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Grading the Mountaineers: West Virginia vs. LIU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia cruised to a 66-0 victory over Long Island on Saturday at Mountaineer Field.

Here is how we graded WVU’s performance:

Atmosphere — Saturday was a gorgeous September afternoon in Morgantown, with temperatures starting in the mid-70s at kickoff and dipping into the upper-60s by the end of the game. With sunny skies and mild temps at the outset, it was a perfect day for college football.

Mountaineer Field was not full with an announced attendance of 50,911, but still the crowd and atmosphere were far greater than anything experienced in 2020, when COVID restrictions and fan fears kept the attendance below 11,200 for each of the five home games. Unfortunately the coronavirus has not left us, but still many WVU fans chose to be on hand for the 2021 home opener.

Even though things are still not normal, this afternoon did feel like an old-fashioned football Saturday. Honoring the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the 20th anniversary, including former Mountaineer quarterback Chris Gray, who was killed in the Twin Towers, was a very nice though also extremely emotional moment. Grade: A-

Offense — It’s hard to find too much to fault in a Mountaineer offense that scored every time it touched the football for the first 44:58 of the contest. That included four straight touchdown drives to start the first half, concluding with a well-executed two-minute march that resulted in a field goal that gave WVU a 38-0 advantage at the midway point.

The Mountaineer lead only grew from there. West Virginia was efficient on those first-half possessions with scoring marches of 14 plays for 80 yards, six plays for 39 yards, 13 plays for 69 yards and 11 plays for 56 yards. The biggest criticism of the Mountaineer offense was its offensive line didn’t get great push to open many big holes.

WVU’s rushing attack had accounted for just 74 yards at halftime. Admittedly, LIU was stacking the box to try to limit Leddie Brown, which allowed West Virginia to throw for 233 first-half yards and 362 for the game. WVU’s ground game did show a spark in the second half (127 yards) as backup quarterback Garrett Greene ran for 98 yards and two touchdowns in his extended action.

It would have been nice, though, to see the Mountaineers impose their will against an FCS foe in the early going. Other than that, it’s hard to find much fault in WVU’s offensive performance on Saturday. Grade: B

Defense — WVU’s defense limited the Sharks to just 88 total yards in the first half, and other than a late-second quarter drive of 65 yards which ended in a botched/blocked field goal attempt, LIU never threatened to score. The Sharks’ offense went backwards much of the second half, accumulating seven yards in the final 30 minutes.

West Virginia held Long Island to just 2 of 13 in third-down situations for the game, and it had a 35:00 to 25:00 time of possession advantage. Obviously, WVU will play better offenses than LIU, which finished with only 60 rushing yards and 35 passing yards, but the West Virginia defense did about everything you could ask of it in this outing. Grade: A-

Special teams — When you start a game with a 90-yard kickoff return — and Winston Wright is proving to be a huge weapon in that area after two contests — the grades in this category are likely to be high. They were. Wright never got another chance because LIU didn’t kick off again. The Mountaineer special teams didn’t produce any other explosive plays after Wright’s opening TD, but they were solid all the way around.

Lance Dixon, the Penn State transfer who also got the start at will linebacker, is a real force for WVU’s kickoff coverage unit. The Mountaineers were so dominant in all phases, they never had to punt in the game. Grade: A+

Coaching — West Virginia’s coaches got pretty much everything accomplished Saturday that they wanted. Obviously, they first wanted the win over Long Island, but considering WVU has never lost to an FCS opponent, that was pretty much assumed from the outset.

Beyond that, the Mountaineers wanted to be much more mistake-free than they were in their four-turnover loss at Maryland in last week’s season opener. In addition, and most importantly, WVU wanted to get plenty of players game experience, and the coaches did that … and then some. Grade: A