10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Black Diamond blowout: Mountaineers down Virginia Tech, 33-10

BLACKSBURG, Va. — It remains to be seen if West Virginia completely turns its season around after losing each of its first two games.

However, it’s clear the Mountaineers have every aspiration of doing just that.

Another solid offensive effort, combined with the team’s best defensive performance this season and solid special teams play enabled West Virginia to roll by Virginia Tech 33-10 Thursday at a sold out Lane Stadium.

“It was a complete win,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “We felt great about our preparation coming in. We have a lot of respect for [Virginia Tech first-year head coach Brent Pry] and this is one of the toughest venues to come in and play, but I really felt good. This is something we’ve been thinking about for a long time. We played fast tonight and we were really physical. That’s how we play defense here. We had an aberration a couple weeks ago against Kansas and credit to them, but that’s not how we’re going to play defense here. Tonight was closer and our defensive line was really dominant.”

With the series not expected to resume for at least a decade, the Mountaineers will maintain possession of the Black Diamond Trophy for an extended time by notching their second straight victory in the rivalry matchup.

West Virginia (2-2) was in control for much of the contest, but didn’t seal the victory until a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown from true freshman Jacolby Spells. That came with 9:36 remaining and Spells’ pick of a Grant Wells pass marked WVU’s first interception this season.

Earlier in the fourth, tailback Justin Johnson Jr. scored the first touchdown of his career on a 6-yard run, leaving WVU with a 23-10 lead and 14:13 to play.

“Justin Johnson came in and did a really nice job,” Brown said. “We’ve been able to run the ball consistently. I’m not necessarily surprised by that.”

VT (2-2) followed with a three-and-out and its fifth punt, before the Mountaineers got a 38-yard field goal from Casey Legg to lead by 16.

A holding penalty pushed the Hokies back on their ensuing series, and Spells intercepted Wells on first-and-20, before reaching pay dirt to put the game out of reach.

“They kind of grabbed the scramble button to try and see what they could do to put some points on the board,” WVU nose guard Jordan Jefferson said.

It was a fitting fourth-quarter finish for a West Virginia defense that limited VT to 228 total yards on 53 plays and a mere 35 rushing yards on 18 attempts.

Outside of a 15-yard Jalen Holston run, the Hokies managed 20 yards on their other 17 rushes.

“We’re good up front,” Brown said. “Our front six is very formidable.”

The teams exchanged punts to start the contest, before WVU got off its goal line and drove 92 yards, but ultimately had to settle for the first of Legg’s four field goals from 23 yards.

The Hokies answered with their only touchdown drive, which covered 77 yards in eight plays and was capped by Wells’ 28-yard pass to Kaleb Smith that left VT with a 7-3 lead 8 seconds into the second quarter.

WVU crossed midfield on its next series, but tailback Tony Mathis fumbled and the Hokies’ Dorian Strong recovered at the VT 35.

Virginia Tech then reached the red zone, but on fourth-and-1 from the WVU 18, Wells was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by Jefferson and Dante Stills.

“It was huge momentum from a confidence standpoint,” Brown said. “We played differently after that fourth-down stop.”

Although the Mountaineers didn’t capitalize on their next series, they prevented Tech from adding to its lead and got Legg’s 35-yard field goal 1:50 before halftime to draw to within one point.

The Hokies were forced to punt with just outside of 1 minute remaining in the half, and WVU made the most of its final possession before halftime by getting a 24-yard touchdown pass from JT Daniels to Sam James to finish off a six play, 70-yard drive 11 seconds prior to the intermission.

“That was the only time they showed that coverage the whole first half and JT located the two-safety defense and was able to find it,” Brown said. “Great throw and a great catch by Sam, because that’s a difficult catch.”

West Virginia took a 13-7 lead into the break, then forced a three-and-out to start the second half.

A 14 play, 79-yard drive followed for the Mountaineers and included Daniels’ 8-yard pass to Kaden Prather on fourth-and-2 from the Hokies’ 31. West Virginia got inside the VT 10, but Daniels and tight end Mike O’Laughlin couldn’t connect on a well-designed play that would’ve resulted in a touchdown, instead forcing Legg into a 25-yard field goal that made it 16-7 at the 7:04 mark of the third quarter.

William Ross’ 44-yard field goal on VT’s ensuing series made it a one-score game again, but the Mountaineers answered with a pivotal 75-yard drive that Johnson capped with his TD run. A pair of defensive penalties on the Hokies aided the Mountaineers in a major way on that series. The first came on fourth-and-6 immediately following a false start on West Virginia when Dax Hollifield was flagged for roughing Daniels after he released what became an incomplete pass.

Three plays later, on third-and-14, Daniels threw another incompletion, but Norell Pollard was called for a personal foul hands to the face that gave the Mountaineers a new series of downs. Johnson ultimately found the end zone and deflated the Hokies in the process, with West Virginia’s offensive line more than holding its own.

WVU finished with 193 more yards than the Hokies, including 183 more rushing yards.

“We had as much time as needed and that’s a team that likes to pressure a lot,” Daniels said. “They pressured us considerably less than they’d shown on film. They gave [wideouts Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Prather and James] a whole lot of respect in the secondary, but no matter what, with four and five 1-on-1 blocks that you have as an offensive linemen every play, they did a phenomenal job. We ran the ball really well and when we dropped back to pass, [protection] was phenomenal all night.”

True freshman CJ Donaldson had another memorable performance with 23 carries for 106 yards, although he did momentarily leave in the second half with an injury, before returning. Johnson had the most productive game of his career to this point with 83 yards on 11 carries.

Daniels was efficient and completed 20-of-30 passes for 203 yards. Prather led WVU with six catches for 69 yards.

Wells finished 16-of-35 for 193 yards. Smith was his top target and hauled in five passes for 70 yards, all in the first half.

Virginia Tech converted only 2-of-10 third downs and failed on both of its fourth-down attempts.

“We played how we know we can play,” Jefferson said. “We turned it loose, played fast and coach said he wanted us to play fast and wreak havoc, so we did that.”

West Virginia returns to action October 1 for its first road game in Big 12 Conference play at Texas.

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