COLUMBIA, Mo. — If it could go bad for the West Virginia University football team Saturday, it probably did.
The Mountaineers, on the road for the first time in the 2019 season, struggled to move the ball for a second consecutive game as Missouri clobbered WVU 38-7.
West Virginia (1-1) ran the ball for just 30 yards on 32 attempts — with the bulk of those yards coming late in the fourth quarter. That comes one week after Missouri allowed nearly 300 rushing yards in an upset loss at Wyoming.
First-year WVU coach Neal Brown said it is no secret the Mountaineers are struggling on the ground, and on Saturday his team was outplayed and out-coached.
“You’ve got to win one-on-one blocks at the point of contact,” Brown said after the loss. “As coaches, we can do some different things, but at the end of the day you’ve got to be able to win at the point of contact. We’re a team right now that really struggles to run the ball, and when you really struggle the run the ball, they can pin their ears back and come.”
Missouri (1-1) bounced back from its season-opening loss in a big way. After a few near-misses early in the first quarter, the Tigers found some momentum and never really looked back.
Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant was very good Saturday against the Mountaineers, connecting on 17 of 25 pass attempts for 150 yards and three touchdowns — two of those going to preseason All-American tight end Albert Okwuegbunam.
Bryant was also effective with his legs. He did not run for a bunch of yards, finishing with 5 rushing yards, but he was able to avoid pressure when it came from the West Virginia defense and keep plays alive.
“We had a hard time tackling him,” Brown said. “I don’t know how many times he broke away from us. He’s a big guy, and I said that the other day — Tuesday when I kind of [introduced] Missouri. I’ve been down to Clemson and watched him and that’s the first thing that stuck out to me — how big he was.
“We got to him a bit early. He broke some tackles, then they blocked us really from the second quarter on on pass plays when he was in the game. He’s a good player, a really good player.”
After a Mizzou field goal opened the scoring, Bryant hit Okwuegbunam for a 26-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers ahead 10-0 going into the second quarter — and that’s when the game began to snowball against the Mountaineers. Missouri running back Larry Rountree scored from 10 yards out early in the quarter before Bryant and Okwuegbunam connected for their second touchdowns of the day. Missouri drove deep into West Virginia territory late in the quarter, and with less than a minute remaining before halftime, Bryant threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Barrett Banister to put the Tigers ahead 31-0 at the break.
“They look like a team that can contend for the [SEC] East,” Brown said. “It wasn’t a great matchup for us — I knew that as I watched them over the summer. I think their performance at Wyoming was not a true indicator of who they are. I think today was a much better indicator of that.
“The deal is, we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get better and I told our team at halftime — and I mean this — that this is the first real adversity that we’ve had. This is the first loss we’ve had. This is the first time that we’ve really been beat from a physical standpoint. Now the question is, what are we made of and where do we go from here?”
The Mountaineer defense, statistically, played much better in the second half Saturday. Missouri’s only second-half points came when Nick Bolton jumped in front of a Jack Allison pass early in the fourth quarter and returned it for a touchdown.
“At least our guys didn’t quit,” WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “Coach Brown had challenged them, as well as the defensive coaches, to just take it one play at a time. You can only eat an elephant by taking one bite at a time, and you can only get back in a game like that by playing one play at a time. We tried to do that.”
Brown said while he was disappointed in how WVU performed Saturday, he is not discouraged — especially after seeing the defense and special teams show signs of improvement in the second half.
“We had a nice discussion at halftime and I thought they came out, especially on defense and special teams,” Brown said. “Offense was a mess until the fourth quarter when we finally started being physical for the first time in two games. In the second half on defense and special teams I thought guys competed.
“We’re a work in progress. I’ve been saying that, really, since I got here. That’s not a negative, that’s what it is and that’s where we’re at. We’ve got some deficiencies, I’ve been pretty open about those. They were exposed last week, at certain spots, but this week we played against a team that’s got several NFL players and they were fully taken advantage of. A lot of credit to [Missouri] Coach [Barry] Odom. One of the markings of a really good coach is how you perform after a poor performance, and throughout his career he has really bounced back well.”
West Virginia starting quarterback Austin Kendall finished the game 15 of 25 for 137 yards with one late touchdown pass to Florida State graduate transfer receiver George Campbell and two interceptions. Redshirt junior Jack Allison played one series in the fourth quarter, completing one of his two attempts for 4 yards, while the other was an interception returned for a touchdown. Redshirt freshman quarterback Trey Lowe also got into the game late but did not attempt a pass.
Redshirt freshman receiver Sam James led the Mountaineers with five catches for 35 yards, while Campbell’s 59 receiving yards was a team-high. On the ground, sophomore Alec Sinkfield led WVU with nine carries for 27 yards.
Rountree led Missouri with 99 rushing yards on 18 carries while Tyler Badie chipped in with 71 yards on 12 carries. Dawson Downing ran the ball 10 times for 57 yards for the Tigers.