High School Football

Put up your Dukes: West Virginia looks to bounce back against Duquesne in home opener

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is unbeaten in its history against FCS-level competition.

The Mountaineers look to make it 24 wins in as many tries against FCS opponents when they welcome Duquesne for Saturday’s 6 p.m. home opener at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The matchup, West Virginia’s only one of the regular season against non-Power 5 Conference competition, can be seen on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.

A lackluster passing attack plagued WVU in its season-opening 38-15 loss at No. 7 Penn State last week. The Mountaineers were held to 162 yards through the air in what marked their third straight loss to open a year.

Garrett Greene made his third career start at quarterback and though he did not turn it over, the Mountaineers produced only three plays of 20-plus yards, including two after the game had all been but decided.

“We have to execute in critical pass situations,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “We have to be more explosive.”

Wide receiver Devin Carter was responsible for 90 of the team’s 162 yards through the air and the Mountaineers will look to get other pass-catchers more involved against the Dukes. That includes freshman Rodney Gallagher III, a slot receiver and perhaps the most decorated recruit in this year’s class. Freshman running back Jahiem White is also expected to factor into the game plan after missing the first game of his college career with an injury.

Bruising tailback CJ Donaldson pounded his way for 81 yards on 18 attempts against the stingy Nittany Lions’ defense, and WVU’s sophomore tailback showed no ill effects in his first meaningful action since suffering a season-ending injury against TCU last year.

“I think that’s probably his best football game overall,” offensive coordinator/running backs coach Chad Scott said. “He never got tackled by the first defender.” 

The strength of the Mountaineer offense comes in the form of its most experienced position group — the offensive line. Center Zach Frazier and tackles Wyatt Milum and Doug Nester headline the group.

In its 49-7 season-opening victory over Division II Edinboro, Duquesne intercepted four passes, recovered two fumbles and recorded six sacks in a disruptive defensive showing.

“It’s going to be a challenge, because they’re so multiple and high pressure,” Brown said. “They give you about every front look that you can draw up and they pressure 5 man or more about 60 percent of the time. They’re going to heat it up and they’re coming to come in here and not hold a whole lot back.“

Dukes’ quarterback Darius Perrantes, who previously played at Rhode Island, threw for two touchdowns on 13 attempts in the opener. Keshawn Brown was the leading receiver with 71 yards and one touchdown, while two of Darryl Powell’s three receptions went for TDs.

Missouri transfer tailback Taj Butts led the Duquesne rushing attack with 108 yards on 10 carries. JaMario Clements added 47 yards on seven carries.

“The quarterback threw the deep ball really well and two running backs are really capable,” Brown said. “They have 13 Division I transfers on their roster, so they have some guys that have played in these venues and types of games before. So they’re not going to be intimidated at all coming in here.”

West Virginia’s run defense held its own for the most part against Penn State, but as was too often the case in 2022, the Mountaineers had difficulty preventing easy completions that led to long pass plays as well as 332 passing yards and 16 passing first downs from PSU.

Penn State quarterback Drew Allar (15) is tackled by West Virginia’s Sean Martin after scrambling with the ball at Beaver Stadium September 2, 2023, in State College.

Linebacker Lee Kpogba recorded 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in defeat, while the WVU defensive line worked a plethora of players into the lineup that produced positive results.

“What we learned about ourselves is our really good players are really good and I felt like that through preseason camp,” Brown said. “Our top players against their top players, we won a good amount of those battles. Our guys are going to compete and you learn where we have to make improvement. You know where you may be a little bit weak or not as good as where you want to be, but until it shows up on game film, you’re really not sure. We learned a good deal.”

The most pressing question, as it was throughout most of the offseason, is how the Mountaineers can defend the pass better?

“I hope it’s a confidence builder, but there’s no moral victories here,” WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said of the opening performance. “We’re not doing that. We had our opportunities. We didn’t take advantage of them in key situations. Against teams like that, it costs you.” 

West Virginia is 101-21-6 all-time in home openers, including 18-1 over its last 19.

This marks the Mountaineers’ first matchup with Duquesne since 1935.

“I feel like learning from losses builds teams and character,” said WVU defensive lineman Mike Lockhart. “We’re down right now, but what can we do to get back to where we want to be? Do I know after this loss we’re still going 100 percent in practice and execute like we’re going against a top team, even though we’re not playing a top team? That’s what it comes down to — knowing that we’re still in it with each other and got each other’s back.”

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