West Virginia Overcomes Injuries, Miscues To Run Record To 3-1
West Virginia overcame the greatest rushing performance ever against it, turning to quarterback Will Grier to secure a hard-fought 56-34 victory over Kansas in Lawrence on Saturday.
Kansas running back Khalil Herbert rushed for 291 yards on 36 carries, breaking the record of 272 yards against WVU set by Pitt’s Kevan Barlow in 2000 and four yards more than the great Gale Sayers’ best day for the Jayhawks.
But WVU was able to run its record to 3-1 going into the off-week because Grier came to life through the air and on the ground late in the game, throwing for one touchdown to David Sills and running the game’s final two touchdowns to clinch the victory after a difficult third quarter.
Grier completed 25-of-39 passes for 347 yards, tossing two TDs to Sills, who finished with 8 catches for 130 yards.
Grier also rushed for 51 yards and those two late touchdowns on 10 carries, but the ground game was led by Justin Crawford, who had his fourth straight 100-yard performance to finish with a season-high 125 yards while Kennedy McKoy had a spectacular afternoon with 12 carries for 105 yards and 2 TDs.
“It was good at times, bad at times,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. “The second and fourth quarters were good. I’d rather it be the second and fourth quarters than the first and third.”
Kansas could say the same as it shredded a depleted WVU defense for three plays of 60 or more yards — two of them runs by Herbert and one a touchdown pass from Peyton Bender to Steven Sims — and gained a total of 564 yards.
The afternoon had a shocking start as Kansas came out and exposed West Virginia’s rush defense as having a soft underbelly.
Indeed, Herbert literally tore them to shreds right out of the gate and would continue to do so through a 191-yard rushing half against a defense that had not allowed a running back more than 76 yards this season.
The first play was 18 yards up the gut, the third 21 yards and so it went, all the way down the field without a completion. The Jayhawks took it to the WVU 6, fourth-and-3, before Kansas suddenly woke and saw it was Kansas.
A false start ruined TD hopes, but they did boot a field goal, and it was 3-0.
WVU had to punt on its first possession, forced a punt itself and then asked Crawford to do his best Herbert imitation.
The Big 12’s leading rusher was a carbon copy, slashing through the middle, as had Herbert, play after play until WVU turned the ball over to McKoy to finish off the drive on the ground from the 7 to make it 7-3.
Kansas again put a drive together and got to fourth-and-short again at the Mountaineer 39, when Chris Hughes was charged with his second false start under those circumstances to sap the momentum from KU.
That ended a swift quarter, and when the second quarter took place, WVU began putting it together through the air as Grier threw for 26, 10 and 24 on consecutive plays, added one more short completion, then turned and gave the ball to Crawford, who took it up the middle for a 14-3 lead.
That drive took 1:43; the next Mountaineer drive took 3:22 and featured McKoy, who had runs of 13 and 15 yards before finishing it off with a ridiculously easy 23-yard touchdown run to make it 21-3.
WVU’s next strike was through the air, and Grier latched up with David Sills V for a touchdown for the sixth time this season, that covering 49 yards, and it was 28-10.
Kansas had gotten away from pounding it with Herbert, but opted this time to go back to it and it produced a 67-yard breakaway through the middle on a third and short play on which WVU sold out at the line of scrimmage, leaving nothing but green grass between Herbert and the goal line when he broke into the secondary.
WVU’s defense hadn’t really distinguished itself in the half until Mike Daniels made his first interception count, bring it back 25 yards for the Mountaineers’ final touchdown of the half.
Kansas would add a field goal to go into the second half down 35-13.
Make that down for Kansas, but not out, because they had some second-half miracles up their sleeve.
“I think we got a little relaxed,” Sills said. “You can’t do that because the Big 12 has a lot offenses that can score quick.”
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital says those third quarter blues are unacceptable.
“It’s something we need to eliminate. I don’t know if you call it complacency or what, but it is going to be addressed. We need to start fast in the third quarter. We allowed them to get back into the game,” Spavital said.
First it was Herbert, who broke another 60-yard burst to the Mountaineer 5, taking care of those final 5 yards himself.
Then, after a 3 and out, Kansas went airborne, with Peyton Bender hitting wide receiver Steven Sims for 64 yards to put the ball inside the 5 and get Daniels out of the game with a left leg injury.
Three plays later, Taylor Martin went around left end for the score, and the Mountaineer lead had melted in the heat to 35-27.
West Virginia needed someone to step up and it was Grier, who first completed a key third down pass to Simms, then scrambled for 24 yards, then completed a third-and-10 pass to Simms that came up just short of a first down.
Dana Holgorsen opted here to kick a field goal, but was given another break by Kansas, whose star defensive lineman Armstrong jumped offside, giving WVU a first down.
The Mountaineers are too explosive to be given second chances and Grier latched up with Sills for another touchdown pass and it was 42-27.
KU rebounded, took advantage of a WVU facemask call, and scored on a pass to Steven Sims to make it 42-34 with a whole lot of time left to play
Grier took matters into his own hands here, completing a 24-yard pass to Simms, a 30-yard pass to Gary Jennings.
Grier then faked a handoff on the zone read and ran untouched off the right side into the end zone to give the Mountaineers a 49-34 lead with just over 5 minutes to play.
West Virginia salted the game away on the next possession as Lamonte McDougle forced a fumble on a pass attempt by Bender.