It took longer than we probably would’ve liked, but Youngstown State finally melted under a combination of big plays and hot sun, allowing the Mountaineers to pull away to win 38-21 and move to 2-0.
Skyler Howard was again a bright spot on offense. Sore ribs limited his impact in the running game, but he was again solid with his accuracy and decision making, completing 20 of 33 passes for 389 yards (11.8 ypa) and 5 touchdowns. He also made the correct decision to tuck the ball and scramble for a couple of 1st downs. The biggest improvement this week though was his touch and accuracy on the deep ball. Howard and Co produced 7 explosive pass plays (20+ yards), including touchdown passes of 54 and 57 yards to Shelton Gibson and a 53-yard TD to KaRaun White.
The aforementioned Gibson and White provided the splash plays that were absent last week against Missouri. Gibson had those touchdowns of 54 and 57 yards, but also added a 45-yarder and in general appropriately punished a Youngstown State defense that was steadfast in their commitment to stopping the run. KaRaun was his parnter in crime, catching 5 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown, and using his size and athleticism to make a nuisance of himself against Youngstown State’s smaller corners. This is exactly what we need from these two going forward: Shelton needs to be somebody who can consistently take the lid off the defense, while KaRaun needs to continue to provide some of that same physical presence that his brother gave us a few years back. This will ensure that Daikiel continues to have plenty of room to operate underneath, and the combination of the 3 will help take pressure off the running game.
Daikiel of the House Shorts, First of his Name, Converter of 3rd downs, Lord of the Crossing Route, and Savior of the Offense. As we mentioned, most of our receivers played well Saturday (looking right at you, Jovon), but Daikiel Shorts stood out enough to deserve his own section. The senior was again everywhere the defense wasn’t, catching 6 balls for 93 yards and a touchdown while continuing to be the guy Skyler Howard looks to on 3rd down. He converted 3 big ones on Saturday, and through 2 games his 5 such conversions are the best in the Big XII and tied for 3rd nationally. It’s hard tell if he’s added a step over the summer or if Skyler is just doing a better job of getting him the ball in stride (or more likely, a combination of the two), but through 2 games he’s been close to unguardable and is averaging 4.4 more yards per catch than he did a year ago.
And considering Daikiel’s performance, it’s no coincidence that 3rd down offense saw a big improvement this week, with the Mountaineers converting 10 out of 15 opportunities. It was combination of both good playcalling and good decision making from our coaches and quarterback respectively, and I have to say I feel much more confident in the pair of them now than I did year ago.
Kennedy McKoy made the most of his first 4 touches as a Mountaineer, gaining 34 yards on 3 carries and catching a 21-yard touchdown pass in the 4th quarter to put the game away. This explosiveness and versatility is exactly what we saw from McKoy all spring, and with Crawford and Shell each dropping passes out of the backfield you have to think his performance warrants a few more touches against BYU.
I don’t like that it took them as long as it did to wake up, but the offensive line played well in the second half, and especially in the 3rd quarter as we started to wear them down and put the game away. The 3rd quarter has been the line’s time to shine this season, with our backs carrying 30 times for 183 yards (6.1 ypc) and a touchdown while outscoring opponents by a combined score of 27-0.
The offensive line looked like a different group in the 1st half though. They came out flat and were unable to get a consistent push against the Youngstown State front, which I feel confident in saying is not one of the better units we’ll face this year. It’s nothing we didn’t expect with an FCS team in town, but it’s still frustrating to see your team playing down to their competition, especially when they did such a good job handling one of the better groups in the country last week.
Jovon Durante probably secured a demotion for himself following his play this past weekend. Skyler’s lone interception went right through his hands, but as frustrating as that was, it paled in comparison to the disturbing lack of effort he displayed while blocking on the edge. There was a play in the 2nd quarter where we had numbers on the outside, so we snapped it quickly and fired it out to Shelton on one of those quick screens that’s basically an extended running play, and all that needs to happen for the play to gain a few yards is that the blocking receiver needs to get a piece of his guy. Unfortunately, Jovon couldn’t even be troubled to do that much, and Shelton was subsequently tackled for a loss. I think I speak for everyone when I say that I can forgive a dropped pass here or there, but I absolutely can’t forgive such an obvious lack of effort. This is the 2nd time in as many games where we’ve had big play opportunities spoiled by Jovon simply not caring, which is made even more frustrating when considering his talent. I’m quite fine with him sitting on the bench for a few games to see if it’ll light a fire under his ass, and if it doesn’t, I’m more than happy to move forward with some combination of Mathis, Jennings, and McKoy taking his share of the snaps in the slot.
The pass rush, particularly along the defensive line, was again rather pedestrian on Saturday. I understand that in our scheme we don’t necessarily need sacks for our line to be successful, but the lack of ability to create any real pressure (0 hurries through 2 games) or push (only 1 TFL from the front 3) is worrisome. Equally as worrisome is the extent to which we allowed Ricky Davis to get out of the pocket and run around. If you’re going to fail to get to the quarterback, the least you could do would be to stay in your rush lanes so that he can’t break contain and cause problems with his legs. We’re going to face a couple of guys down the road who are more than capable of gashing us like that, and they’ll be a hell of a lot better at throwing the ball than Davis was, too. We’ve rarely had the kind of edge rushers you see passing on Sundays and have always had to send multiple guys to create sacks, but this is something that needs to be addressed ASAP. If Ricky Davis and Youngstown State can rip us like that, what are Pat Mahomes and Kenny Hill going to do?
This is atleast partially tied to the previous one, but the pass defense was again extremely soft, with Penguins seemingly running free in all areas of the field. To their credit Youngstown State had a lot more talent than I expected them to, but the amount of respect we were giving to their receivers was absurd. There were a couple of occasions on 3rd downs where we were giving them more cushion than the yards to gain, and they were repeatedly getting open 1 v 1 with simple crossing routes. Hopefully we can get it sorted over the next 2 weeks, because BYU loves to throw that short to intermediate stuff and will be more than happy to take it if we give it to them.
A final area where the defense was poor was with their tackling. It was relatively sloppy all day, but most egregious example was on a swing pass in the 2nd half where Arndt had the guy lined up for a kill shot and whiffed. Gibby seemed appropriately perturbed by this though, so I expect it to be fixed (or at least hope that it is) against a BYU team that tries to run after the catch.
Finally, the red zone offense was again poor. Hitting big plays is nice, and scoring on them is even nicer, but if this offense wants to take the next step and be truly great this year then we have to be able to generate touchdowns when we get down into the opposing red zone. 2 TDs in 8 tries will simply not be good enough once conference play starts, and that 25% TD rate is by far the worst in the league.
There were a lot of positives in our performance (Skyler’s deep ball accuracy and decision making, Big 3 WRs, Kennedy McKoy, 624 yards of offense), but unfortunately there were also plenty of things for us to learn from (poor pass rush, soft coverage, bad tackling, general lack of effort in the 1st half) as we prep for BYU. I think Youngstown surprised most of us with the talent they have littered around their roster, but they’re certainly not a team we should be tied with at halftime anywhere, let alone on our home turf. I’m glad our pedigree showed in the 2nd half, but I’m disappointed that it took that long against a team that would finish no higher than 8th in the Big XII. In the end, this is one that you learn from, and if nothing else it gives the coaches the leverage to tell the players that they’re not good enough to not try against anybody. 2-0, on to BYU.