By Ryan Decker, Originally Published for West Virginia Illustrated
MORGANTOWN – A common saying during No. 12 West Virginia (6-0) press events this season has been the need to “start fast” offensively – get going and get points on the board early in the contest rather than having to play catch up.
It’s worked thus far for the Mountaineers, and it worked once again Saturday against Texas Christian University (4-3).
A quick start offensively for WVU combined with another fantastic performance by the Mountaineer defense in the second half gave West Virginia it’s first 6-0 start since 2006, defeating TCU 34-10 in front of a sold out crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday afternoon.
“I thought it was our most complete game,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “We were extremely efficient on offense, played great on defense, and special teams as well. Complete game. Feels good to be 6-0.”
West Virginia had good fortune early in the contest, forcing two turnovers and turning one into points.
Marvin Gross stripped the football out of the hands of TCU’s Deante Gray on the opening kickoff, setting up the Mountaineers inside the 20-yard line for their first play of the day on offense.
WVU needed just three plays to get on the board. Skyler Howard completed a pass to Daikiel Shorts, whose second effort after the catch got him in the end zone despite being hit right after he caught the pass.
Shorts made a leaping grab around a defender later in the first quarter that once again put West Virginia well inside TCU territory. On the very next play, Howard completed another pass over the middle, this one to Shelton Gibson with one foot already inside pay dirt when the catch was made.
WVU jumped out to an early 14-0 lead in the first five minutes.
Howard finished the game completing nearly 70 percent of his passes (16-23) for 231 yards and four touchdowns – the most in a single game for him since his five-touchdown performance Week 2 against Youngstown St.
TCU’s offense began gaining traction with the running game, picking on what has been a bit of a weakness for the Mountaineer defense this year.
Kyle Hicks rattled off 66 yards rushing in the opening quarter, and had run for 77 yards by halftime. As a team, TCU totaled 103 yards on the ground in the opening half.
“Early on, when (Hicks) had some big runs, the biggest problem was we were missing tackles,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “We were there, we were over-pursuing.”
However, it was a combination of running and throwing that allowed TCU to score.
TCU started the drive with five consecutive run plays, followed by a pass to Jarrison Stewart for a first down. Three more run plays took the Horned Frogs down to the 11, and the drive concluded on a touchdown pass from Kenny Hill to Jaelan Austin, pulling TCU to within four points.
West Virginia responded, though, quickly moving down field covering 67 yards in five plays and 1:45. Howard delivering his third touchdown pass of the game, finding a wide open Gary Jennings in the flat with enough room for him to run in untouched.
West Virginia led 21-10 heading into halftime.
WVU’s offense was on the field for 13 minutes and 46 seconds in the third quarter, dominating the clock by slowing the tempo, and pounding away with the rushing attack.
The Mountaineers added a field goal on a 38-yard kick by Mike Molina at the end of a lengthy possession that spanned 15 plays and over seven minutes of game time.
WVU was somewhat limited coming into the game at the running back position due to injuries to Justin Crawford, who had just one rushing attempt. Rushel Shell certainly picked up the slack.
Shell gained 117 yards on the ground for his second-straight 100-yard performance, and his best game of the year. He also caught 2 passes for 35 receiving yards out of the backfield.
His longest run of the day came late in the fourth quarter on a 20-yard rush.
“Shell – great,” Holgorsen said. “Really proud of his performance.”
West Virginia padded its lead late in the third quarter with anther lengthy drive, this one taking over five minutes off the clock and 11 plays to do so.
Shell started the drive with a first down run. Howard completed a pair of passes to Shorts, both also moving the chains.
Following a six-yard scamper by Howard, he rolled out on the next play from scrimmage and extended the play long enough for Ka’Raun White to get free from his defender and make a diving catch inside the end zone for a touchdown.
That score put West Virginia ahead 31-10.
Gray, who received the ensuing kickoff, once again had the ball stripped from him, and for the second time it was recovered by the Mountaineers.
“We got two turnovers off of special teams, which was great,” Holgorsen said. “It was good to get seven points off that first one, but the next two – zero points. That was probably the only negative of the game.”
West Virginia dominated the second half on both sides of the ball. The Mountaineers controlled the clock when they possessed the football, and when the defensive unit was on the field they held the Horned Frogs to just 93 yards of offense in the second half.
For the second week in a row, Tony Gibson’s defense stepped up against a tall task in the opposing offense. This week’s performance also came on a week in which a number of defensive players were limited during the week due to illness.
“I thought the key to the whole game was the third quarter,” Gibson said. “Our offense went out… We played four snaps on defense in the third quarter. We do that the rest of the season I like our odds.”
Justin Arndt and Al-Raheed Benton led West Virginia in tackles with six, while Noble Nwachkwu and David Long combined for two of the three sacks.
West Virginia hits the road next weekend to take on Oklahoma State. That game is scheduled to begin at Noon ET.