No. 9 WVU gets sloppy win over Kansas, 38-22
MORGANTOWN — For the second consecutive week, the West Virginia University football team came away with a win while playing below the level many have become accustomed to seeing.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen left the stadium with more questions than answers about just how good his No. 9 Mountaineers can be after a 38-22 win against visiting Kansas on Saturday that should not have been as close as it was.
“It’s the second week in a row that I’m going home a winner with a headache,” Holgorsen
said after Saturday’s win. “It’s part of coaching, it’s part of the deal. You’re going to have games like that. Don’t ever take a win for granted in the Big 12. Enjoy every one of them.”
The Mountaineers (5-0, 3-0 Big 12) came into the game sporting one of the top passing attacks in the country, and while WVU did throw for 332 yards in the game, quarterback Will Grier and his receivers appeared out of sync for periods — especially when West Virginia drove the ball into the red zone against Kansas (2-4,0-3 Big 12).
Grier threw three interceptions — all in the red zone — and fumbled once. He also completed 28 of 41 pass attempts for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
Holgorsen said WVU’s red-zone struggles were due to several things, but occasional poor play from the quarterback was among them.
“I don’t really think it’s a problem, we just probably made some bad decisions — probably made some bad decisions play-call wise, probably made some bad decisions at the quarterback spot,” Holgorsen said. “The receivers didn’t bail him out either. We’ve got a lot of things we need to work on, and that’ll probably be the next one.
“It’s a combination of not doing a very good job in the run game, them (Kansas) dropping a lot of people (into coverage), especially in the red zone, where those windows become very tight. (Grier) has the confidence to make any throw and every throw, that’s why he’s a hell of a quarterback, but those windows become small and I thought their defenders did a better job of attacking the ball than our receivers did.”
WVU led 14-0 and was driving to increase the lead when Grier was picked off in the end zone by KU cornerback Hasan Defense. The Jayhawks would score on the following drive to cut the lead to 14-7. Defense intercepted Grier at the goal line again in the second quarter, and just before the half Davon Ferguson got his hands on a Grier pass at the goal line to make it three interceptions to keep the Jayhawks in striking range at 21-7.
“They did a good job of mixing stuff up,” Grier said. “We’ve got to be better in the red zone, I have to be better at not forcing things. It’ll be fixed.”
The Mountaineer defense came to play Saturday and found itself in the position of needing to make up for miscues by the offense.
Kansas managed a touchdown on the drive following Grier’s first interception, but did not score on any of WVU’s three other turnovers.
The Mountaineers were without cornerback Josh Norwood in the first half after Norwood was ejected last week for targeting against Texas Tech. Safety Toyous Avery also missed Saturday’s game, which meant former sophomore safety-turned-cornerback Derrek Pitts moved back to his original position against Kansas.
Pitts, a Dunbar, West Virginia, native and former Charleston Gazette-Mail Kanawha Valley Player of the Year at South Charleston High, finished second on the team with eight tackles Saturday, include three for a loss and one sack.
“I thought he played his butt off, especially for not playing safety until Tuesday of this week,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “It looked like Derrek was flying all over the field. He had a big sack, had some nice tackles in the open field. I thought he did well with coverage. He’s a guy that we’ve counted on and he’s played a bunch in our nickel package. I thought he did well.”
WVU held Kansas freshman running back Pooka Williams to 65 yards as the Jayhawks totaled just 80 rushing yards and 286 total yards. KU scored with no time remaining in the fourth quarter against West Virginia’s backups to set the final score.
“I was good with everything today except the last drive,” Gibson said. “We put our backups in and they can’t stop anybody. We’ve got to get that fixed. They wonder why they don’t play — that’s why they don’t play.
“I told them at halftime, ’21 is enough for us to win.′ We could have played until tomorrow morning and they weren’t scoring on our ones. And you can print that big and bold.”
West Virginia’s running game provided a bit of a spark for the offense when the passing wasn’t clicking. WVU ran for 177 yards with freshman Leddie Brown leading the way with 107 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Brown also caught a touchdown pass.
″(Brown) doesn’t play like a freshman,” Holgorsen said. “He doesn’t act like a freshman, he doesn’t look like a freshman, so quit calling him a freshman. He’s a good player. I’m glad we got him.”