For the second straight season the West Virginia University football team pitched a lopsided shutout in its season home opener.
Saturday night in front of 55,182 fans the Mountaineer defense contained a tricky Georgia Southern offense while the young WVU offense found its stride in the second half en route to a 44-0 victory over the Eagles to begin the season.
The WVU defense, which was highly talked about leading up to the 2015 campaign, lived up to the hype, limiting the Eagles to just 29 passing yards.
An enormous contribution Saturday night came from Preseason All-American Karl Joseph, who became the first Mountaineer since 1994 to have three interceptions in a single game. All three of Joseph’s interceptions came in the third quarter, with the first two coming on consecutive drives, and the third coming along the near sideline which put an end to Georgia Southern’s best drive of the game.
The Pre-Season All-Big 12 safety also led the Mountaineers in tackles with eight.
Offensively the Mountaineers had an up and down first half.
Skyler Howard connected with true freshman wide receiver Jovon Durante twice for big plays – a 41-yard pass and catch that became the first touchdown of the seasons, and a 57-yard pass play at the end of the first quarter. Howard also found Shelton Gibson deep down field for a big play.
Other than that, though, the offense sputtered in the opening 30 minutes of play. Three trips to the red zone each resulted in field goals by Josh Lambert.
It was in the second half that WVU caught its stride.
Joseph’s second interception set up a three-play drive that resulted in a touchdown, and the Mountaineers found the end zone on their next three drives, as well.
If West Virginia’s defense, which forced five Eagle turnovers, continues to play the rest of the season like it did Saturday, it will be a successful season for the Mountaineers.
The linemen were getting leverage against and pushing back the offensive linemen of Georgia Southern, the linebackers were getting into the backfield and to the ball carriers quickly, and the defensive backs kept everyone in front of them and swarmed to the football.
In short, everyone did their job, and, at least through the first game, the defensive unit looks well worth the hype.
The offense, on the other hand, left a little to be desired.
To be fair, personnel-wise it’s almost a completely new offense, so I expected a slow start. However, I expected the offense to have more trouble getting the ball into the red zone than, once getting there, punching it into the end zone.
But that has seemed to be a consistent problem over the past few seasons.
It’s big play or bust to a degree. And the closer the offense gets to the end zone, the tougher it seems to be to score.
There were a lot of good signs, though, that I saw from the offensive unit.
For one, Howard looked very calm and mature inside the pocket. He avoided contact, stepped up in the pocket to escape the pressure, and he throws a very good deep ball. He also completed his last six pass attempts in a row.
It appeared that, for the most part, he and his receivers had good timing and were on the same page.
Another good sign was that the big crowd and playing under the lights wasn’t too much for these young receivers. Both Gibson and Durante each had over 100 receiving yards on just three catches, and scored a touchdown.
Also, the offensive line did a good job keeping Howard upright for a vast majority or the game.
WVU looked pretty good in its first game of the 2015 season. The lopsided victory is a good first step on what looks like could be a successful season for the Mountaineers.