MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia finally nabbed a Big 12 conference win today against the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. While shutting down the No. 2 offense in the nation on defense and relying on an explosive run game to find the endzone on offense, the Mountaineers ended a four-game losing streak.
Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell put on a show for Mountaineer fans as both eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Smallwood had 22 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown while Shell contributed 111 yards (his first 100+ yard effort of the season) for two touchdowns on 14 carries.
“I thought everyone was just dialed in and focused on their assignment,” said Smallwood. Though he had a fantastic game, Smallwood was even happier to see Shell ‘come out of his shell’ if you will.
“It just felt good watching him finally go out and have a big game,” he said. “Just going out there and executing, I thought it helped me in replacing him and going just as fast and getting the defenses tired and getting the tempo going.”
Smallwood and Shell combined for nearly 300 total rushing yards.
Though the Mountaineers struggled to find a groove through the air, Dana Holgorsen still credited quarterback Skyler Howard with leading the offensive charge downfield. Howard finished the day completing just 12 passes for 149 yards and two interceptions.
“The one thing Skyler (Howard) does well is gets us into the run play in the run game,” he said. “He’s able to execute quarterback stuff. He may not be flashy, he may not make a bunch of guys miss, but he gets us in the right play and he goes downfield.”
Much like last week against TCU, the West Virginia receiving core struggled to haul in passes. The Mountaineers’ leading receiver Shelton Gibson had zero grabs while Jovon Durante had a single catch for 11 yards.
“I don’t care about any of those stats,” said Howard. “We got the only stat that counts and that’s a W. I’m really proud of the way we battled all day. We were hungry.”
The less-flashy Ka’Raun White, however, had a career day. Catching five passes for 80 yards, White says he doesn’t pay much attention to the comparisons being made between he and older brother Kevin White.
“I’ve been waiting,” said White. “It finally happened. It felt good out there. I’m not worried about being compared to my brother anymore. Just be patient, and play like I’ve been playing.”
The WVU defense held the Red Raiders to just 378 total yards. Tony Gibson’s crew also held Patrick Mahome (second in the nation in passing yards prior to today’s game) to just 196 yards through the air and 73 on his feet.
Texas Tech’s leading receiver Jakeem Grant was also contained to just five catches and eight total yards, which shocked everyone on the West Virginia sideline, especially without the presence of cornerback Terrell Chestnut who didn’t play due to a lingering shoulder injury.
“The biggest factor in the whole game was No. 11,” said Gibson. If you would have told me that last week, then I would have took it. There’s no doubt about it. We really, really all week long worked on double-covering him and making sure we took away the underneath routes. I thought KJ (Dillon) did a hell of a job today on him.”
Dillon led the defense in tackles with nine (eight solo) including one tackle-for-loss.
“We stepped up where we needed to step up,” said Dillon. “Obviously we didn’t have the best game, but we didn’t have our worst game either. We came up and made plays when we needed to and I think we tackled well and I think we shut down their key player.”
Though he’s struggled through the first stretch of Big 12 games, Daryl Worley also had a strong defensive effort today. He collected seven tackles (six solo) and grabbed a key interception.
The Mountaineers have improved their record to 4-4 (1-4 in Big 12). They must win at least two more games to guarantee a bowl game appearance.
“I’m really happy for our guys,” said Holgorsen. “It’s been a long month and a half, but getting this victory is obviously pretty good.”
Cover Image Credit: Dale Sparks/wvusports.com