MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s been said that “anything can happen when the sun goes down and the lights come on” at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Mountaineers’ stellar defense and untamed offense sealed the deal last night, blowing out a Georgia Southern Eagles squad 44-0.
“I’m obviously proud, not only of the guys, played well on all three sides of the ball, prepared well, and I’m really, really pleased with the coaching staff and how they approached this,” Dana Holgorsen said in his post-game press conference.
The Mountaineer defense was perhaps the most impressive part of the night, forcing five turnovers including four interceptions and a forced fumble. Leading the defensive attack was no other than senior safety Karl Joseph, who had an unbelievable stat line with three interceptions and a forced fumble recovery along with eight tackles (seven of which were solo).
“I’ve never given anybody a game ball but I gave him one down there in the locker room,” Holgorsen said. “He’s the inspirational leader of what we’re doing. He’s a pretty motivated young man right now and those weren’t easy interceptions, too, and it happened in one quarter. I said, ‘Geeze, what happens when we’re going against a passing team?’ . . . Giving him a game ball is obviously something that’s warranted and then he turned around and gave it to the whole defense.”
Others making noise on the defense included Nick Kwiatkoski with seven total tackles, Kyle Rose with six, Terrell Chestnut with five and Dravon Askew-Henry with four tackles and an interception.
Georgia Southern quarterback Favian Upshaw did most of the offensive work for the Ealges and was still held to just a 2-13 completion/incompletion ratio. Upshaw completed more passes to the Mountaineer defense than to his own team.
“They did a good job,” Georgia Southern head coach Willie Fritz said following the game, per gseagles.com. “It was obvious they have been working on our offense for quite some time. They did a great job of just shutting us down, dive, quarterback and pitch. We did some good things defensively, but we put ourselves in bad positions. Guys got behind us, and we didn’t make plays on balls.”
With his feet, Upshaw attempted 16 rushes and gained just 64 yards. Georgia Southern racked up a total of 224 total yards in their loss.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson arrived to post-game interviews wearing a suit and tie and boasting a huge smile. He credited Askew-Henry with a beautiful interception and also praised his defense for getting a forced fumble so early in the season as opposed to last year.
“The caused fumble, I think it was game nine last year before we got our first one so, we got five (turnovers already) so we’re halfway home with our totals from last year,” he said. “It all worked out. I couldn’t be happier. I mean, I couldn’t write a script that would be better than this one.”
Gibson also revealed details about his travels to other Sun Belt Conference schools in search of tips and knowledge on how to beat the Georgia Southern Eagles, who are predominately a run-based team.
“I was incognito, I had the camo on,” Gibson laughed. “We visited some places, you know, I don’t wanna tell who we visited and helped us out but some of the stuff we got from different people helped . . . The one thing about it is the Sun Belt is pretty tight because they wouldn’t tell us anything so I hope they don’t call me for help now.”
Switching gears over to the Mountaineer offense, a pair of names stood out during last night’s victory. Jovon Durante, a true freshman, and Shelton Gibson, a redshirt sophomore, combined for 251 yards and two touchdowns on six catches.
Durante landed his first collegiate touchdown early in the game to earn West Virginia’s first points on the night. The catch was a 41-yard dinger from quarterback Skyler Howard.
“We took what (the Georgia Southern defense) gave us,” Howard said. “They knew we had young guys on the outside and we knew they were going to test us and so those guys rose to the challenge.”
According to Shelton Gibson, the Georgia Southern Eagles switched corners on almost every series. He credits watching lots of film this past week with helping him see what each corner was going to do in different situations.
Gibson himself made some huge grabs, including a 57-yarder, a 47-yarder, and a 26-yard touchdown catch which was his first touchdown in the old gold and blue.
“My first collegiate touchdown, it felt so good,” Gibson said. “I just wanna get back to work. I’m ready to get back to work.”
Wendell Smallwood led the Mountaineer run game with 11 rushes for 96 yards and a touchdown. Smallwood also racked up 23 yards on four receptions. Rushel Shell also had a decent night in the backfield gaining 42 yards on eight rushing attempts and finding the end zone once.
“Sometimes we split series,” Smallwood said. “If I got a roll, he’ll let me go and if he got a roll, I’ll let him go. I think we got each other’s back on that and if one’s in a groove, we don’t try to mess that up and just let them be productive.”
The Mountaineers’ offensive success was mostly made possible by the aggression of their junior signal. Howard didn’t have necessarily the most consistent night, after overthrowing receivers in the red zone multiple times, but still finished the game with a pretty impressive stat column.
Howard finished 16-25 for 359 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“Once I got out there, it was just football,” said Howard, who made just his third career start last night. “It’s different when there are 60,000 people, but it’s just football and we just do the same thing.”
William Crest also saw some action at the helm, first when Howard lost his helmet and had to sit out a play, and then later on in the fourth quarter.
Crest scored a touchdown on a quarterback keeper with just over two minutes left to go in the game. He threw one incomplete pass and rushed four times for 24 yards.
“This is Skyler’s team,” Holgorsen said. “But, I’m going to coach the hell out of William (Crest),” he added.
The Mountaineers ended with 544 total yards, 359 receiving and 185 rushing. They snagged 21 first downs on 66 total plays and lost zero turnovers. West Virginia’s next game is slated for next Saturday, September 12 against the Liberty Eagles at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Cover photo credit Dale Sparks/WVUsports.com
Highlights courtesy of wvusports.com