Before West Virginia’s thrilling, but nerve-racking 35-32 victory over the BYU Cougars this past Saturday, I gave three key matchups that needed to go in the Mountaineers favor for them to pull out a win at FedEx Field.
Let’s take a closer look and revisit what those were, and see whether or not WVU did in fact come out on top of the head to head battles.
WVU’s Shelton Gibson and Ka’Raun White vs BYU’s Kai Nacua
The Mountaineers definitely got the better end of this deal. Gibson was already well known throughout the Big 12 coming into this season, but after his last two performances, the nation is also starting to take notice. The junior speedster hauled in four receptions for 144 yards, including a long of 51 where he burnt freshman cornerback Chris Wilcox that eventually set up Skyler Howard’s 5-yard touchdown run.
White played pretty well overall with a couple of crucial catches, but he let one slip right through his hands on a key fourth down play when the Mountaineers were just trying to move the chains late and chew up clock. White was wide open on the play and made a great move to get open, but couldn’t coral the catch. Still, the junior managed four catches for 39 yards.
Nacua came into the day with three interceptions, good for first on his team and sixth in the nation. But the free safety was basically invisible all game long and really had no impact whatsoever.
WVU’s Offensive Line vs BYU Defense
The West Virginia offensive line was very good in this one. They gave Howard plenty of time to throw and helped pave the way for Rushel Shell’s two rushing touchdowns. They also opened up some lanes for Justin Crawford to squirt through, then Crawford did the rest with his legs. The only real hiccup for the unit was when All-American candidate Tyler Orlosky miscommunicated with Howard and snapped the ball when the QB wasn’t ready and BYU recovered. That came at a critical point in the game, but it ended up not hurting the Mountaineers at all. I almost guarantee you that doesn’t happen again this year.
The Cougars defense had their moments when they intercepted a pass and recovered the aforementioned fumble, but WVU still racked up 481 yards -the most allowed by BYU this season- and 26 first downs.
BYU Quarterback Taysom Hill vs WVU’s Linebackers
This matchup did not pan out well for West Virginia. The linebackers just didn’t make as many plays as they needed to. They struggled to get off blocks and get in the BYU backfield. The Cougars ran for 280 yards as Jamaal Williams got 169 himself and Hill added 101. The lack of pressure also allowed Hill to throw the ball well, but he was prone to interceptions and threw three of them. It was Maurice Fleming’s pick that sealed the deal at the end.
The best play out of the linebacker group was when Justin Arndt did get some pressure on Hill and forced him into a bad throw, a throw in which Rasul Douglas stepped in front of and took the other way for six points. The positives were the turnovers forced, but the defenses inability to stop the run and allow 521 yards to a team whose offense was called “inept” just a few days before kickoff gives the Cougars the slight advantage in this category.
So WVU won two of the three key matchups and therefore won the game and, improved to 3-0.
Next up for the Mountaineers is Kansas State this Saturday, October 1 in the Big 12 opener. It’s also “stripe the stadium” for the fans.