MORGANTOWN — About the best thing to say about WVU center Zach Frazier on Saturday is that unless you were looking, it was hard to notice he was there.
In a position predicated upon delivering shotgun snaps and blocking, that’s a good thing.
With senior starter Chase Behrndt among 11 players suspended for the game by coach Neal Brown, Frazier was thrust into the starting lineup in his first game with the program after graduating from Fairmont Senior High School in the spring.
In terms of the center-quarterback exchanges, things went off without a hitch during the Mountaineers’ 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky. Considering WVU ran the ball for 329 yards, Frazier certainly had a hand in some solid interior blocking as well.
“I didn’t think he’d go out and start as a [true] freshman, but I thought he did a nice job,” Brown said. “I like how he’s real level, doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. I went by the hotel room last night doing bed check and I said, ‘You ready to go?’ [and he said], ‘Yes, sir.’ No blink, no hesitation, he was ready.
“He was going to play today regardless of the suspensions. Now, he wasn’t going to start, but I thought he handled it really well.”
Frazier wasn’t the only true freshman who found himself unexpectedly starting on Saturday. Receivers Reese Smith and Sam Brown also started in their first games with WVU.
Smith caught four passes for 32 yards with Sam Brown catching four balls for 43 yards.
While Neal Brown had already committed to playing a plethora of players on Saturday, several saw the field far sooner than many expected. But put in a tough spot to begin their careers, the Mountaineer youngsters answered the bell, instilling further confidence in their coaches and teammates.
“Those three guys are going to play a lot of football here for a long time and I was pleased they got off to a good start,” Brown said.
In his first game in Morgantown after spending three seasons at Arizona, Tony Fields introduced himself to WVU fans in a big way, leading the defense with 10 tackles (four solo).
Listed as the backup to Dylan Tonkery at the mike linebacker position, Fields flashed plenty of potential and closing speed in consistently clogging up running lanes and running down pass catchers.
That speed and instinct sets Fields apart, and as he continues to settle into the system, Neal Brown envisions even bigger things moving forward at WVU and beyond.
“Really active, he plays with a lot of energy and brings a speed element to defense that we probably haven’t had in my two years here,” Brown said. “He’s still learning what to do but he plays full speed. He loves contact, loves to play and is only going to continue to get better.
“He’s an NFL prospect. He’s going to play in the NFL.”
Also making a defensive impact on Saturday was safety Alonzo Addae, who transferred from FCS New Hampshire in the summer of 2019 and was forced to sit out last season before finally making his debut.
Addae came up with the first turnover of the season for the Mountaineer defense on a diving interception, and he added seven tackles.
But more than anything, Saturday represented a long-awaited return to the field for Addae, who was as or more grateful than anyone simply to be playing.
“It was definitely difficult but at the same time I trusted in the process,” Addae said. “The coaches put me in a position where I was here and continuously growing my skills. It was hard but today I let my emotions just run. I was kind of speechless just to go out there and suit up in a Mountaineer uniform and I’m just thankful.”
n A moment of silence was held just before kickoff in recognition of the battle against social injustice. While Eastern Kentucky’s kick team stood on the field, the entire Mountaineer squad lined the sideline linked arm-in-arm before sprinting out to take the field.
n Fans may not have been allowed to attend the game on Saturday, but it still somewhat sounded like the stands had people in them. Crowd noise was pumped in over the speakers and was situationally specific, cheering loudly when WVU did something positive and getting louder during third downs for EKU.
n While WVU’s running game on Saturday was a dramatic improvement over what the team was able to do a season ago, it wasn’t the only area of need in which the Mountaineers showed promise. Last season, West Virginia was 109th in the FBS in third-down conversions. On Saturday, WVU was successful on 8 of 13 conversion attempts while limiting EKU to 1 of 11 conversions.