MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As West Virginia’s 33-14 win over Kansas took a second-half turn toward the bland, fans from both sides had reasons to stay excited: The Mountaineers were about to snap a four-game Big 12 losing slide, and the Jayhawks were about to hire Jim Harbaugh.
Sure, one-half of that scenario is still several months and several millions away from fruition, but let’s not deny hapless KU fans the right to dream.
And let’s not deny Dana Holgorsen’s program its weekly evaluation, the up/down/neutral scrutiny that is the Monday Morning Stock Report:
Clint Trickett wasn’t in the mood to brag about a sixth straight 300-yard passing game. He completed only 20-of-35 passes, underthrew a few deep passes and misread the Kansas safety on a first-half interception. Unlike Trickett’s accuracy, his comedic timing remained spot-on:
“That’s a message to the Big 12,” he said about darting downfield to make a tackle on the interception. “When you pick me off, that’s happening. Don’t piss me off. Dang I was mad. My fault. Just a horrible throw.”
Looking beyond Trickett, the No. 2 quarterback situation now appears muddled. Plans to redshirt Skyler Howard were scrapped when he entered in the fourth quarter, reeling off a 20-yard keeper but misfiring on both throws.
Freshman William Crest, previously the top backup since playing in mop-up duty against Towson, has a throwing shoulder that “is all jacked-up,” according to Holgorsen. Crest wasn’t dressed for Kansas and could regain this year of eligibility through a medical redshirt if the injury prevents him from playing again.
With a rushing touchdown in four straight games, Rushel Shell has become a reliable goal-line option. Of course, he shows shiftiness, too, as evidenced by his third-and-7 screen catch on which he made two KU defenders whiff. Shell slipped a tackle on a 28-yard run—his longest as a Mountaineer—and cracked 100 yards for the first time this season. His averaged 5.4 yards on 21 carries for 113 yards.
After running backs coach JaJuan Seider said he was intent on increasing Wendell Smallwood’s carries, the sophomore ran for a season-high 47 yards on 10 attempts.
Dustin Garrison carried five times for 39 yards but lost a fumble at the end of his season-long 28-yard run. Dreamius Smith was used sparingly again, though his 14-yard run against KU’s sagging defense moved WVU within field-goal range late in the half.
Kevin White racked up 127 of his 132 yards in the first quarter and easily burned backup corner Mathew Boateng for a 63-yard score. After a season-low six catches, White was most perturbed about dropping another potential touchdown, albeit on a pass where starting cornerback Dexter McDonald was draped around his waist.
With four receptions for 80 yards, Mario Alford was a worthy sidekick, though he was frequently stalemated by Kansas cornerback Jacory Shepherd. After making his biggest gainer on a 39-yard screen, Alford was supposed to be targeted on a fourth-and-1 screen in the second half. Only he ran the wrong route and earned a sideline chewing from coach Dana Holgorsen.
Jordan Thompson was adequate—unable to make a diving sideline grab after breaking deep on a Trickett scramble, then catching a 19-yarder on WVU’s end-of-half hurry-up drive. Daikiel Shorts’ 17-yarder salvaged a second-and-long situation but only after he failed to catch cleanly a low 22-yard throw that was overturned by replay.
Because this group allowed zero sacks, it’s dinner on Clint. (Trickett treats his line to a meal any week they protect him during a Mountaineers win.) With the exception of a final-play pressure, the front five reliably kept their quarterback insulated—not a huge surprise considering Kansas ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 with six sacks.
The line also carved out nice running lanes to the tune of 255 yards and 6.1 yards per carry, after the Jayhawks came to Morgantown allowing 166 and 4.7.
Brandon Golson became the unit’s newest addition, shifting from Will linebacker to defensive end in the wake of Dontrill Hyman’s knee injury. WVU sacrifices size for athleticism in the switch, and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson couldn’t make such a move earlier in the season when the opponents featured power running attacks.
