(Neal Brown postgame press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions en route to a comfortable 56-10 win in their 2020 season opener against an overmatched Eastern Kentucky squad.
Played in front of a crowd of 976 with families of players and coaches in attendance, WVU seized control early and was never threatened by an EKU team that lost to Marshall last Saturday, 59-0.
“We’re just very grateful to have an opportunity to play today,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown. “Just playing to me, was a win.
“To win and win big is a bonus. I was probably as relaxed as I have ever been on a game day. It didn’t have anything to do with who we were playing or where we were playing. It was just understanding the feeling of gratefulness.”
Jarret Doege, who was named the starting quarterback nine days prior to the season opener, was efficient in his fourth start for the Mountaineers. He was subbed out of the game at halftime after completing 19 of 25 passes for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns.
“When the running game is working, that means the pass game is probably working to,” Doege said. “When you open up the run game it opens up and allows you to pass the ball as well.”
WVU opened the game with a pair of long scoring drives to take a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter. Leddie Brown found the end zone both times. He scampered in from 10 yards out to cap a 4-play, 82 yard drive. On the next possession, Brown reeled in a 15-yard scoring strike from Doege to double the lead. Brown credited the offensive line for allowing the Mountaineers to rush for 329 yards.
“That first group of linemen did an excellent job,” Leddie Brown said. “I love the fat boys. All camp, since we came back in July, I have been trying to get closer with the line.”
The Mountaineers would find the blue paint in the end zone four times in the second quarter. Sam James reeled in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Doege to make the score 21-0. EKU answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive to creep with two scores at 21-7. But a trio of 8-yard scoring plays extended WVU’s lead to 35 points at halftime. Alec Sinkfield and Brown had 8-yard scoring runs. Doege hit Bryce Ford-Wheaton on an 8-yard strike in the final minute of the second quarter, extending the WVU lead to 42-7.
Sinkfield found the end zone again on a 17-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter. Brown and Sinkfield each finished with 123 yards and a pair of scoring runs. Both set career-highs in rushing yards.
Austin Kendall relieved Doege in the third quarter and completed 3 of 6 passes for 43 yards before giving way to true freshman Garrett Greene to start the fourth quarter. Greene led a 16-play, 96-yard scoring drive that was capped by Tony Mathis Jr.’s 3-yard touchdown.
West Virginia’s defense held EKU to 206 total yards. Senior Alonzo Addae collected WVU’s lone turnover of the game on a diving interception in the second quarter.
“I knew I had the pick,” Addae said. “I was trusting my keys and trusting what my coaches taught me. And I was just playing ball. See ball, get ball.”
Eleven WVU players were suspended for the game because of violations of team rules. They included starting offensive linemen Junior Uzebu and Chase Behrndt, tight ends T.J. Banks and Mike O’Laughlin, and receivers T.J. Simmons and Isaiah Esdale. Reserve offensive linemen Zach Davis and Tariq Stewart, receiver Zach Dobson, long snapper JP Hadley cornerback David Vincent-Okloli were also suspended.
“Their suspension is over as of the last second of that game. They’ll be back with us tomorrow. They participated in all activities all week. It was non-COVID related,” Neal Brown said.
“There is not going to be any double jeopardy on this.”
Fairmont Senior graduate Zach Frazier earned the start at center. The true freshman is expected to be a significant contributor on the offensive line this season. He is the first true freshman to start at center in four decades, in WVU’s season opener.
“I like how he competes,” Neal Brown said. “I like how he prepares. It is important to him. He is real level. He doesn’t get too high and he doesn’t get too low. I went by the hotel last night doing bed check and I said are you ready to go? He said, ‘Yes sir’. No blink, no hesitation.”
Spring Valley graduate Graeson Malashevich earned his first playing time. The redshirt freshman reeled in a 30-yard pass from Kendall late in the third quarter. Fellow redshirt freshman and Morgantown grad Nick Malone also made his first appearance as a Mountaineer, as did Fairmont Senior grad Rhett Heston.
Arizona transfer linebacker Tony Fields II led West Virginia with ten tackles in his Mountaineer debut.
“He brings a speed element to the defense that we probably haven’t had in my two years here,” Neal Brown said. “He is still learning what to do. But he plays full speed. He loves contact.”
West Virginia outgained Eastern Kentucky (0-2) 624-206. 68 players took the field for the Mountaineers. They will have a week off before visiting Oklahoma State on September 26 to open up Big 12 Conference play.