By Ryan Decker, Originally published for West Virginia Illustrated
West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard found his rhythm, especially on short to intermediate pass attempts, while Jamaal Lewis carried the load for the Cougars.
Despite a late rally by the Cougars, turnovers decided the outcome of a crazy 35-32 victory for the Mountaineers.
“I’m going to remind myself what I just told our team to never, ever, ever take for granted a victory,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. “There was a lot of things that happened that put that victory in jeopardy, but due to us playing as a team we figured out a way to win.”
Howard began attacking BYU’s pass coverage early, and doing so with numerous targets, as he found six different receivers in the opening drive.
Howard connected with Jovon Durante three times. Shelton Gibson hauled in a pass as he was falling down in between two defenders to put the Mountaineers around midfield.
A pitch and catch from Howard to Ka’Raun White moved the chains on fourth down, and a catch by Elijah Wellman out of the backfield moved West Virginia down to the two yard line.
Howard finished the game 31-40 passing for 322 yards and a touchdown.
“Start fast, that’s what we always preach,” Howard said. “Just get in and get going. Run our stuff and don’t think about messing up, just fly around. They haven’t seen anybody run as fast of tempo as us.”
It was Rushel Shell that put WVU on the board, running it in from six yards out.
Brigham Young responded with a lengthy drive of its own, converting three times on third down. The final conversion made the difference as Taysom Hill completed a pass to Mitchell Juergens, who was able to outrun his defender and stretch across the goal line for the score before his knee hit the ground.
It was a tale of two different game plans, offensively, between the two teams.
West Virginia came out throwing the football – 14 times in the first two possessions – whereas BYU was going with the ground game – nine rushes for 101 yards compared to just four passes.
Williams’ 56-yard rush set up the Cougars inside the five at the end of the first quarter.
The Mountaineer defense clamped down, though, holding BYU to a field goal thanks to Antonio Crawford breaking up the pass attempt on third down.
BYU led 10-7.
Howard, who was intercepted earlier in the game, continued to spread the ball around, throwing it seven more times the next time out.
First down throws to Durante, Justin Crawford and Daikiel Shorts put West Virginia in good field position after once again starting from behind the 20-yard line. Later, a pass to Rushel Shell moved the chains to the two-yard line, and he found his way to pay dirt on the next play, giving WVU a four-point lead.
Brigham Young, attempting to use as much of the clock as possible after getting the ball back with just over four minutes remaining, slowed down the tempo late in the opening half.
Hill and company slowly but surely moved the ball into West Virginia territory, but the defensive pressure by the Mountaineers proved costly for the Cougars.
Justin Arndt rushed Hill, causing him to throw the pass sooner than he wanted, and Rasul Douglas picked it off near midfield and took it all the way to the house for the defensive touchdown, making the score 21-10.
West Virginia went back into the locker room with an eight-point lead after a last-second field goal by BYU to end the opening half.
That lead quickly was trimmed to just two.
BYU’s Matt Hadley returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the 43-yard line.
Hill converted a pair of third downs, including rushing for 27 yards down to the seven of West Virginia. On the play, Hill attempted to hurdle a pair of WVU defenders, and although he didn’t successfully jump over either player, the resulting contact knocked him forward an extra few yards.
Williams, who ended the first half with 129 rushing yards, added to his total, scoring on the ensuing play. BYU’s attempt at the two-point conversion was unsuccessful, keeping the score WVU 21, BYU 19.
The Cougar offense once again started working downfield following a turnover on down by the Mountaineers. But for a second time in the game, a costly turnover halted BYU momentum.
Williams, trying to get extra yardage on third down, coughed up the football, which was recovered by Khairi Shariff.
On the ensuing play by the Mountaineer offense, Howard connected with Gibson deep down field; a 51-yard toss to the speedy wideout along the near sideline.
Gibson totaled 144 receiving yards on just four catches.
Three plays later, Howard waltzed into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the game, extending WVU’s lead back out to nine points with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter.
West Virginia’s offense continued to gain good yardage on its next drive, going 98 yards and putting up seven points.
Crawford rushed for 27 yards, and Howard completed five of seven passes on the drive, including anther big gainer to Gibson, this one going for 32 yards on third down.
A play later, Howard found a wide open Shorts in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, putting WVU up 35-19.
Brigham Young scored twice in the fourth quarter, using a pair of two-minute drives to put 13 points on the board and get back to within three points.
The two teams traded turnovers late in the quarter; Jeremy Tyler picking off a pass off the hands of a BYU wide receiver with just under four minutes remaining, and West Virginia giving the ball back less than two minutes later on a bad snap from inside the red zone.
“I can’t explain what happened,” Holgorsen said of the late misques. “The (miscommunication) that happened at the end of the game is something that Tyler (Orlosky), our All-American center, and our senior starting quarterback (Howard) had a miscommunication. Obviously that can never happen, but not in that situation for sure.
The good news is we can address all that stuff while we sit here 3-0.”
BYU drove down field, getting inside field goal range, but another pass off the hands of a Cougar receiver was intercepted, this time by Maurice Fleming at the two-yard line.
That interception sealed the deal.
For the game, the Mountaineer offense, which came into this game ranked seventh in the nation in terms of total offense, racked up 481 yards against the Cougars.
West Virginia returns home to Milan Puskar Stadium next weekend for the start of Big 12 Conference play against Kansas State.