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What We Learned: WVU vs North Carolina State



Photo by Doug Johnson/

West Virginia met the fork in the road this past Saturday and very much took the right path in its three-score win versus NC State. Following a trouncing at Missouri and still facing a daunting October slate of games that includes three of the Big 12 Conference’s preseason favorites, NC State was a pivotal game for a multitude of factors. The Mountaineers shocked the pessimists in the fan base, entertained and inspired a raucous crowd at Milan Puskar Stadium and sent the Wolfpack packing with their tails between their legs. Here’s what we learned, after week three.

Excuses won’t hold this team back

After the Missouri game, social media blew up regarding West Virginia’s former head coach and how he supposedly “left the cupboard bare of talent.” West Virginia’s current head coach clearly isn’t taking any of that to heart. What Neal Brown is doing though is throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks. Trial by fire has been and will continue to be the mantra for the 2019 Mountaineers with redshirt and true freshmen and first-year starters seeing game action, regardless of the situation. That was evident Saturday, as fans had their first opportunity to see Winston Wright, Ali Jennings, Jordan Jefferson, Briason Mays, James Gmiter, Tykee Smith, Kerry Martin Jr. and others play pivotal roles for the Mountaineers.

The coaching staff knows what it’s doing

Skeptics were probably motivated to already dismiss Brown and the #TrustTheClimb campaign, following the Missouri loss, but Saturday proved the staff knows how to win a football game in multiple ways. Kicking the game right off, recognizing the inconsistent line play and mounting injuries to its interior, the West Virginia offense ran NC State ragged horizontally with sweeps, motion and even a trick play, before pounding it up the gut in the second half. Overall, the blocking was much more physical too. Staying true to Brown’s promise that special teams would be much more emphasized moving forward, West Virginia blocked its second kick in three games. The defensive staff flipped the right switches once Josh Norwood was ejected for targeting, entering true freshmen Kerry Martin Jr. and Tykee Smith. The staff has also made Vandarius Cowan’s absence less noticeable with others in the front seven picking up slack.

Sam James is going to be a DUDE

He still dropped a pass in the NC State game that David Sills, Kevin White or Stedman Bailey would’ve never dropped, so it’s still too early to anoint James as the next “great one,” but his skills were surely on display Saturday. James has breakaway speed, solid vision to weave through defenders and is strong enough to break through arm tackles. He was much deserving of the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Week Award after hauling in nine balls for 155 yards and a touchdown. While Brown still figures out the best nucleus to put around him at receiver, expect James to be the focal point of the passing game.

NC State was limited by its quarterback play

The defensive front deserves its fair share of credit, especially the Stills brothers, who were wreaking havoc in the backfield all game long, but NC State’s quarterback Matthew McKay had arguably the worst game a quarterback has had against WVU since Baylor’s Charlie Brewer fell apart in Morgantown last season. He missed a ton of reads on the read option and only netted nine yards on the day rushing. He couldn’t complete anything other than a curl route, so the Mountaineers didn’t have to account for anything going over the top. Had it not been for the mismatch in 6’7, 250 lb. Cary Angeline at tight end, there really wasn’t a threat the Old Gold and Blue had to account for in the passing game. This didn’t look like an offense that had scored 75 points in their first two games combined to begin the year. Had it not been for favorable field position after Austin Kendall’s interception and West Virginia penalties, NC State seemed overmatched and quite frankly intimidated by the crowd.

Cleaning up the penalties will be something to keep an eye on

West Virginia was called for 12 penalties for 105 yards in this game, but the ones that were truly costly were the four of the personal foul variety, most notably the targeting call against Norwood. Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning challenged his defense earlier this week to play “nuts.” Words cannot be found on how to teach a safety going full speed, who is trying to break up a pass with a forceful hit, to pull up and not hit the receiver who is tucking his head for self-preservation. Ultimately though, the Big 12 officials haven’t been kind to West Virginia in the past and that shouldn’t be something fans should expect to change this season. The Mountaineers will have to learn how to cause chaos responsibly, despite that being an oxymoron. It could prove to be the difference in a closer game.

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