The Mountaineers started off their 2018 Big 12 Conference slate with a match-up against Kansas State. Clear, warm skies on the official first day of fall made for a picturesque backdrop, as the Old Gold and Blue continued their rivalry with Head Coach, Bill Snyder, and his Wildcats.
The West Virginia offense was off to a good start on their opening drive, gaining two first downs before being halted by an interception. The turnover came on a deep pass to Marcus Simms, where he and Will Grier seemed to be on different pages. This confusion allowed the K-State defensive back to pick off the deep pass and keep WVU off the board early.
Sadly, West Virginia’s second offensive possession would be similar to the first: a strong series that was then spoiled by a turnover. This drive was ruined on a fumbled handoff to Leddie Brown, giving K-State the ball on their own 28 yard line. These turnovers caused Tony Gibson and his boys to be called upon twice to stop the Wildcats. It was then that the WVU defense started to more consistently hold off K-State. The Mountaineers ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage prevented Kansas from taking advantage of the turnovers.
Despite a long touchdown pass to Marcus Simms late in the first quarter, the Mountaineer offense still seemed sluggish and out of sync. With only ten rushing yards in the first quarter, paired with two unfortunate turnovers, the outcome of the game seemed to be up in the air.
Late in the second quarter, K-State’s head coach, Bill Snyder, was in a bind. His defense had held off WVU’s high-octane offense all game long. His Wildcats had forced two turnovers, but he still found his team to be down seven points. The Mountaineers entered the game as a 16 point favorite, but, it didn’t look that way. Coach Snyder’s offense needed to step-up and put some points on the board. Late in the second quarter, down seven, with his defense playing well, the Wildcats could still seal the deal with an upset.
Snyder had to make a tough decision. He could either punt the ball back to West Virginia’s powerful offense, or, have faith in his team to get the first down and continue the drive. He decided to roll the dice.
K-State’s running back took the ball outside. He was met by a blitzing Dylan Tonkery. The four yard loss gave West Virginia the ball in K-State territory. More importantly, it gave the Mountaineers the chance to move forward with some real momentum in this game. Seven plays later, Will Grier hit David Sills V for a one yard touchdown. The Mountaineers took the lead at 14-0. West Virginia’s offense was now able to find their rhythm, while K-State would continue to struggle on offense.
With confidence in hand, the Mountaineers executed a skillful drive under pressure, with 57 seconds left on the clock from their own 27 yard line. Grier led the team systemically down the field. He used well designed routes along with accurate throws to allow the receivers to get out of bounds and save precious time. David Sills V, capped off the drive as he grabbed one of his three touchdowns for the day.
Coach Snyder’s fourth down gamble completely backfired. Instead of giving his team an opportunity to grab momentum and tie the game, they ended up down three touchdowns at the half. With an offense that was averaging just over one yard per attempt, the halftime adjustments for the Wildcats would have to be drastic to turn the game around.
The rest of the evening would follow suit with a dominating performance by the WVU defense and a high- powered offense that always kept West Virginia fans on the edge of their seat.
Will Grier would continue his Heisman campaign going 25 of 35 for 356 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. Fellow senior, David Sills V, bounced-back from his tough game against Youngstown State with 10 catches, for 73 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense had a strong performance keeping the Wildcats out of the end zone. The theme of making plays behind the line of scrimmage continued today as the Mountaineers netted ten tackles for loss to go along with four sacks. Junior, David Long, led the way again with nine total tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble.
The Mountaineers will need the defense to continue their strong performance as they travel to Texas Tech next Saturday. WVU has historically struggled with slow starts in Lubbock, Texas. Typically, this leads to blowout losses or requires late game heroics to pull off a win on the road. Last year, West Virginia faced an 18 point deficit at halftime and needed a second half offensive explosion to pull off the victory. Grier and the Mountaineers will need a quick start next week to keep the Red Raiders at bay.