Grading The Mountaineers: WVU vs. N.C. State
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–After West Virginia’s performance at Missouri last week, there didn’t appear to be a lot of reason for optimism moving forward.
Add into that the absences of offensive guard Josh Sills (reported shoulder) and Mike Brown (illness), and the odds of keeping pace with N.C. State Saturday appeared long.
But WVU performed well out of the gate and suddenly its enthusiasm kicked into high gear. West Virginia kept churning, outscoring its visitors 23-6 in the second half en route to a confidence-turning 44-27 victory.
Here is how we graded the Mountaineers’ performance Saturday at the Wolfpack.
Atmosphere – The temperature in Morgantown wasn’t outrageous, never rising above the 82, but the high humidity made for a muggy afternoon that was a bit uncomfortable. The Gold Rush crowd did a good job following the prescribed color theme. It was late arriving and never completely filled up Mountaineer Field, but still it a good assembly (57,052) that was loud, enthusiastic and created a decidedly positive impact on the home team. N.C. State’s band made the trip from Raleigh, and I like it when the opposing band puts in the effort to attend road games. Grade – A-
Offense – West Virginia’s rushing offense Saturday may not have made fans forget the days of Pat White and Steve Slaton. Still, anything over 34 yards per game was an improvement from the past couple of weeks, and WVU certainly was much better than that on the ground. Its 173 rushing yards nearly tripled the previous two performances combined. A respectable rushing attack opened up passing lanes for Austin Kendall and company, which accumulated 272 yards through the air. The mix-and-match Mountaineer o-line had a very solid performance, especially in comparison to its struggles the past couple of weeks. It also seemed WVU found its center of the future after a very nice effort by redshirt freshmen Briason Mays in his first career start. WVU did make some mistakes, as Kendall threw an ill-advised interception late in the third quarter, and there were various drops and missed chances. Still, this was a very promising performance that the Mountaineers can definitely build upon. Grade A-
Defense – West Virginia’s defense had some difficulty containing N.C. State in the first half, particularly on the ground. The Wolfpack ran for 119 yards in the opening 30 minutes, and also passed for another 153, while scoring 21 points in a game that was tied at the midway juncture. But in the second half, West Virginia’s D stepped up in a big way. It allowed N.C. State just 25 rushing yards in that stretch to go along with 72 more passing yards. More importantly, WVU limited the ‘Pack to just six points. A key stand came late in the third quarter after Kendall’s interception handed State the ball at the West Virginia 21 with WVU clinging to a one-TD lead at 31-24. The Mountaineer defense held the visitors to just a field goal, though, keeping the lead on the Gold and Blue side and allowing West Virginia’s offense the opportunity to put the game away with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. The grade for WVU’s defense in the first half was a C, but it deserved an A+ in the second. Overall, basically split the difference. Grade B+
Special Teams – It wasn’t a perfect special teams day by WVU, which made a few mistakes that cost it yardage. Sam James brought a kickoff out of the end zone he should have knelt on, and Josh Chandler and Hakeem Bailey each got flagged for harmful 15-yard penalties on N.C. State returns. But those negatives were completely overridden by Logan Thimons’ blocked punt midway through the third quarter. That set up a short TD drive by West Virginia’s offense, which gave the Mountaineers a 31-21 cushion. Grade – B
Coaching – There’s always room to question a play call or some other decision, but the way Neal Brown and his staff took a team whose confidence was at a low ebb leaving Missouri last week and completely turned it around was amazing. They deserve huge credit for the 180. Grade A