MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Seven West Virginia players scored touchdowns and only the replay booth thwarted an eighth. The Mountaineers defense, not satisfied with pitching its first shutout in four seasons, wrangled a safety to outscore Towson by itself.
Merely beating an FCS opponent would have sufficed, but devouring this one became the mission, and 54-0 accomplished everything West Virginia could have hoped.
Clint Trickett threw for 348 yards before leaving in the third quarter. His understudy, William Crest, joined Rushel Shell and Jordan Thompson in scoring their first touchdowns in college, while Andrew Buie scored his first since coming back to college. The 606 yards and 33 first downs represented the brand of efficiency coach Dana Holgorsen said he hadn’t witnessed “since Geno.”
West Virginia compiled eight scores on its first 11 drives, breaching Towson’s 30-yard line on the other three. The offense hummed and whizzed and revved with such pace and precision that only a few glitches stood out more than they should. WVU didn’t punt until 2:25 remained in the game, by which time the fans playfully cheered Nick O’Toole’s cameo.
The avalanche of points—and the ensemble of players producing them—made the scene feel almost Baylor-ish, which has quickly become the highest compliment one can pay a Big 12 offense.
“You want to go out and take care of business,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “That was my one message: Let’s not make it a 24-17 game.”
For fans with repressed memories of last season’s humdrum home opener, that was the narrow margin by which West Virginia survived William & Mary. And, yes, it was a prevision of much clunky, spiritless football that followed. Ten weeks from now we’ll know whether this Towson blowout also held accurate indicators. In the immediate realm, at least, there was plenty to appreciate.
The starters dominated, showing zero hangover from an Alabama game that could have been emotionally consuming. And by playing so well so quickly, the first unit created opportunities for reserves to accumulate plays in a low-risk environment.
The script truly couldn’t have been more suitable to Holgorsen, who seemed to search his brain before finding nit-picks that, curiously, concerned both ends of his most hyper-productive passing combo. Trickett, the coach said, allegedly exposed himself by holding on to the ball too long, resulting in—GASP!—one tackle behind the line for a 1-yard loss. Kevin White caught 10 passes for 101 yards and was chided by Holgorsen for being tackled short of the goal line three times.
Most offensive coaches would kill for that list of complaints.
And most defensive coordinators would launch into leaping heel-clicks over the numbers posted by Tony Gibson’s unit—holding Towson to 122 yards, 4-of-15 on third downs and 0-of-3 on fourth downs. One fourth-and-7 try came late in the first quarter when quarterback Connor Frazier was stuffed at the West Virginia 46. In hindsight, the gamble by Towson coach Rob Ambrose was justified, seeing how that was Towson’s first and only excursion across midfield.
Yes, this was an overmatched FCS offense, and a rebuilding one to boot. None of which changed the undertone of Gibson’s postgame evaluation when he said, “We can’t help who we play.” He meant his guys could only affect how they played. The how was suffocating and demoralizing to a Towson offense four years removed from its last shutout.
West Virginia did its job Saturday night, thoroughly and willfully exploiting the lone breather on its early season schedule. Given what the program has been peddling recently, meeting expectations is a big step up.