MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is winless no more.
The Mountaineers ran for 316 yards and passed for another 308 against Towson, and the much-maligned defense prevented the Tigers from scoring in a 65-7 victory at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“Defensively, a good bounce back game,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We practiced physical on that side of the ball this week. We have to lean on our front six and we’re going to go as far as they go. I’m not saying we’ve arrived by any means.”
West Virginia produced touchdowns on nine of its 10 possessions and did not turn the ball over while having its way from start-to-finish in a victory over the FCS-level squad, the only non-Power 5 Conference opponent among 12 teams on the Mountaineers’ schedule.
“Zero turnovers is the main thing we were looking for,” Brown said. “We have a chance offensively. We’ve stacked three games in a row with some really positive things. We ran the ball well and we wanted to establish that early.”
On the game’s opening drive, Kaden Prather brought in a 2-yard pass from JT Daniels that marked the first receiving score of his career and Daniels’ lone passing touchdown in limited work.
One of few WVU negatives transpired immediately after when the Tigers’ D’Ago Hunter returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for his team’s lone touchdown.
“We worked kickoff more than any special teams unit this week,” Brown said, “and that was really disappointing.”
Although Hunter’s return tied the game at 7 with 11:14 left in the first quarter, the Mountaineers went back on top for good when Tony Mathis finished off a 12 play, 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run — his first of the season.
Later in the opening quarter, true freshman CJ Donaldson broke free for an 82-yard run that allowed the Mountaineers to lead 21-7. On what was Donaldson’s fourth rushing touchdown and the longest run of his career, Prather wisely obstructed a pair of Towson defenders and gave high-level effort on the play, while avoiding a potential penalty for a blindside block that would’ve negated the score.
“That’s a technique we teach that we usually use on punt and kickoff return, but that was smart,” Brown said.
Donaldson noticed Prather’s positive impact on the play.
“I didn’t look behind me. I just trusted Kaden was going to make the block and when I went to the sideline, I looked up and saw he had made a great block,” Donaldson said.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Mountaineers moved into Towson (2-1) territory and were facing fourth-and-9 from the Tigers’ 32 on the opening play of the second quarter. They elected to go for it and Daniels connected with Bryce Ford-Wheaton for a 13-yard gain, helping set up Donaldson’s 3-yard TD run that left the Tigers facing a 28-7 deficit 12:59 before halftime.
Mathis capped off a 57-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run on WVU’s fifth series, leaving the Mountaineers with a 35-7 lead.
“I was reading holes how I do every week, but this week they were a lot bigger than normal, so I was hitting it whenever I saw it,” Mathis said.
The advantage grew to 31 points on Casey Legg’s 26-yard field goal 2:42 before halftime on what marked Daniels’ final series of the afternoon.
Towson was without a first down until its fifth series, and though the Tigers picked up two on that possession, it came to an end when quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome’s pass fell incomplete on fourth-and-14 from just short of midfield.
Garrett Greene took over at quarterback for the Mountaineers and broke off a 39-yard run that led to Donaldson plunging his way into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 just 6 seconds before halftime.
That marked West Virginia’s fifth rushing touchdown of the first half and allowed the Mountaineers to lead 45-7 at the break.
At halftime, WVU had a 415-56 advantage in total yardage, including 235-3 on the ground.
“The offense has the mentality to score every time we step foot out there,” Mathis said.
With a quick turnaround Thursday at Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers were able to rest starters throughout the second half and get a better look at players with less experience.
Greene led an 84-yard scoring drive on WVU’s first second-half possession, which the sophomore signal-caller capped off with his 11-yard touchdown run at the 8:21 mark of the third quarter.
On Towson’s next drive, a fumble by Tigers’ backup quarterback Scott Smith was recovered by former Morgantown High standout Caden Biser. WVU followed with a 13 play, 68-yard drive that was capped by Will “Goose” Crowder throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jeremiah Aaron that marked both players’ first scoring play.
“These types of games are really important for the morale of your football team,” Brown said. “We were able to play a lot of guys. There’s guys that played in the third and fourth quarters that may show up on film to warrant more playing time. There’s a lot of time and effort put in by guys that maybe aren’t marquee names. For them to get the opportunity to play on that field in front of a crowd, that’s hugely important. Sometimes that gets overlooked.”
West Virginia fans got their first look at true freshman quarterback Nicco Marchiol on the Mountaineers’ final series, and the southpaw led a 58-yard scoring drive that featured his first touchdown — a 26-yard pass to Morgantown native Preston Fox.
“The game is starting to slow down for him,” Brown said. “The touchdown throw to Preston Fox was an awesome throw.”
The Mountaineers outgained the Tigers 624-180.
“What we did today was much-needed for our team and our defense,” nose tackle Jordan Jefferson said.
Daniels hit on 16-of-24 passes for 174 yards. Crowder completed all six of his passes for 57 yards, while Greene was 3-of-5 for 45 yards to go with 59 rushing yards. Marchiol was 2-of-4 for 32 yards in his first college action.
Prather’s six catches led all players and went for 51 yards, while Cortez Graham had a game-high 60 receiving yards on five receptions.
Mathis (104 yards on 17 carries) and Donaldson (9-101) both eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark.
Virginia Tech was also in action Saturday and defeated Wofford of the FCS, 27-7. Thursday’s battle for the Black Diamond Trophy marks the Mountaineers’ first contest at Lane Stadium since 2004.
“We have a trophy game on Thursday night and it’s an opportunity to get back to even,” Brown said. “It’s going to be as big a game as we’ve had.”