By Ryan Decker, Originally written for West Virginia Illustrated
MORGANTOWN – Coming off its first loss of the season a week ago, the No. 20 West Virginia Mountaineers (7-1) returned to their home field in Morgantown to take on a Kansas (1-8) team that has spent much of the last four seasons in the bottom of the Big 12 standings.
WVU, favored by 34 points going into the game, was poised for, and expected to have, a big day offensively.
The Mountaineers lived up to expectations racking up a total of 605 yards on offense in their 48-21 victory.
“We decided to get big and run the ball,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I thought we ran the ball pretty good considering what they were doing defensively.”
It took a few drives for West Virginia’s offense to get going. But once it did, the Jayhawks had no answer.
A long pass play to Shelton Gibson on the second play of the game led to just three points, and each of the next two times the Mountaineers possessed the ball they were forced to punt.
WVU, playing without leading rusher Rushel Shell, saw its running game lose 13 yards through the first three possessions. Kennedy McKoy became the difference maker, ripping off a 44-yard run late in the opening quarter.
Two plays later, Skyler Howard busted through the line and ran untouched for a touchdown, giving WVU a 10-0 lead.
McKoy gained 24 more yards on the ground the next time he carried the ball on the following possession.
The freshman running back had the best performance of his young career as the Mountaineer, totaling 127 yards on the ground.
“Kennedy just played his tail off. He did everything you want him to do. He’s going to be a good one,” running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said.
Asked if McKoy’s performance thus far this season has surprised him, Seider responded, “No. This is exactly what I thought because I saw it in the spring. I’ve been saying this since camp, this is the type of kid he is. I’ve been telling everyone he’s good enough to start right now as a freshman.”
Howard tried to score once again with his legs early in the second quarter, but instead was flipped in the air and out of bounds by a Kansas defender inside the five-yard line.
He had better luck on WVU’s next drive, faking the handoff to McKoy and then zigzagging his way into the open field for a 33-yard touchdown run.
His touchdown run was part of a stretch of drives in which West Virginia scored a touchdown on six of eight possessions.
Justin Crawford joined Howard and McKoy at finding success running the football. The three combined to carry the ball 26 times for 206 yards in the opening half in addition to a 25-yard run play by Gibson.
Gibson ended the game with 208 all-purpose yards.
It was the running game that carried the Mountaineer offense for much of the first two quarters, and continued into the second half.
The Mountaineers gained 231 yards on the ground in the opening half, and ended the game with a total of 336 rushing yards.
“Any time we start running the ball, they got us a chance to get a couple first downs, get our foot in the ground and start playing ball,” Seider said. “It was good to finally get a touchdown run that wasn’t a quarterback run.”
Kansas scored its first touchdown since October 22 early in the third quarter, converting a WVU turnover into seven points.
West Virginia responded with a touchdown of its own, starting the scoring drive in good field position with the help of Kansas’ seventh penalty of the game when kicker Matthew Wyman kicked the ball out of bounds.
Crawford turned up field for 25 yards on second down to move into Kansas territory, and after a completed pass by Howard, capped off the drive with a 27-yard touchdown run, putting WVU out in front 38-7.
That run put Crawford over the 100-yard mark for rushing yards. He finished with 129.
Kansas added another touchdown late in the third quarter on a 45-yard pass play from Carter Stanley to Taylor Martin. The Jayhawks scored again early in the fourth on another Stanley pass, this one to Steven Sims.
After a slow start to the game passing-wise, Howard ended the game 16 for 27 passing, totaling 260 yards in the air and throwing for three touchdowns.
During the second quarter, Howard passed former WVU standout QB Pat White in career passing yards. With the 260 yards he threw for, Howard has now thrown for 6,267 yards in a WVU uniform.
WVU takes on Texas next Saturday in Austin. The Longhorns have won each of their last two games and three of their last four. Kickoff is scheduled for noon EST on FS1.