Nowhere to run
We were told to expect James Madison to give the West Virginia University Football Team a strong challenge in the season opener last Saturday. James Madison was even a popular upset pick to win the game outright by numerous talking heads last week. West Virginia managed to take care of business Saturday and pulled out the hard fought 20-13 win many expected. For a half JMU was the better team and Mountaineer fans were certainly on edge.
Count me among those who expected the Dukes to be effective in this game. Sure, they are an FCS program, but they are ranked second among all FCS schools in large part because they return 20 starters from last year. They also boast eight or nine Power Five transfers on their roster. On the other hand, WVU is putting a very young team on the field. Prior to head coach Neal Brown’s debut as the Mountaineers’ coach, he commented that he couldn’t recall ever preparing for a team with so many starters returning.
I was expecting JMU to compete with WVU on Saturday. I even understood why the Dukes were a fashionable pick to be an FCS team to beat a Power Five team last weekend. As it turned out, I wasn’t prepared to see how the game began to unfold in the first half. JMU didn’t do much against the West Virginia defense on the first two series, but on the third series JMU began to find big holes in the WVU defense and were getting to the secondary with relative ease.
This was particularly troubling since the Mountaineers’ defensive front is considered to be the strength of the defense. Perhaps even more disturbing was West Virginia’s inability to establish a running game. The Mountaineers stable of backs was expected to carry the offense in the early going of the season. The run blocking was abysmal and WVU was probably fortunate to trail only 7-3 at halftime. Two first half fumble recoveries were helpful to the home team.
Overall play in the second half was better. The D-Line was better and actually started making plays behind the line of scrimmage. The defense held JMU to two second half field goals. Even so the game was anyone’s to win until the final seconds. One aspect of the game that didn’t improve in the second half was the run game. JMU held the Mountaineers to a paltry 34 yards for the game on 24 attempts. The longest run from scrimmage was just five yards. Brown lamented that the staff will need to figure out how to run the ball. Improvement there will be critical if West Virginia has any shot of winning six games.
Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall was up and down during the game, but his stat line of 27 of 42 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions isn’t a bad start.
West Virginia travels to Missouri to meet the Tigers at noon this Saturday on ESPN2. The Tigers were upset 37-31 Saturday at Wyoming. One thing to keep an eye on will be the WVU running game. Missouri allowed 297 yards to the Cowboys, so if the Mountaineers can’t get it going on the ground this week, look out!