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3 Keys to Victory: What Must Happen for WVU to Pull Off Major Upset Over Penn State



WVU Football HC Neal Brown with OL and Wyatt Milan carrying flag

No one believes West Virginia can beat Penn State. Those within the WVU football program are probably even having a hard time envisioning a win. West Virginia is a 20.5-point underdog for a reason.

But upsets have happened before. And upsets will happen again. Anything is possible, I guess.

So to that end, here are the three things West Virginia absolutely has to do in order to shock the college football world and immediately set the tone that the Mountaineers are climbing in the right direction.

Offense Must Have Success on the Ground

WVU has made no secret of the fact they will run, run and run again on offense. The most consistently successful part of the 2022 offense returns 75% of its production and is arguably even deeper now.

Unlike a season ago, CJ Donaldson has experience at the position and appears healthy and in better shape. There’s no reason to believe Jaylen Anderson and Justin Johnson Jr. won’t produce when handed the ball. And freshman Jahiem White was the talk of the summer. Coaches and players continuously voiced being impressed by White. Offensive coordinator Chad Scott made it clear the goal is to spread the ball around to as many running backs as possible.

Asti: CJ Donaldson Seems Poised for Big Season as Star of WVU Offense

Quarterback Garrett Greene is a dual-threat who can burn by most defenders. Add all that up and West Virginia should be able to run the ball effectively again, right?

WVU Football QB Garrett Greene speed

The only problem to the Mountaineers moving the ball on the ground with ease is Penn State has a defense stacked with NFL talent. The Nittany Lions have a defensive line that can act as a brick wall and then a linebacker crew and secondary that will keep big plays to a minim and won’t miss tackles.


WVU will be able to churn yards on the ground this season, but nothing is guaranteed against this Penn State defense. But for West Virginia to have a chance, they will have to get production from the running game.

Penn State will try to make Greene beat them through the air to a mostly inexperienced group of receivers, but that strategy can’t work if the Mountaineers have a shot at being competitive.

Defense Must Force Turnovers

Saying the WVU defense struggled to create turnovers in 2022 is an understatement. It was certainly not the only issue for the defense, but it was one of the most glaring. West Virginia finished in the bottom of the Big 12 in takeaways. History can’t repeat itself if the team is going to have a better season overall.

WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley has been focusing on trying to generate turnovers since the middle of last season and the roster may also be built to finally make that happen. The increased emphasis on being physical could force fumbles. Incumbent leader Lee Kpogba and new Mountaineer Anthony Wilson pride themselves on administering “remember me” type hits. It’s safe to say they will be going for the ball on every tackle.

Aubrey Burks and Beanie Bishop are veteran “ball hawks” who are extremely hungry to make plays and convert interceptions. Jacolby Spells, who came up with a big pick to seal the win over Virginia Tech, should be more fundamentals sound.

Beating Penn State likely means the West Virginia defense is able to force some turnovers that either end up as defensive touchdowns or the offense makes them count by following them up with scores.

Asti: There Are Signs That Point to the WVU Defense Being Much Better

Field Position Will Matter

It goes without saying, but WVU can’t afford to lose the field position battle and expect to win. The Mountaineers started offensive possessions pinned back in the their own territory and let the opposition open up drives with most of the field behind them way too often in 2022.

Bishop and wide receiver Ja’Shaun Poke, both transfer additions, have the hands and speed to be solid returner options. Bishop is expected to be the main guy. Michael Hayes, another new piece, is a kicker with a booming leg and will likely handle kickoff duties. Oliver Straw has all the makings of being one of the best punters in the country as a sophomore.


Another key that goes without saying is Greene needs to play smart and minimize mistakes. That means he needs to let hopeless plays die and just move on instead of trying to do too much and making a bad play even worse.

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