MORGANTOWN — With the West Virginia University football team trailing visiting James Madison 7-3 at halftime of its season opener last week at Milan Puskar Stadium, the Mountaineers needed a spark to get on the right track coming out of the break.
Tevin Bush was that spark.
Bush, listed at 5-foot-6 and 166 pounds, made a tough catch near the sideline, stayed in bounds and ended up with a 41-yard gain. WVU took advantage of the momentum created by Bush’s big play and drove down the field to take the lead on its way to a 20-13 win.
First-year coach Neal Brown, coaching his first game for West Virginia, called it “one of the most critical plays of the game.”
“I’m there to be a spark plug,” Bush said after the game.
As it turns out, Bush, a junior, was not done making big plays for the Mountaineers. Early in the fourth quarter with WVU leading 13-10, Bush found a seam in the JMU defense and ran past all the Dukes defenders. Quarterback Austin Kendall, also making his first appearance for West Virginia, connected with a wide-open Bush for a 22-yard touchdown — which turned out to be the winning score.
“Coach Brown came into halftime telling us he believes in us,” Bush said. “He kept telling us we were going to come out with this win, so we played like that.”
Bush finished Saturday’s game with four catches for 74 yards and the touchdown. On a day when the Mountaineers struggled at times to find playmakers and move the ball, Bush was able to do both when called upon. Now they just need to find a way to make Bush a more consistent part of the offense.
“We have to figure out how to get him the ball more,” Brown said after the game. “We tried about eight times and he had four catches. We have to get him more consistent.”
Bush, who was primarily used as a pass-catching running back in the past, caught 18 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown for West Virginia prior to this season. Now he’s a fixture among the inside receivers at WVU after a strong spring and preseason camp with the Mountaineers.
“Tevin had a really good fall camp in the sense of he’s starting to build some consistency, and that’s the biggest thing for him,” Travis Trickett, who coaches tight ends and inside receivers for WVU, said Tuesday. “The good thing about that, he played well away from the ball. You’ve got to play well, but there is only one football and it can’t go to you every time.
“The big challenge for [Bush], and all of our guys, is to play well away from the ball or without the ball — and he did that. He played a consistent game. When his number was called, he was able to make the play.”
Trickett, the older brother of former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett and son of former WVU and Florida State assistant coach Rick Trickett, said where Bush can separate himself from others is his ability to make plays without the ball. Whether that means blocking downfield, running a route that pulls a defender away from one side of the field or anything else, Bush’s ability to open the field for his teammates will help determine how much playing time he gets.
Against JMU, Bush was on the field for around 25 snaps. If he keeps playing the way he did against the Dukes, that number will likely increase.
“There were times when he set some stuff up by running, doing what he needed to do and blocking downfield,” Trickett said. “When you do that, that allows you, when your number is called, to hopefully succeed. The odds for you succeeding go up higher. We just have got to make sure we continue to build off that.
“[Bush] only had about 25 snaps. We’ll see if we can increase that, but we’ve got to make sure [with] the workload we can stay at that high level. We can’t dip off.”