MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—The West Virginia University football team improved to 3-0 on Saturday, defeating BYU 35-32 at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland but the Mountaineers have a lot of room for improvement heading forward.
For the second straight game mental miscues plagued WVU. The defense struggled with the pass rush, surrendering 280 yards and they couldn’t stop the run. Jamaal Williams rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns against the Mountaineers.
The cornerbacks missed tackles and third down coverage was under par. The Cougars were 10-for-15 on third downs.
BYU picked up 521 total yards of offense and went 5-for-5 in the red zone.
Special teams struggled to return kickoffs and missed coverages.The Cougars returned kickoffs for 41 and 50 yards and averaged 24.2 yards on five returns. BYU returned one punt for 16 yards.
Wide receivers dropped passes and a fumble almost cost WVU the game.
“Our field position continues to be a huge issue,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Special teams are not carrying their weight right now. That will get addressed. We will focus hard on it. If I need to put starters out there, I will. We will address that. Third down defense was not good enough. Offensively we had a chance to seal it and I can’t explain what happened. One thing that happened at the end of the game is something that Tyler, our All-American center, Tyler and senior starting quarterback had a miscommunication. And obviously that can never happen but not in that situation.”
Turnovers were detrimental to both teams.
“Turnovers, that changed it there for a little bit,” linebacker Justin Arndt said. “Then we give it right back when the offense turned the ball over. That’s what you see mostly, turnovers. They change momentum and stopping them. On third down we were terrible I feel like.”
The Mountaineers jumped out to a 35-19 lead with 11:27 remaining when the wheels began to fall off.
“I told everybody to stay ready but we didn’t,” Holgorsen said. “I think the problem was we relaxed a little bit. Game wasn’t over. Defensively we got to get out there and stop them. If we give up a score, which we did, then offense has to go up there and make up for it. That’s a very inopportune time for three and outs. Shame on defense. Shame on offense. It’s a team thing.”
The Cougars drove 67 yards down field to score on eight plays, spanning two minutes. BYU failed to convert the two-point conversion.
WVU went three and out, failing to burn any significant amount of time off the clock.
The Cougars put together a nine drive, 79-yard series to pull within three.
The Mountaineers went three and out again on a dropped pass by Ka’Raun White.
Momentum shifted back to WVU with 4:23 remaining when Jeremy Tyler picked off Taysom Hill’s pass.
When it looked as if the Mountaineers would finally put the game away, a miscommunication between senior center Tyler Orlosky and quarterback Skyler Howard caused a fumble, which BYU recovered at its 6-yard line.
“It’s something we do a lot. We froze them. They were starting to blitz our motions. I figured we could freeze them and they would jump. But obviously they didn’t blitz on that one. Skyler forgot to get a play called. TO thought that they jumped so he snapped it. It was a miscommunication that can’t happen. It’s an easy fix. They’ve done it 100 times.”
The Cougars drove 66 yards on six plays and were on the verge of scoring the go-ahead touchdown when Hill’s pass deflected off Nana Kyeremeh’s hand and landed in the hands of senior corner Maurice Fleming, selling the win for WVU.
“We been talking about that all week in practice” Fleming said. “We see a lot of tipped balls, we got to get our hands on them. And we did.”
The Mountaineers did do some things nicely on the defensive side of the ball. The defense forced two fumbles and had three interceptions.
Redshirt senior cornerback Rasul Douglas’ had a pick six, which he returned 54 yards to give WVU a 21-10 lead.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was pleased with his squad’s effort.
“I thought they fought hard,” he said. “We played hard. we played physical. We made some mental mistakes but overall, I was excited with the way we played. We played with some energy today. I thought guys flew around. Marvin (Gross) got a bunch of snaps in, which is good to see. We rotated a bunch of backers. We got all the d-linemen in and the whole secondary was playing.”
The corners took a lot of heat for missed coverage but Gibson thinks everyone on the field was responsible.
“There’s 11 guys involved whether we didn’t hit a blitz,”. Whether our pass rush didn’t get home. Whether a guy blew coverage underneath. But everybody in the stadium thinks its the DBs. It’s not the DBs. And the biggest thing we did today was we created turnovers. We got four today which is good to get back on the board with that.
Another positive of the day was the performance of Justin Crawford. The junior running back had 86 yards, including a 21-yard run. But WVU struggled to find him late in the game.
Howard had one of his best games against BYU. The senior quarterback completed 31-of-40 passes for 332 yards. He threw for one touchdown and had one interception.
Overall, the Mountaineers had some positives from both the defense and the offense but a lot of negatives are still present. It is an area that will need to be improved if WVU looks to run the table during Big 12 play.
But in the end, a win is better than a loss.
Cover Photo Credit: Shanna Rose