“Alabama and Oklahoma, that’s not Golson’s kind of game at end. But now that we’re getting into the Big 12 that’s when we can start using that lineup with him at end,” Gibson said. “Brandon’s very explosive and he gives us our best chance to get to the quarterback when we’re only rushing three or four.”
Golson didn’t record a tackle vs. Kansas, though Holgorsen noted he “affected the passing game” at times. Christian Brown affected several areas, making four tackles and snuffing out a screen for no gain.
Eric Kinsey (four tackles, one for loss) saw his most extended action of the season, and transfer Shaq Riddick made his first start.
Because this unit remains perilously thin, Hyman’s availability will be crucial moving forward.
With Kansas presenting no passing threat, Nick Kwiatkoski was in his element. He read the option runs perfectly in making seven tackles, including two behind the line, and KU netted only 1.9 yards per rush.
Wes Tonkery made five stops and the game’s only sack, tripping Montell Cozart for a 14-yard loss on third down. The senior also had a golden chance to make an interception for the second straight game before dropping a Cozart pass in the open field. Trickett interrupted Tonkery’s postgame interview session to say “Nice hands.”
“I was so disappointed,” Tonkery said. “You rarely get those opportunities for a pick-six, and I squandered it.”
A valuable part of WVU’s nickel package, Shaq Petteway (three tackles) batted down a pass on a blitz.
Edward Muldrow (two tackles) made his first start in Golson’s former spot and figures to play a larger role in coming weeks.
“I probably should have played him more against Oklahoma,” Gibson said. “That kind of opened my eyes. I need to get him on the field for more snaps.”
With a series of legitimate passing offenses on the horizon, West Virginia’s secondary won’t have a breather like this again. Kansas combines subpar quarterbacking with mediocre receivers to form one perhaps the least scary downfield threat of any power-five program.
The Jayhawks gained only 111 yards through the air on 13-of-28 passing. Outside of Nigel King beating Icky Banks for a 30-yard catch, the Mountaineers’ DBs had their way.
The only negative was a continued lack of turnovers: Dravon Henry was ruled out-of-bounds on a sideline interception, and Terrell Chestnut missed a chance at a shoestring pick.
West Virginia has forced three turnovers this season, ranking 123rd in the FBS. Only Michigan (2) and Louisiana-Lafayette (1) have fewer takeaways.
“I might quit talking about them, because we’re not doing something right to get them,” Gibson said. “We’re dropping a lot of picks and we’re not creating any fumbles. I don’t know if I’m talking about it too much or if the kids are thinking about it too much.”
For the third straight game, West Virginia allowed a touchdown return. For the second time in three games, Jordan Thompson fumbled away a punt. For the third time this season, Josh Lambert had a field goal blocked.
Overlooked on the list of mistakes was Jarrod Harper jumping offsides on a punt-block try, costing West Virginia 33 yards in field position on the re-kick.
Alford’s second kick-return TD of the season mitigated some of the angst, and yes, Lambert made 4-of-5 field goals, including a 53-yarder to close the half. That production, however, doesn’t override the fact Kansas scored all 14 of its points off WVU’s special-teams mistakes.
Through five games, consider where WVU’s special-teams rank in the Big 12: first in kick returns (31.0 average), fourth in field-goal accuracy (73 percent), eighth in net punting (33.6), eighth in punt returns (4.1) and ninth in kick coverage (36.4).
Holgorsen said “the whole theme for the whole week was to play a better second half than we did the first half,” and that didn’t occur on offense or special teams. Kansas was out-manned and wrapped in a coaching conundrum, yet West Virginia didn’t dominate to the extent it desired.
Holgorsen’s end-of-half clock management also proved unnecessarily risky. He kept two timeouts in his pocket as WVU drove toward a long-range field goal. Though Lambert converted a 53-yarder on the final play of before halftime, Holgorsen could have preserved 15 seconds—time for two or three additional plays—in order to stage a higher-percentage kick.