MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University football team’s already dim hopes for bowl eligibility took a major hit Saturday.
Visiting Texas Tech scored touchdowns on its first five possessions as the Red Raiders ran away from the Mountaineers for a 38-17 win at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“Frustrating day all the way around,” first-year WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I don’t have any great words of wisdom or anything. You all watched that. I think if you watched it, it pretty much sums it up. We got off to an extremely poor start defensively. They scored on, I think, their opening five drives of the game. We settled down and did some things better, but we’ve got to be ready to go defensively and we weren’t.”
Texas Tech (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) got the ball first and wasted little time marching down the field to open the scoring. West Virginia’s defense showed little resistance as running back Ta’Zhawn Henry capped an 11-play, 72-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Mountaineers (3-6, 1-5) appeared to be willing to get into a shootout with the Red Raiders, but after a 50-yard pass from Austin Kendall to George Campbell put WVU inside the TTU 10-yard line, the offense sputtered and settled for a field goal from former Cross Lanes Christian soccer player Casey Legg — the first field goal of his football career.
On the very next offensive play, Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey found receiver Dalton Rigdon running free down the middle of the field for an 81-yard touchdown. The Red Raiders never looked back.
“We didn’t get any pressure on the quarterback all day,” Brown said. “He stood back there. They were able to run the ball efficiently on us. The run totals were just OK, but they ran the ball efficiently.”
West Virginia managed to find the end zone in the second quarter on a trick play in which Kendall threw a backward pass to Isaiah Esdale, who caught the ball and threw a second pass to running back Kennedy McKoy for a 24-yard touchdown, but by that point TTU led 28-3. The Red Raiders would add another touchdown before the end of the quarter to take a 35-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
“We did some good things offensively, but we do things to beat ourselves over and over,” Brown said. “Drops. How many did we have? Seven? Seven drops. The turnovers — some of the turnovers happened because we have missed assignments. Then missed opportunities in the red zone. To me, the game came down — it was 21 points — the game comes down to turnovers and missed opportunities in the red zone.”
Neither team did much of anything with the ball in the third quarter, but the Mountaineers did make a change at quarterback late in the period. Brown benched Kendall in favor of Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege, who played the remainder of the game for West Virginia.
It was Doege’s first game action of the season after Brown had said the plan all along was for the former BGSU Falcon to redshirt this season. Doege, however, suffered from some of the same problems Kendall has endured all season. True freshman receiver Sam James dropped the first three passes Doege threw to him. The junior also faced pressure from the Texas Tech defense and was forced out of the pocket and his comfort zone on several occasions.
If there was a bright spot in Doege’s first appearance for WVU, it was a 9-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Tony Mathis — who was also playing in his first game of the season — with five seconds to play in the game.
“I just wanted to get [Doege] reps,” Brown said. “I thought he did some good things. The same things that plagued Jarret are the same things that plagued Austin. We dropped the ball. We didn’t do a great job in protections. I’ll say this — I wish quarterback was our problem, because that’s an easy fix.”
Doege finished the game 11 of 17 for 119 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions while Kendall went 26 of 43 for 355 yards with no touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble.
James, despite the multiple drops, finished with 14 catches — tied for second most in a single game in WVU history — and 223 yards — the fourth-best single-game output in program history.
For Texas Tech, Duffey completed 24 of 34 pass attempts for 354 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Henry led the Red Raiders with 67 rushing yards to go with two touchdown runs, while SaRodorick Thompson also scored twice on the ground for TTU.
One of Texas Tech’s two interceptions on Saturday was grabbed by Douglas Coleman, the nation’s leader in that category coming into the game. It was his eighth of the season.
“[It was a] strong opening-half performance,” TTU coach Matt Wells said. “[I’m] really proud of the turnovers, and our offense was able to capitalize with the touchdown. We’ve struggled with that a little bit this year.
“The second half was kind of back and forth. We got some penalties on offense and we got behind the chains a little bit.”
As a team, WVU had three more first downs than Texas Tech (25 to 23) and outgained the Red Raiders 549 yards to 481. The scoreboard, however, told a different tale.
“They made plays, and a lot of those plays were one-on-one,” Brown said. “Whether it was 28 [Thompson] running through tackles, them blocking us up front ... I know their offensive line was good. They blocked us. We had multiple opportunities to make plays in the secondary and we didn’t make those plays.
“I thought schematically they had us on a couple things when we were playing in that three-safety look, and they did a nice job. Just like we had them schematically in their three-safety looks — that’s why we threw the ball for however many yards we did.”
West Virginia travels to play at Kansas State next Saturday.