MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It wasn’t over before it started, but it did not take long for it to be finished.
Texas Tech’s early scoring outburst effectively ended things at Milan Puskar Stadium before halftime Saturday afternoon, while West Virginia’s red zone ineptitude assured that all of the Red Raiders’ early work was enough to get the job done.
The Red Raiders (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) were up 25 points less than two minutes into the second quarter, cruising to an eventual 38-17 win over a listless West Virginia team. The Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5) have lost five in a row and would have to win out to reach a bowl game.
“Matt [Wells] had his guys ready to go,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “We’ve got to be better. Period. We have to make plays when it’s time to make plays. We just didn’t do it.”
That’s an understatement.
The ultimate example of not making a play took place with West Virginia down 21-3 late in the first quarter.
On a fourth down play when Texas Tech jarred the ball loose from WVU quarterback Austin Kendall, every single one of his teammates jogged off the field under the assumption it was an incompletion and turnover on downs.
It was a turnover, alright – a fumble recovered by Texas Tech’s Eli Howard. Though he was standing 18 yards from the line of scrimmage, the defensive end was aware enough to secure the ball because the whistle had never blown.
Texas Tech scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, as it did each of the first five times it touched the ball.
Brown didn’t sense such a poor performance coming through the past week of practice, as coaches sometimes can.
“This wasn’t a deal where guys checked out,” Brown said. “We didn’t have great practices, but they weren’t poor. That wasn’t it. Was I worried how we would bounce back [from Baylor]? Absolutely.
“Fragile is the word I used with our staff. It’s fragile because you’re playing with so many young people. Sometimes they’re getting exposed in front of a big stage, and that’s the first time that’s ever happened to them.”
The numbers did not provide an accurate gauge of West Virginia’s performance.
The Mountaineers outgained the Red Raiders 549-481, but never came close on the scoreboard due to multiple red zone woes. West Virginia’s first five trips inside Texas Tech’s 20-yard line resulted in a feeble 3 points. WVU turned the ball over on downs three times while Austin Kendall was also picked off on an ill-advised flea flicker.
“We didn’t do a very good job inside the 20,” Brown said. “If you get into a scoring match, you have to score in the red zone.”
One play in particular best summed up West Virginia’s day in the red zone.
Facing a fourth-and-goal and a 35-10 deficit on WVU’s first drive of the second half, Brown understandably elected to go for it. The play would have worked, too, had wide receiver Ali Jennings and tight end Jovani Haskins not collided in the back of the end zone.
Both players were open, but Haskins ran the wrong route and straight into Jennings.
Record game feels hollow to James
Sam James had one of the most productive days for a wide receiver in West Virginia history, but he’s far more frustrated by how much he left on the turf.
James had 14 catches, ranking No. 2 all-time in program history behind Kevin White’s 16-catch game against Texas in 2014. His 223 yards marked the fourth-best showing in West Virginia history, where Stedman Bailey’s 303-yard game against Baylor in 2012 remains atop the chart.
James could have broken both records if not for his five drops.
“I’m frustrated,” James said. “I know what I could have done, and I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to me.”
James, like every other wide receiver, had to catch 500 balls from the JUGS machine this week.
“It’s attention to detail,” James said. “The drops, that’s a lack of focus. I wasn’t focusing enough on the ball looking it in.”
Quarterback Jarret Doege finally made his West Virginia debut on the final play of the third quarter, replacing Austin Kendall.
“He’s got four games, and I wanted him getting reps,” Brown said. “I thought he did some good things. But the same things that plagued Jarret are the same things that plagued Austin. We dropped the ball. We didn’t do a great job in protection.”
Doege finished 11 of 17 for 119 yards and a 9-yard touchdown pass to running back Tony Mathis at the end of the game.
Kendall was 26-for-43 for 355 yards and two interceptions. One of those interceptions was on receiver George Campbell, who attempted making a diving catch and instead deflected it straight to Texas Tech safety Douglas Coleman in the first quarter. The play was a bit of a backbreaker, coming on the first play following an 81-yard Jett Duffey touchdown pass that put Texas Tech up 14-3.
Running woes continue
West Virginia’s running game remains abysmal — and statistically quirky.
The Mountaineers finished with 51 yards on 18 carries, making this their seventh game under 100 rushing yards this season.
The tone was set on West Virginia’s first run, a draw to Kennedy McKoy that resulted in a 6-yard loss because McKoy was tackled by three Red Raiders the moment he took the handoff from Kendall.
West Virginia was actually credited with an 18-yard gain on the play where Kendall was hit from behind and his fumble was recovered 18 yards downfield. Last week, the Mountaineers lost 48 rushing yards on two errant snaps.