MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Saturday’s forecast called for an 80 percent chance of rain and perhaps an even greater chance of Mountaineer defeat.
So much for the forecasts.
On a sun-swept afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium, West Virginia shook off its groggy start to the season to jump North Carolina State for a 44-27 win.
“I thought this was a defining moment,” said first-year West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “This was really early for one, but it was a defining moment. Things didn’t go well last week. How we responded in the week was what was on the field today.”
The dormant Mountaineers rushing offense gained 173 yards and scored three touchdowns. They did so behind an offensive line that was completely rebuilt between the tackles.
Starting guards Josh Sills (injury) and Mike Brown (illness) did not dress, replaced by John Hughes and James Gmiter, respectively. Redshirt freshman Briason Mays became the third different WVU center in three games, replacing Week 2 starter Chase Behrndt. Behrndt alternated at right guard with Hughes against the Wolfpack.
“As a coach, you have to keep trying until you find that mix,” Brown said. “That’s one of the fun things about coaching. Mike was sick all week and didn’t practice. Josh was hurt and couldn’t play. Mays made first start, Gmiter made his first start. I haven’t seen the tape yet, but my hunch is Chase played with a different type of edge.”
Though the offensive line was defined by its newest faces, Brown credited senior left tackle Colton McKivitz with setting the tone for the unit after it struggled in a 38-7 loss at Missouri last week.
“He’s a dude,” Brown said of McKivitz. “He prepares like a dude. He leads like a dude.”
West Virginia (2-1) entered the game ranked last nationally with an average of 1.1 yards per carry. The Mountaineers exploded for 6.2 yards per carry against N.C. State (1-2), including a season-long 25-yard run from quarterback Austin Kendall on a third-quarter scramble.
Running back Kennedy McKoy led the way with 10 carries for 66 yards and two touchdowns. West Virginia rushed for a total of 64 yards in its first two games combined.
The running game opened up thanks to a passing attack that loosened up the Wolfpack defense with a heavy dosage of Sam James. James was targeted 15 times and finished the game with nine receptions for 155 yards and a 20-yard touchdown.
West Virginia finished with 445 yards of total offense.
With predecessor Will Grier in attendance, West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall picked the Wolfpack secondary apart. Kendall was 27-of-40 for 272 yards and three touchdowns. His only mistake, an interception deep in his own territory, was bailed out by a defense that held the Pack to a 37-yard field goal on the ensuing possession. A touchdown would have tied the game at 31.
“When there are sudden changes, you have to put out the fire,” Brown said. “We shouldn’t have had the pick. The defense did a really good job putting it out.”
West Virginia outscored N.C. State 23-6 in the second half. The Wolfpack were limited to 97 yards and five first downs after halftime.
“For us to play winning football, we have to identify ourselves as a blue-collar unit,” Brown said. “We embraced that this week. What you saw on that field today was a product of that.”