him wrapped up, doesn’t finish the play,” said WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson.
Kansas gave freshman quarterback Montell Cozart a manageable system, and WVU’s defensive front did little to disrupt it. He ran 13 times for 60 yards and had plenty of time to throw on the rare occasions he did.
“Those guys just flat-out came out and wanted it more than we did,” sid nose tackle Shaq Rowell. “Those guys knew we were playing for a bowl bid, and they said, ‘We’re going to take their bowl bid away.’ They’re not going to a bowl game so they spoiled our dreams too.”
When Kansas repeatedly ran the ball from four-receiver spread sets, WVU split linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Isaiah Bruce wide into coverage and left Tyler Anderson manning the middle. In those situations the senior Anderson, subbing for the injured Jared Barber, struggled to shed blocks.
But with 39 seconds left in the half, against a more conventional unbalanced KU run formation, Anderson and Kwiatkoski were in the middle and being blocked on what became Sims’ career-long 68-yard touchdown run. Kansas coach Charlie Weis admitted he ran the short toss to Sims in hopes of setting up a pre-half Hail Mary, never imagining the play would go the distance. “There was one play that we had from an unbalanced formation that I thought could get us a chunk (of yardage), and if we got a chunk, we’d call a timeout and try to go to the end zone,” Weis said. “The chunk was a lot bigger chunk than I was expecting.”
The same feeling engulfed a miffed Patterson: “It’s just letting your guard down.”
Kwiatkoski finished with eight tackles and a fumble recovery, the third straight week he has factored in a turnover. Bruce had four tackles (but missed two), while Buck linebacker Brandon Golson was neutralized with only one stop. Golson’s backup, true freshman Marvin Gross, made one tackle, dropping Cozart for a 7-yard loss on an option keeper.