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NCAA Football: Kansas at West Virginia

WVU wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton catches a 33-yard touchdown pass from Jarret Doege during the first quarter of the Mountaineers’ win over Kansas.

NCAA Football: Kansas at West Virginia

MORGANTOWN — After a rough start, those in the crowd of 10,759 — the first to be permitted at a West Virginia home game this season — saw largely what they had been seeing from their couches and bar stools so far this year.

And for one more week, against an outmanned opponent, it was good enough.

Moving forward? That’s a question to be answered another day.

But on Saturday, the WVU defense again was dominant, senior running back Leddie Brown carried the load and the Mountaineers overcame a 10-0 deficit as well as a plethora of their own mistakes to pick up a 38-17 win over Kansas at Milan Puskar Stadium. West Virginia moved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big 12 Conference.

“Excited to see our fans back at Mountaineer Field,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “Apologize we didn’t give them much to cheer about early, but we did take care of business. Proud of our players and staff responding to adversity.”

Statistically, the numbers paint the picture of a game in which the Mountaineer offense had its way throughout. WVU racked up 544 total yards, with quarterback Jarret Doege throwing for 318 with three touchdowns against one interception. A total of 11 receivers caught at least one pass and WVU picked up 29 first downs compared to seven for Kansas.

But points, at least for two and a half quarters, were tough to come by with WVU clinging to a 17-10 late until an 87-yard touchdown rumble from Leddie Brown with 3:37 remaining in the third quarter finally provided some breathing room and ignited a closing run that allowed the Mountaineers to pull away late.

After targeting the passing game in particular over the course of the bye week that preceded Saturday’s game, Neal Brown said he saw some improvement out of his offensive unit, even if marginal and hampered by more penalties, mistakes and other odd happenings.

“After the first two drives we did a nice job, it’s just, we’d get some penalties and some of them are just crazy stuff,” Neal Brown said. “Today we got a penalty for picking a guy up off the pile. Now that’s a foul, it should’ve been called, but that takes us from a third-and-medium to a third-and-extra-long. We throw an interception on a screen pass. We had a procedure penalty on the center for moving the ball. Just stuff that happens that shouldn’t happen.

“This is the best combined running and passing that we’ve played as far as in our league games. I think it’s encouraging. I thought it was a step forward.”

Those first two drives led to 10 immediate Kansas points. T.J. Simmons fumbled after catching a pass on the third play from scrimmage, giving the Jayhawks a first down at the Mountaineer 41. It led to a 41-yard Jacob Borcila field goal to get Kansas on the board.

The Mountaineers immediately went three-and-out, and after a short punt, the Jayhawks (0-4, 0-3) took over at the WVU 45. Two plays later, Andrew Parchment caught a Miles Kendrick pass that was tipped by WVU’s Nicktroy Fortune and sprinted 43 yards to the end zone. Just like that, it was 10-0 Kansas.

On those early drives, the Jayhawks shut down WVU’s rushing attack, but that tide began to change behind Leddie Brown, who arguably turned in his best performance as a Mountaineer. The junior running back carried the ball 18 times for 195 yards, caught five passes for another 36 yards and scored two total touchdowns.

After Kansas went up 10-0 in the game’s first six minutes, WVU didn’t take its first lead until Leddie Brown’s first score, a 6-yard pass from quarterback Jarret Doege with 3:25 left in the second quarter. On that drive, which put the Mountaineers up 14-10, WVU traversed 91 yards on 10 plays and benefited from two 15-yard penalties on the Jayhawks. Brown accounted for the other 61 yards on runs and receptions.

His 87-yard touchdown burst on third-and-1 late in the third quarter finally injected some life into a largely dead stadium. It also put the Mountaineers up 24-10 and sent WVU on its way.

“We struggled on the first two drives, so we went back and said, ‘Hey, let’s put it on the guy that’s been our best offensive player to this point,’ which is Leddie, and I think he got us going on the next two drives,” Neal Brown said.

And then there was the WVU defense.

A game after a brilliant performance in a 27-21 win in double-overtime over Baylor, the Mountaineers were even better, allowing just 157 total yards, sacking Kansas quarterback Miles Kendrick five times and picking him off twice, and holding first-team all-conference running back Pooka Williams to just 21 yards on 11 carries. The Jayhawks punted 10 times and registered both of their scores in their first two possessions after being helped out by the Mountaineer offense.

“Defensively, we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Neal Brown said. “Guys are flying around. It’s really about effort and it’s about physicality.

“I think guys that are our best players are playing at a high level.”

Sam James hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass from Doege and Alec Sinkfield scored on a 3-yard run in the fourth quarter for WVU. Williams returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to complete the scoring.

Contact Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.