The Mountaineers passed their first test of the season, beating the SEC’s Missouri Tigers 26-11 to move to 1-0.
This is going to be a weekly series throughout the season where we’ll recap the game and discuss some of the best and worst aspects of our performance. Week 1 saw a lot more highs than lows, which means this will be a relatively happy review session.
General game control. I haven’t done my rewatch yet, but it felt like we had everything under control right from the kickoff. The game probably wasn’t over until Crawford’s touchdown run but as soon as I saw that opening 3-and-out I never really felt like the game was in doubt.
The offensive line played a very solid game, even down a few starters. Charles Harris is a legit 1st rounder, and the rest of the Mizzou front 4 is no joke either, and for the most part we held them in check, even after Cajuste went down. We did allow 6 tackles for a loss, but didn’t give up a sack and ran for 241 yards on 5 yards per carry. Missouri’s front 4 is arguably the best we’ll face all year, so I’ll definitely count that as a win.
The defense was also notably stout, continuing last year’s trend of winning early downs and forcing passing situations. They also had one very nice stand following the William Crest fumble in the 2nd quarter, which was crucial in not allowing Missouri a foothold in the game heading into the half. They did give up 180 yards rushing (only 3.8 ypc) and 462 total, but 154 of that came after the 2nd string was in and the game was decided. All in all a strong performance from the guys on many of their WVU debuts.
Skyler Howard was much more consistent with regards to his accuracy and decision making, completing 65% of his passes and looking much better on short and intermediate balls with the exception of one pass that sailed high on the opening drive. The ball was coming out on time (as evidenced by those 0 sacks) and to the right spots, and if nothing was there, he was also much more willing to throw to the check down, which resulted in a couple of nice catch and runs from our backs. In fact, if there was anything missing it was his deep ball accuracy, as he overthrew both KaRaun White for a TD in the right corner of the endzone and Jovon Durante for his lone INT. However, considering our success in this regard last year, and the fact that it was just our first game, I feel that those connections are more a matter of when than if. All in all, a very solid performance.
Daikiel Shorts was able to consistently find soft spots in the Missouri zone, and was on the receiving end of many of those intermediate passes from Howard, hauling in 8 balls for 131 yards. Those 8 catches were just 1 shy of a career high, while the 131 yards were by far the most he’s ever had. If Skyler keeps playing like he did Saturday, Daikiel could be in for a big senior year.
Justin Crawford had a stellar debut, and was every bit as good as advertised. To his credit, Russell Shell also looked very good prior to picking up an injury, but Crawford filled in very nicely and has an explosiveness that Shell just can’t match. They combined for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns on 37 carries (5.16 ypc, 5 explosive runs), and hopefully can continue to compliment each other that way moving forward.
Billy Kinney and Mike Molina showed out nicely in their first career starts, as well, averaging 45.4 yards per punt and connecting on 4/4 field goals, respectively. You could argue that all 4 of those field goals came from inside the 20 and that Molina absolutely should be making all of them, but we saw at the other end how easily it can go another way. Molina also put 4/7 kickoffs into the endzone for touchbacks, so overall it was a very nice debut for both specialists.
Finally, the offense had 4 drives that ended inside the 10, and even though you’d like to see us punch it into the endzone on those occassions, it was very encouraging to watch us move the ball up and down the field against a defense that was very good a year ago. However…
We had 4 drives end inside the 10, and against Big 12 teams we will absolutely need those to be 7 point trips instead of 3. It’s nice that we were able to win comfortably in spite of it, but that 26 should’ve really been closer to 40.
Backup quarterbacks. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but week 1 left me terrified of what might happen to this season if Skyler Howard gets hurt. He missed 3 plays towards the end of the 2nd quarter, resulting in one terrible fumble on an attempted pass by Crest inside our own 10, one successful handoff by Chuganov, and one terrible interception on an awfully conceived play call and pass by Chugonov when we clearly should’ve just been running out the half. For those scoring at home, that’s only 1 out of 3 plays with backup QB’s in the game that did not result in a turnover. Hopefully this is a message to all the people out there calling for Skyler to be replaced: there’s a reason that he’s playing despite his own issues, and it’s because the guys behind him are worse.
3 turnovers. I already went over the 2 really bad ones, but Skyler’s pick wasn’t much better. He overthrew Durante on a deep ball into double coverage, and while I don’t hate the decision in and of itself (Durante can make plays like that), you have to give your guy a chance. Either way, 3 turnovers is always going to be 3 too many, and we have to do a better job taking care of the ball.
Pass defense was good, but inconsistent. This is going to be a bit nitpicky, because Drew Lock, J’Mon Moore, and Chris Black are all talented, but while we held them in check for the most part, they were still open a bit more than I would’ve liked. They put a couple of nice drives together that ended in missed field goals, and Lock also missed those guys open underneath a few more times. I don’t think they wouldn’t have resulted in big plays or anything, but they were the type of chain movers that you can guarantee teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are going to hit 9/10 times, so it’s something to watch for moving forward. It wouldn’t be a season opener if there was nothing to work on though, and all things considered (9 new starters, 7 contributors getting their first D1 action) I think they did just fine.
I’ve seen our performance described as workman-like, which implies that we weren’t all that impressive, but you know what? I honestly feel that undersells just how dominant we were in this game. We had 3 turnovers and left some points on the board, and despite that were still in control from kickoff to Country Roads; any time you can handle an SEC team like that you’ve played a pretty good game. The offense moved the ball well, and was especially impressive up front against one of the best front 7’s we’ll face this year, and the defense was better than expected. There are plenty on things to work on moving forward, but 1-0 is 1-0, and we’re on to Youngstown State.