MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Just when you thought you’ve seen everything the Mountaineers have to offer, they take the field and show you more. Maryland, a Power-5 team and longtime border-state rival, came into Morgantown 2-1 and they’re leaving 2-2 after West Virginia rolled to an easy 45-6 victory.
The West Virginia offense proved outstanding. Quarterback Skyler Howard went 21-33 for 294 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His lone interception (and the first one of his career) came off the hands of a receiver.
On the other hand, Maryland’s starting quarterback Caleb Rowe, who made his second start on the season today, went 10-27 while throwing zero touchdowns and five interceptions. Third stringer Maxx Garman came in late in the third quarter to attempt damage control, but the Terps just couldn’t keep up with the Mountaineers consistency on both sides of the ball.
“It’s a work in progress,” Howard said. “We take what they (the opponent) gives us and if they see that, then we’re gonna take full advantage of that . . . every element of our game compliments each other. Whether it’s me running, Wendell (Smallwood) running or seven (Shell) running, it all compliments each other.”
Howard, who took an enormous hit in the first quarter, got right back up without skipping a beat but head coach Dana Holgorsen says that’s the kind of hit that fuels Howard’s success.
Holgorsen’s post-game press conference started off with, “It’s just a great day to be a Mountaineer.”
“The crowd was alive and our guys hit the field and they were ready to play,” he said. “It started fast and it was a pretty good way to finish up this series with Maryland. Overall, just really happy with the bunch and I thought we played pretty good.”
Both the Mountaineers’ ground and pass games were exceptional today, combining for 601 total yards between them.
In the rushing column, Wendell Smallwood led the way with 22 carries for 147 yards and a touchdown. Rushel Shell wasn’t too far behind with 15 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.
“I think we just ran the ball well and that opened up for the pass game and we were passing good and the run was good too,” Smallwood said. “The lineman were blocking so good, that was the best I’ve seen them blocking since I’ve been here. The holes were there, the reads were there and there wasn’t too many missed assignments.”
Shell followed up by crediting Holgorsen with pushing him to be more explosive. “I felt like my back was up against the wall,” he said. “I had to prove a lot of people wrong.”
Seven Mountaineers rushed for positive yardage in West Virginia’s victory for a total of 304 yards on 59 attempts.
As for the receiving core, redshirt sophomore Shelton Gibson carried the Mountaineers with six catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was one of the greatest plays I’ve seen in a while,” Holgorsen said, describing one of Gibson’s six grabs. “Him (Gibson) and Skyler (Howard) got really good chemistry right now. We all know that they’re buddies and everything but the timing those two kids got going on right now is, I anticipate will only get better.”
Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts each caught three passes in the victory. Shell, Smallwood, Durante and Mathis each caught two. Ten total players caught passes today for 297 total yards.
Quarterback William Crest also saw a few snaps tonight, going two of four for only three yards. Holgorsen said he decided to take Howard out of the game and replace him with Crest when he began to take too many unnecessary hits.
The West Virginia defense held the Maryland Terrapins to just one score. The Mountaineers racked up a whopping five interceptions. Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley, Terrell Chestnut, Jeremy Tyler and KJ Dillon each had a takeaway.
Terrell Chestnut pleased both Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson with his exceptional play.
“Extra effort, exceptional play, never gave up…” is how Gibson described Chestnut’s performance. The redshirt senior finished with two tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
“Unreal,” Holgorsen added. “It sums (Chestnut) up. Just how much it means to him to be here, how much West Virginia and West Virginia University means to him…he’s been here as long as I have and he’s overcame adversity with some tore up knees and stuff. He is what being a Mountaineer is all about.”
Chestnut said he still remembers the Mountaineers’ brutal loss to Maryland two years ago, crediting that with fueling him to play so well tonight. He also said he remembers last season’s game against Oklahoma, which West Virginia lost 45-33.
“I think everybody is on the same page,” Chestnut said. “We know we’re getting to the chunk of our schedule in the next couple weeks, so we’re just gonna enjoy (today’s victory) and rest tomorrow and get ready for Oklahoma.”
Jared Barber led the team in tackles with five, followed by Nick Kwiatkoski and Karl Joseph with four each.
The Mountaineer defense handed Maryland not only their first sack on the season, but also their second and third. Maryland recorded just 14 first downs as opposed to West Virginia’s record-breaking 37. The Terrapins were held to just 153 passing yards and 173 rushing yards.
Holgorsen says the only side of the ball he was somewhat disappointed with was on special teams. Kicker Josh Lambert had an off night, going 1-for-3, missing one from 54, hitting from 48, then getting blocked from 44.
According to Holgorsen, the return team wasn’t quite up to speed, either.
“I wasn’t very happy with them on bad communication on the kickoff return,” said Holgorsen. “Wasn’t happy with KJ (Dillon), and I’ve been talking to KJ for six months about it’s different being a ball carrier than it is being a defensive player.”
Overall, the Mountaineers will head into Big 12 conference play with a 3-0 record, accomplishing their first goal of the season.
“We’re 3-0, where I expected to be,” Holgorsen said. “We felt like we could be 3-0 from non-conference and we are. We know what’s ahead of us and it’s time to refocus and starting thinking about Big 12 a little bit. The next one’s gonna be at Oklahoma and we’re about to go into a nine game stretch that’s gonna be pretty challenging.”
The Mountaineers will head to Norman, Oklahoma next Saturday, October 3, to face Bob Stoops and the Sooners.
All photos in this article credited to Dale Sparks via WVUsports.com.