MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As Friday night bled into Saturday morning, K.J. Dillon stayed up watching the dazzling clips of Texas Tech jitterbug Jakeem Grant.
“No. 11, he was so good. Everything about him was explosive,” said the West Virginia safety, who ultimately decided the the key to guarding Grant was guarding against psyching himself out with so much film study.
“I just knew I didn’t have to go out there and be Superman. I just had to do enough, because I knew the other 10 guys were going to do enough.”
While Grant caught a 10-yard touchdown in the first half—benefiting from quarterback Pat Mahomes extending the play for several seconds—Dillon otherwise hounded the Raiders’ top receiver. Grant netted only minus-2 on four other receptions and finished with a season-worst 8 yards receiving, about 95 below his per-game average.
“He’s a great athlete and I told him that,” said Dillon, who also told Grant that the scoring play “was sort of B.S.” because the secondary was put in disarray by Mahomes’ scramble.
“I just knew I had to play him different than I play anybody else,” said Dillon, who waved off some of the bracketed coverage as the game wore on. “He’s definitely one of the hardest receivers I had to guard all year.”
O-line shuffle: Marquis Lucas compared his flip from right to left tackle as “kind of like walking backward.” Opposite hand placement, opposite plant foot, opposite everything, and Lucas had only a few practices to acclimate as West Virginia sought a new plan to replace the injured Yodny Cajuste (foot).
So Lucas swapped sides and sophomore Marcell Lazard stepped in at right tackle, allowing Adam Pankey to return to his best position at left guard.
Against an ever-vulnerable Texas Tech defense, the moves paid off with 300 rushing yards.
“Couldn’t have done that without Marcell stepping up,” Holgorsen said. “So proud of him. He looked at me before the game and said ‘I’m going to earn your respect today.’ I was happy with his attitude and mentality and the way he approached it. I loved his demeanor.”
Tech’s untimely late flag: On its way to melting the final 6:47, West Virginia almost had to convert a third-and-long. Almost.
Then, several counts after Rushel Shell was tackled for a loss on a swing pass (recovering his own fumble in the process), came the most inexplicable penalty of the day— a two-handed shove by defensive lineman Branden Jackson. It occurred right in front of an official.
What got into Jackson? Turns out Shell did.
“I was chattering to him a little bit, so I kind of initiated it,” said Shell, who played his high school ball in Hopewell, Pa., not far from Jackson at McKeesport. “He’s from my area, and I knew a lot about his school and I said some stuff that he didn’t really like.
“I knew I had to do something because I just fumbled the ball and I knew I was getting took out. Then when he pushed me, I’m like, “Alright I can get out on that.’”
Shell ran off the field cackling as refs awarded WVU a crucial first down. Jackson also was removed, his error looming larger as it became apparent Texas Tech would not regain possession.
“Just a selfish play by a senior who we needed to step up,” said Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury. “It was a bad mistake by him.”
Freshman defender: Despite the loss, it was a momentous day for Texas Tech freshman Breiden Fehoko.
His first career sack forced West Virginia to try a field goal that Josh Lambert missed. Then came his first interception, a diving grab off a deflection that set up Tech’s offense inside the Mountaineers’ 20.