(Neal Brown postgame press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A major point of emphasis for West Virginia in advance of Saturday’s home opener against Long Island was for the Mountaineers to not beat themselves.
For the most part, it was mission accomplished as West Virginia blanked the Sharks 66-0 for the most lopsided victory and first shutout of Neal Brown’s tenure.
“We got what we needed to get done,” Brown said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means. On the defensive side, we lined up and flew around. The communication was better. Other than the drive right before half, I was disappointed in that one. But we played better team defense.
“On offense, we were efficient. We were able to break some tackles. I’m not as fired up about what we did in the run game, especially in the first half.”
The home opener at Milan Puskar Stadium was played in front of 50,911 and marked WVU’s sixth consecutive victory on its turf dating back to the start of last season.
“It was a fun atmosphere,” Brown said. “I appreciate our fans and that they showed up.”
The Mountaineers (1-1) never punted and were able to substitute early and often. They led for good 11 seconds into the matchup with the FCS opponent as Winston Wright Jr. returned the opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
One week after setting a single-game program record with 217 kickoff return yards in a loss at Maryland, Wright produced the second kickoff return for a score in his career.
“I’m very confident in our scheme, so every chance they kick it, I know it’s either going to be a big return or solid return,” Wright said. “When I see the hole, I go with it.”
Leddie Brown scored on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0, then added his fourth rushing touchdown of the season from 2 yards to give WVU a 21-0 lead in the opening quarter.
Fifty seconds into the second quarter, Garrett Greene took over for Jarret Doege at quarterback — a switch Neal Brown revealed he planned to make on the team’s third series prior to kickoff.
Greene led a 13 play, 69-yard drive and finished it with a 3-yard TD run. The redshirt freshman completed a 28-yard pass to Isaiah Esdale among three attempts and rushed six times for 34 yards on the series.
“I don’t know if he ran any of the plays the way they’re supposed to be ran, but he made some plays,” Neal Brown said. “Credit to him. That’s kind of where’s at right now.”
Doege was back behind center on the following series and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Sam James, giving WVU a 35-0 lead 3:46 before halftime.
Long Island (0-2) had its best chance to score on its ensuing possession. The Sharks got into the red zone, but an Akheem Mesidor sack of quarterback Camden Orth ultimately forced a fourth-and-5 situation. LIU elected for 25-yard field goal, but an issue with the hold forced Paul Inzerillo to kick what was a horizontal football, and his attempt was tipped.
WVU got into field goal range in five plays and Casey Legg knocked in a 44-yard boot on the final play of the half to make it 38-0.
“I liked having that two-minute opportunity, because we work it so much in fall practice and camp,” Doege said. “It’s good to do it in a live situation.”
The Mountaineers held a 307-88 advantage in total yards at the break, though Leddie Brown was limited to 21 yards on 13 rushes. Excluding his 9-yard run, WVU’s featured tailback had 12 carries for 12 yards over the first two quarters.
“We can be a little more physical,” Doege said.
Doege remained the quarterback to start the second half and threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Sean Ryan on the Mountaineers’ third play from scrimmage in the third quarter. The bulk of Ryan’s yardage came after a short reception, and his score gave WVU a 45-0 advantage 2:26 into the third.
Sean Martin’s recovery of a Shemar Paul fumble on the Sharks’ next series marked the first and only turnover the Mountaineers have forced this season. It also gave Doege a short field with which to work with on his final series, and he connected with James for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
“Doege was really efficient,” Neal Brown said.
Greene returned to score on a 13-yard run with 5:59 left in the third, and A’Varius Sparrow’s 1-yard run marked the only touchdown of the fourth quarter.
Doege finished 14-of-22 for 267 yards with three touchdowns.
Greene completed 4-of-7 passes for 57 yards and rushed for a game-high 98 yards on 14 attempts.
“He showed some growth and there’s some things he probably didn’t do a good job of, but everything he did was full throttle,” Neal Brown said. “He made a couple nice throws and he ran the ball and has the ability to do that.”
Will Crowder also saw time at quarterback in the win and completed both of his passes for 28 yards.
True freshman Justin Johnson Jr. was WVU’s second-leading rusher with 47 yards on 10 attempts. Brown was limited to 23 yards on 15 carries.
The Mountaineers finished with 193 rushing yards on 55 attempts and passes for 362 yards.
Long Island, which is in its third year playing at the FCS level, gained 92 yards on 52 plays.
“We played a lot faster,” Mesidor said of the defense. “Throughout the whole week [defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley] emphasized all 11 hats to the ball.”
WVU recorded two sacks for the second straight week, with Tennessee transfer Darel Middleton providing the other.
“Almost everybody in our program got a chance to play,” Neal Brown said. “Twelve months a year everybody in our program is working for one opportunity to get out there and play on Mountaineer Field.”
West Virginia welcome Virginia Tech (2-0) for a noon kickoff next Saturday in its final non-conference game of the regular season.