LAWRENCE, Kan. — As West Virginia crushed Kansas 49-0 on Saturday, producing three 100-yard rushers in a game for the first time since 1969, Wendell Smallwood spotted holes he called “the biggest I’ve seen.”
That ground game, paired with a defense that remained watertight even when the backups entered, carried the Mountaineers to the biggest margin of victory they’ve seen in four seasons of Big 12 membership.
Quarterback Skyler Howard ran for 129 yards on only nine carries to spark West Virginia (6-4, 3-4), which led 42-0 at half and made sure there was no repeat of their 2013 upset loss at Memorial Stadium, when the Jayhawks snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak.
“It was important to rectify what happened two years ago,” admitted West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose offense compiled 630 yards, including 426 on the ground. “It had everything to do with us and nothing to do with Kansas.”
Kansas (0-11, 0-8) has dropped 18 of 19 league games since that day, including 11 consecutive.
Smallwood piled up 115 yards, Rushel Shell ran for 108 and each scored twice to help West Virginia win its third straight game and become bowl-eligible.
“We saw how other backs were running on them,” Smallwood said. “They were playing two safeties high and we knew if we could split those guys there would be some big runs.
“The holes were just crystal clear—the biggest I’ve seen.”
West Virginia nearly matched its highest point total of the season late in the first half, but the Jayhawks blocked Josh Lambert’s 41-yard field goal to preserve the 42-0 score. By that juncture, the Mountaineers had outgained Kansas 402-59 and led 20-1 in first downs.
“Our defense played unbelievable,” Holgorsen said.
Kansas managed only 221 yards, about 3.3 per play, suffering its first shutout of the season.
“That’s about as bad offensive football as I’ve been a part of,” said Jayhawks coach David Beaty. “We didn’t get a (second) first down until midway through the third quarter. We’ve got to figure out how to manufacture offense around here, because right now we’re not getting it done.”
Kansas freshman quarterback Ryan Willis was replaced in the second half by T.J. Millweard after 13-of-38 for 127 yards and three interceptions.
WVU’s Howard sustained one wind-altered interception also, but was othewise steady. He ran in a 9-yard score, tossed a 2-yard touchdown to Cody Clay and completed 13-of-22 passes for 133 yards before giving way to William Crest in the third quarter. An injured right hand that limited Howard’s practice reps this week didn’t preclude him from a career-best rushing day.
“There were times I maybe put it away when you’re around a lot of people,” he said. “You don’t want to get it smashed or stick it out there for a stiff-arm, which is what I naturally like to do. So I was adjusting a little bit.”
Cornerback Terrell Chestnut, after forcing a fumble to foil Kansas’ first possession, returned an interception 32 yards on the next series to make it 14-0.
Shell’s scoring runs covered 8 and 26 yards and Smallwood tacked on a 24-yard touchdown to help build a 28-0 cushion in the opening 13 minutes. Smallwood added a 1-yard score in the third quarter.
“Me and Wendell, we feel like we’re the motor for this team,” said Shell, smiling wide over the realization that, for one day at least, Howard actually led the rushing engine. “We told him, ‘Man you played running back today!’ He ran well. He was just out there playing the game that he loves.”