MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood enjoyed 100-plus rushing games and West Virginia denied Texas Tech’s potent offense at crucial moments for a 31-26 victory Saturday.
The Mountaineers (4-4, 1-4) ran for 300 yards total and broke through for their first league win after dropping four games in October to teams ranked in the current college playoff top 15.
Smallwood, the Big 12’s third-leading rusher entering Saturday, ran 22 times for 163 yards and a score. Yet he seemed happier about Shell delivering his first two touchdowns in more than a month and gaining a season-high 111 yards on 14 carries.
“I hadn’t seen him have this much fun since Georgia Southern,” Smallwood said.
Shell, coming off a 14-yard outing at TCU, gained that many on his first series Saturday. After his 5-yard touchdown run put West Virginia up 7-0, the junior ripped off a season-long 43-yarder, helping erase the self-doubt that hampered him recently.
“Honestly at times I was like, ‘Man, do I suck? What’s the deal?’” Shell said. “I’m going hard as I can in practice and then in the game I’m getting stuffed every time I get the ball. I felt like Wendell’s getting all the plays that are opening and I’m getting all the plays that are busted.”
His production ramped up against the soft, tired defense of Texas Tech (5-5, 2-5), playing its 10th consecutive game without a bye.
“It’s been a rough season for the rush defense,” said Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury, understating the woes of a unit ranked next-to-last nationally. “We’re just not getting it done up front.”
Most surprisingly, Texas Tech’s vaunted offense couldn’t finish numerous scoring chances, coming up empty on three drives inside West Virginia territory and twice settling for chip-shot field goals.
Patrick Mahomes, who entered as the nation’s No. 3 passer at 370 yards per game, managed only 196 yards on 21-of-34 passing. His lackluster day could be blamed partly on Texas Tech starting two freshmen receivers, including Keke Coutee, who dropped one pass. Sophomores Devin Lauderdale and Cameron Batson also bobbled wide-open throws.
“(The receivers) shouldn’t be young—it’s our 10th game,” Kingsbury said. “They’ve played enough. It’s just not making plays when we needed them to.”
Mahomes threw three touchdowns, including a 17-yarder to DeAndre Washington that drew Tech to within 31-26 in the fourth quarter. But after the 2-point try failed, West Virginia killed the final 6 minutes with a patient ground game that ended in victory formation at the Red Raiders 1 yard line.
Washington led Texas Tech with 102 yards while Mahomes scrambled for 73. Trailing 14-7, he might have done well to run on a third-down red-zone pass he forced into coverage, resulted in Daryl Worley’s interception at the 3-yard line.
“That’s one of those plays where he tried to do a little too much,” Kingsbury said. “They had covered the play. Just throw it away and kick the field goal.”
Skyler Howard suffered two interceptions himself on a 12-of-23 passing day that netted only 149 yards, but his 3-yard keeper give West Virginia a two-score cushion in the fourth quarter. Upon surging into the end zone, he flexed toward the crowd, calling the move “a shout out to Shell.”
Coach Dana Holgorsen—admitting it was a far cry “from what my background is”—said personnel dictated West Virginia’s transition to a ground-and-pound offense, one that utilized 57 runs and 24 passes Saturday.
“Looks good and gets first downs,” Holgorsen said. “That’s kind of what the point is.”