WVU Offense Explosive – and Offensive – In Victory At Kansas
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The precision was impressive, the dissection imposing – as long as it lasted.
Like a gifted artist with a brush, a skilled surgeon with a scalpel, there wasn’t anything West Virginia couldn’t do offensively in the first half of its 56-34 win over Kansas here Saturday.
Running backs Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy sliced through KU’s front seven, while quarterback Will Grier and wideout David Sills carved up the back end to the tune of 357 total yards and a 35-13 lead over two quarters. WVU went over the 160-yard mark both throwing and running and showed such balance that there was no way for the Jayhawks to handle it all.
Until, that is, they did. For as hot as the Mountaineers started, the third quarter was equally as icy. After scorching the Sunflower State playing surface for five first-half touchdowns, West Virginia’s third quarter possessions were punt-interception-punt-punt. It was almost unexplainable – until it wasn’t.
“A lot of times when we struggled, they were just playing harder than us,” Grier said. “It was hot and there was some adversity, and I thought we just weren’t playing as hard as them when we struggled. We gotta play better for the entire game. We are leaving a lot of stuff out there. There’s a lot more we can do.”
If the first half was a concise display of offensive prowess, the third quarter was the exact opposite. After two quarters, McKoy had racked up 58 yards and two touchdown runs despite carrying just four times, while Crawford had another on score on the ground. Grier challenged the 200-yard mark, settling for 193 at the half after completing 13-of-19 passes, including a 49-yard scoring strike to Sills that made it 28-3 and ushered in what most assumed was a rout after Mike Daniels returned an interception for a touchdown to forge a 35-10 lead.
And then it was all gone. Vanished, somehow, under a sea of execution mistakes on both sides that saw Kansas score 17 straight points to get within 35-27 in the fourth quarter. With the defense in the midst of giving up its most single game rushing yardage to a player ever, the offense was equally as inept, gaining just 88 yards on 17 plays after it drove 80-plus yards four times alone in the opening half.
It begs the question: What happened?
“We come out in the third quarter and we aren’t a great team to start that half with a sense of urgency,” WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “We stalled out all through the third quarter and then finally picked it up on a couple drives in the fourth. Very inconsistent. The mentality we had all week was to finish. We allowed them to come back in the game by our play in the third quarter.”
Indeed, when Kansas pulled within a single possession with the eight-point deficit, the body language, demeanor and overall alacrity was being questioned if not on the sidelines, at least by the fan base and media. What is it, one wondered, about this group that seems to breed a sense of sluggishness that has seen them get mired in the muck of this substandard stretch?
And then, just like that, the Mountaineers flipped the switch again when threatened. Starting in the third quarter, WVU drove 86 yards in 11 plays and 72 yards in six plays to put up two touchdowns and keep a charging KU rally at bay. A late interception return by Al-Rasheed Benton then set up the offense for the decisive and final blow, and Grier delivered with his second three-yard touchdown run in as many series for the final margin.
It was three drives, 19 plays, 188 yards and 21 points in less than six minutes of fourth quarter possession. Mr. Hyde had turned back Dr. Jeckyll again, and with an ease that allowed West Virginia to escape both with its dignity and the 22-point victory in the Big 12 opener.
In all, WVU totaled 635 yards of offense, averaged 7.7 yards per play and scored 50-plus points for just the 10th time in the seven-year tenure of Dana Holgorsen, who called it equal parts excellent or inept. But there’s a lot left, both in the tank and to desire with this group – and no more sparring partners for practice. In two weeks, TCU hits back.
“Just have to build on it and have more complete games,” Grier said. “Take this win and watch the film and move forward. We beat ourselves on a couple things, but they played hard. We kept our composure and we are a confident offense, a confident team. We gotta play a more complete game, but once we settled in we did some good things and guys played well.”