Opener In Books, More To Be Asked Of WVU’s Austin Kendall
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This might tell you a lot about West Virginia’s new quarterback Austin Kendall.
Saturday was supposed to be his coming out party, his first meaningful collegiate start at his new school after playing second — or third — fiddle to Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.
There was a full house at Mountaineer Field, 61,918 fans, among them 21 friends and family there to finally get a chance to root for their man.
It was a day in which he threw his first touchdown pass. And his second. It was the day he could enjoy his first victory.
So what was the most exciting part of his day?
“I thought ‘The Mantrip’ was the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of, seeing all these fans and how much it means to them. That was pretty cool,” he said.
That is not to say he didn’t appreciate the whole package.
“Running out was awesome as well. I was pretty nervous,” he said.
And nerves are good. They are a very human reaction, one that can affect a player’s early performance, as it did with Kendall.
“I thought for making what I would determine is his first career start, he handled himself well,” Coach Neal Brown said, noting that he faced three blown pass protections and six dropped passes, which would have made his numbers look better.
“I thought he saw the game well, stood in the pocket and had some courage. He made good decisions. We’ve got to do a better job on the deep ball. Some were on the receivers, some were on him.”
Strangely, he almost enjoyed more being hit twice while passing when protection broke down as much as he did completing passes, sort of like the old aftershave commercial where a guy gets slapped in his face after shaving and says “Thanks. I needed that!”
“I started feeling comfortable about the second drive after I got a couple of hits under my belt,” he explained.
He did need something to settle him in. During the first half, which was hardly an artistic success, he overthrew a couple of passes and missed open receivers.
Brown had warned him before the game that he would be edgy and have such problems.
“Coach Brown said, ‘You’re going to be a little amped up coming out. Don’t overthrow the ball.’ I overthrew a couple of times,” he said.
But overthrow he did.
“Coach Brown is always on me about letting the receivers make a play. Those were some game-changing balls I left too deep,” he said.
At halftime Brown approached and said, “You know how to make the throws. Just lock in, get your lower body in rhythm and make the right throws you made all week.”
And he settled in. His first touchdown pass as a Mountaineer was to Florida State transfer George Campbell.
“That was special. It was really good for George because he works hard on special teams and on offense. He didn’t start on offense but he made some good plays,” Kendall said.
His second was to Tevin Bush, whom he called “a scrappy little dude.”
Now, though, more will be asked of Austin Kendall.
Saturday’s noon road opponent is Missouri and do not be fooled by the Tigers’ loss at Wyoming in the opener. This an SEC team that knows how to play with a Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant at quarterback and now a chip on its shoulder.
The oddsmakers have made the Tigers two touchdown favorites.
When Wyoming beat Missouri, the Cowboys’ quarterback changed the game with some long runs.
Kendall did not run against JMU.
“If there’s opportunities there, we can take those,” Kendall said. “I’m a pocket quarterback, though. If the ball is there to throw, the ball will be there.”