MORGANTOWN — Would the real Mountaineer football team sign in please?
That’s a question 61,891 curious West Virginia University fans were wondering at halftime here Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium.
That’s because the homestanding Mountaineers were trailing James Madison 7-3.
What was even more perplexing is WVU’s deep stable of running backs, who were supposed to be the strength of the offense, were inexplicably unproductive.
The Mountaineer trio of Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Alec Sinkfield (Leddie Brown was injured) combined for only 10 yards on six carries in the first quarter. And the second period was even worse with only 8 yards on four carries.
So, what did WVU do at halftime?
The Mountaineers turned into a Big 12 team.
WVU threw the ball and threw the ball and threw the ball some more in the second half. Otherwise? WVU probably wouldn’t have defeated James Madison 20-13 here Saturday in the Mountaineers’ opener.
No one knows that better than coach Neal Brown, who was making his WVU debut.
“You can say what you want,” said Brown. “The offense wasn’t pretty and [we] struggled to run the ball. We’ve struggled to run it in scrimmages as well.”
The problem? It isn’t the running backs. Instead, it is the reconfigured offensive line which is very much a work in progress.
That’s why WVU ran the ball only 14 times for 16 yards in the second half, finishing with only 34 yards on 24 carries.
Meanwhile, debuting quarterback Austin Kendall was unlimbering his throwing arm. After completing 14 of 23 passes — mostly underneath — for only 89 yards in the first half, the graduate transfer aired it out in the second half.
Kendall completed 13 of 19 passes after halftime for 171 yards and both of WVU touchdowns. The 6-foot-2, 222-pound redshirt junior finished 27 of 42 for 260 yards and the two TDs.
Not bad for a debut.
Especially in the second half.
Yet, Kendall didn’t quite see it that way.
“I missed too many deep balls,” he said during post-game interviews. “There were three or four that I left and that can’t happen. There were some game-changing plays that I left too deep.
“I was a little amped up. I guess in practice they [the receivers] were getting off and [the defensive backs] pressed a little easier. Game time came and they [the wideouts] were being held a little bit more and I was letting the ball out. It’s all a timing deal. Like I said, I left a couple of them too deep.”
Yet, Kendall and the passing game were indeed the difference in the game.
“Offensively, the story of it is I thought we threw the ball, at times, pretty well,” said Brown. “I knew we were going to have to throw. That’s probably where I thought we’d be [42 passes]. I thought we’d run more plays . Some of that’s from third-down struggles, some of that’s from dropped passes.
“But I thought we’d be anywhere from 40-50 [passes]. I think that’s kind of who we are right now. We’ve got to do some things in the run game.”
Brown is right on both counts.
A passing team is indeed the Mountaineers identity, offensively. And, yes, the running game has to improve to keep defenses honest.
But, remember, WVU is a member of the Big 12.
It showed in the second half.