MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get in a season opener. There’s good, there’s bad and even a couple things that make you wonder how they got in there in the first place.
Upon reviewing West Virginia’s 20-13 win over James Madison to begin the 2019 campaign, the following items stuck out.
Blake Seiler brought the fundamental soundness of Bill Snyder’s special teams units from Manhattan to Morgantown.
JMU return man D’Angelo Amos was the Devin Hester of his level last year, returning three punts for touchdowns, two of which were in playoff games. Punter Josh Growden and the cover team neutralized him. Amos was only able to return two punts for 4 yards, and of course muffed one that was bounced on by Exree Loe.
Darius Stills shot untouched through a gap to block a chip-shot field goal with relative ease. One gets the feeling this won’t be the only time the Mountaineers block a kick this season.
The only minus here was Evan Staley’s missed 49-yard field goal, though even that was acceptable in its own way. Staley put enough leg in his kick that it would have been good from 60 had he kept it straight.
Kwantel Raines forced fumble
The first turnover of the season was a product of all-around sound defense.
Spear Kwantel Raines wasn’t going for the strip. He made a perfect form tackle, and in the process of wrapping up JMU running back Percy Agyei-Obese his right hand knocked the ball ajar. West Virginia recovered because there were another three Mountaineers going in for the gang tackle. If Dylan Tonkery hadn’t picked up the ball, another Mountaineer would have.
George Campbell’s first touchdown
Campbell was subbed into the game after Sam James was called for a false start. That alone is a positive, sending a message that mindless errors won’t be tolerated in a room that’s now deep enough for substitutions.
Matched in press coverage against the top cornerback in the FCS, Campbell made a single juke at the line of scrimmage before blowing past Rashad Robinson for an easy touchdown reception. On that play alone, you saw a flash of what made Campbell a 5-star recruit in high school. He could end up getting on the field a lot more than the 16 snaps he saw Saturday.
Deamonte Lindsay’s pressure
Keith Washington’s game-changing interception doesn’t happen without Will linebacker Deamonte Lindsay flustering Dukes quarterback Ben DiNucci into rolling out of the pocket and making a Jay Cutleresque decision to throw into heavy coverage.
Lindsay only played three snaps on defense, which figures to frequently be the case when he’s stuck behind budding star Josh Chandler. Vic Koenning will be able to get increasingly creative this year if he can trust his role players to come up big in moments like this.
Wide receiver blocks spring Bush
Tevin Bush’s first catch of the season was on a slant that might have resulted in a first down and little more if he didn’t have some help from his friends.
After Bush makes the catch crossing the middle of the field, receiver T.J. Simmons is able to provide enough of a screen on JMU linebacker Bryce Maginley for Bush to move upfield. Near the end of the run, Sean Ryan’s block along the sidelines opens up an additional 15 yards for Bush to turn the play into a 41-yard gain.
Kelby Wickline, pass-blocker
According to Pro Football Focus, the Mountaineers right tackle was one of the best pass-blockers in the Power Five this weekend. Wickline did not allow a pressure in 45 dropbacks.
Most pass-blocking snaps without surrendering a pressure in Week 1 (Power-5 tackles):
Samuel Cosmi, Texas – 47
Coy Cronk, Indiana – 46
Liam Ryan, Washington State – 45
Kelby Wickline, WVU – 45
Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon – 45
— Cam Mellor (@PFF_Cam) September 1, 2019
The Most Underappreciated Play of the Game
Brown correctly identified the three most important plays of the game — Washington’s interception, Bush’s reception to open the second half after the offense stagnated in the first half, and Stills’ blocked field goal.
But there’s another play that belongs in the same company.
On third-and-goal in the third quarter, Mountaineers cornerback Hakeem Bailey batted down a would-be touchdown pass intended for Dukes tight end Dylan Stapleton. JMU had beaten Bailey for a long gain earlier in the possession and decided to go back to the well. Even though Stapleton had a step on Bailey, the senior corner used his speed to close the gap and knock the ball to the turf.
Instead of taking the lead, James Madison settled for a short game-tying field goal.
Passing game hiccups
West Virginia’s passing attack was good enough to make up for for an absentee running game (more on that shortly), but it could have been even better.
The timing was usually off when the Mountaineers tried to go deep as Austin Kendall twice overthrew Sam James on potential touchdown passes. But if you’re going to misfire against man-to-man coverage, missing long is a lot less problematic than missing short. Both Kendall and Brown attributed the overthrows to the excitement of playing a full game for the first time in four years.
The Mountaineers also had more drops than they would have liked, with James’ drop of a game-clinching first down being the one that potentially would have stung the most.
Until we see more of this team, these can be chalked up as fixable first-game kinks.
Kelby Wickline, run-blocker
Everyone on the West Virginia offensive line left something to be desired in a game where the Mountaineers managed a paltry 34 yards on 24 carries. But even in that company, Wickline’s performance stuck out like an Amish DJ.
A laundry list of rough moments:
- On a second-and-8 in the first quarter, JMU defensive end Ron’Dell Carter relentlessly outworks Wickline despite giving up 80 pounds. Running back Kennedy McKoy has no chance and is tackled for a 2-yard loss.
- On the first offensive play following Darius Stills’ blocked field goal, Wickline jumps out of his stance for a false start after a West Virginia receiver goes into motion.
- Facing a third-and-2 near midfield, Kendall tries to draw the Dukes offside. Instead, Wickline is the one who jumps, creating a far less-manageable third down.
- West Virginia faces third-and-1 on its first possession of the fourth quarter. Carter uses his speed to blow past Wickline and tackle Martell Pettaway for a 1-yard loss.
- Later on that drive, Matt Moore gives Wickline some help by placing tight end Jovani Haskins next to him. It doesn’t matter. JMU linebacker Bryce Maginley avoids Haskins and goes to Wickline’s inside shoulder, wrapping up McKoy for a 3-yard loss.
- West Virginia has a second-and-2 on the second play after Washington’s interception. The Mountaineers feed McKoy again, but it goes for no gain because Wickline flat-out misses JMU linebacker Dmitri Holloway. Fortunately, that miscue is erased when Kendall hits Bush for a 22-yard touchdown on the next play.
Wickline’s performance creates a conundrum. He’s too valuable to the passing game to be benched, but was also too much of a liability for the Mountaineers to reliably run the ball to the right side.
Wickline is capable of playing better. Without his effort in place of Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia does not beat Texas last season. For this season to exceed expectations, the Mountaineers need to see more games like that out of him. At this time, no one behind him is up to the task yet.
The good news for Wickline and WVU is that upcoming opponent Missouri allowed 299 rushing yards in a 37-31 Week 1 loss at Wyoming. If ever there were a place to get well soon, Columbia, Mo. appears to be it.