ORLANDO — Two former Big East teams met in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Wednesday in what was supposed to be a good matchup.
The 16th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers had a stellar first quarter then sleepwalked their way through periods two through four en route to an embarrassing 31-14 loss to the Miami Hurricanes, a middle of the pack team at best from the ACC.
The way the game started, it looked like the Mountaineers were well on their way to a Hurricane beat down.
After overcoming a Skyler Howard fumble, the WVU defense gave the momentum back to the offensive side by forcing Miami to lose seven yards on their first possession.
After successive punts by each team, the West Virginia offense finally found a little bit of a rhythm. After a kick catch interference call on Miami, Justin Crawford had a 9-yard run then Howard rumbled for 25 yards to set up a first-and-goal. On the very next play, freshman running back Kennedy McKoy scored from six yards away and the Mountaineers took an early 7-0 lead with 5:40 remaining in the opening quarter.
The WVU defense continued to shine throughout the rest of the quarter and did not allow a single Miami first down in the period as the Hurricanes (9-4) looked very timid and overmatched.
But that timid and overmatched feeling ended there as the complexity of the game changed completely.
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya threw a third down pass that was picked off by Toyous Avery, but Avery was called on one of the worst pass interference calls in the history of the game. That play breathed some life back into Miami and although they eventually punted on the drive, it was the next series that started the rout.
Freshman Ahmmon Richards caught a quick 8-yard comeback pass and turned it into a 51-yard score and just like that the game was tied at 7-all, and all the momentum had swung to the Miami sideline.
The WVU offense couldn’t answer and went three-and-out, and the gassed West Virginia defense trotted back on the field.
Six plays into the ensuing possession saw Kaaya hit Malcolm Lewis in the back of the end zone on a 3-yard pass for a 14-7 Hurricanes lead with 2:11 left in the half.
But instead of being able to kill the clock and get to halftime, Howard threw a terrible pass to a wide open Daikiel Shorts that hit the ground in front of him, then Howard got sacked giving the ball back to Miami.
With 27 seconds left in the half, Kaaya completed a quick five play, 70-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Berrios and the Hurricanes led 21-7 at the break.
On the first possession of the second half, Avery got his second pick called back again by a terrible pass interference penalty–even worse than the first one–and it came back to bite the Mountaineers as Kaaya, who couldn’t have completed a pass to football’s all-time best receiver early in the contest, all of a sudden couldn’t throw an incompletion. He hit David Njoku for a 23-yard score and Miami held a commanding 28-7 lead.
The Mountaineers did show some resiliency on the next drive. Jovon Durante caught a 15-yard pass and tacked on a 15-yard targeting penalty. Two plays later, Durante caught another 13 yarder. Shorts then caught a 26-yard pass over the middle on third down that set up Howard’s 4-yard scoring run and the Mountaineers trimmed the deficit to 28-14.
Miami then moved the ball down the field with ease on screen passes, but when they got to the red zone Avery made a nice pass break up and Christian Brown had a sack which forced a 30-yard Michael Badgley field goal, and the Hurricanes led 31-14.
West Virginia had several opportunities to get back in the game, but two turnovers on downs killed any slight hope they had.
The Mountaineer offense had only 226 yards of total offense, by far a season low.
The Mountaineers finish the season 10-3, but this terrible loss will sting until spring practice begins. However, Will Grier era is now officially underway.
COVER PHOTO CREDIT: KELSIE LEROSE, BGS