MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The West Virginia Mountaineers entered Milan Puskar Stadium this morning with something to prove. Two hours prior to kickoff, when a few Missouri Tigers met WVU players at midfield for a little pre-game scuffle, a sleeping beast was awoken. The WVU offense came out swinging, putting up 494 total yards (253 passing and 241 rushing), while a young but skilled defense laid down the hammer, only allowing Missouri into the endzone once.
Final score: WVU – 26 Missouri – 11
“I am glad that’s over, obviously,” said Head Coach Dana Holgorsen following the game. “We’ve been waiting eight months and five weeks to be able to get out there and play and finally did . . . This is a Missouri team that has won 30 of its last 40 games . . . We’ll take it. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Though overall happy with the result, Holgorsen was disappointed in redzone efficiency. WVU failed to convert on multiple touchdown opportunities, leaving the weight on kicker Mike Molina’s shoulders. Molina didn’t disappoint, nailing four field goals (from 19, 26, 21 and 33 yards out) accounting for 12 of the Mountaineers’ 26 points.
Holgorsen was also displeased with backup quarterback play. When starting quarterback Skyler Howard went down with a rib injury in the second quarter, backups William Crest and Chris Chugunov both saw action. Crest fumbled the ball, which led to a Missouri recovery, while Chugunov threw an interception on WVU’s next possession.
“I wasn’t real happy with the way the second quarter ended,” said Holgorsen. “Guys are going to go down. Guys need to step in and do a better job. I thought both our (backup) quarterbacks went in there and didn’t do their job . . . We’ve got to do better with those backups. Whether it’s Chugs (Chris Chugunov) or Will (William Crest), they’ve got to get better.”
Despite an injury that would keep the average DI quarterback on the sideline, Howard returned in the second half. The senior finished up the game completing 23 of his 35 pass attempts for 253 yards and an interception. Howard’s brief absence shifted the moral of the entire offense, according to teammate Rushel Shell.
“Honestly, Skyler (Howard) is one of the heartbeats of our offense,” Shell said. “When he went down, a lot of people where like ‘dang man, what’s going to happen?’ but he’s a tough kid. One of the toughest guys I’ve honestly ever met. He came back out and performed. He’s sore right now, but I’m sure he’ll be alright next week.”
Shell and the rest of the ground game played a steady role in WVU’s victory. Shell rushed 19 times collecting 90 yards and a touchdown. Junior RB Justin Crawford also had a successful day, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in his Mountaineer debut. He collected 101 yards on 21 attempts and found the endzone once.
“I thought No. 7 (Shell) and No. 25 (Crawford) played well,” said RB’s Coach JuJuan Seider. “He (Crawford) played running back. He didn’t try to force anything. When you have a kid who can make the wild plays, you’re always leery of trying to force a wild play. But, I thought he stayed within the system, took the ball where it was supposed to go and he did a good job of running out the contact, too, which was impressive.”
The receiving corps also had a strong showing in WVU’s season opener. Senior Daikiel Shorts had his first-career 100-yard game. He caught eight receptions off of 11 targets for 131 yards. A few weeks ago, Shorts said his goal for this season was to reach the 1,000-yard mark and to earn All-Big 12 honors. If he continues playing like he did today, he’ll certainly get there.
“I definitely had a feeling there was going to be some opportunities (for me) over the middle,” Shorts said. “Which there were, and we just took advantage of it.”
Five other receivers got in on the action today, including Shelton Gibson with six receptions, Justin Crawford with five, and Ka’Raun White with two.
The WVU defense allowed Missouri 462 total offensive yards, but the scoreboard didn’t show it. The Tigers failed to convert on many opportunities, including two missed field goals (one from 24 yards out and one from 42 yards out).
Justin Arndt (8), Antonio Crawford (8) and Kyzir White (7) led the Mountaineers in tackles. Arndt also had the sole sack of the game (one in which he literally knocked the opposing QB out of his shoe), as well as two tackles-for-loss.
Redshirt senior Antonio Crawford, who hasn’t played in a game since sustaining an injury at the JUCO level over a year ago, says the defense was effective because everyone bought into Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson.
“We played together, we played fast and we never gave up,” said Crawford. “It was exciting. I was kind of nervous a little bit in the beginning. I kind of felt like a freshman again but once a few plays got underway, it was all good.”
A handful of fresh faces got the opportunity to play today, including freshmen Reese Donahue and Zach Sandwhisch. Each collected one tackle.
“I thought our defense did a great job with sudden change,” said Holgorsen. “We’re going to give up some plays. Anytime an opponent runs 100 plays, they’re going to hit some on you. That happened, but I thought for the most part defensively we did a great job, especially with sudden change throughout the course of the game of keeping them down . . . 1-0 against a quality opponent. We’ll take it knowing we have a lot of work to do moving forward.”
WVU’s next game is Saturday, September 10 against Youngstown State at Milan Puskar Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m.
Cover Image Credit: Kelsie Vanderwijst (BGS)