West Virginia head coach Neal Brown was planning on playing a lot of players in Saturday’s season-opener against Eastern Kentucky anyway, but a lot of those players got into the game earlier than anyone was even expecting.
Right before the game, WVU announced that Brown had suspended 11 players for Saturday’s game. Of the players suspended, five were listed as starters and seven appeared on WVU’s two-deep depth chart earlier in the week. The most impactful suspensions were starting center Chase Behrndt and slot receivers T.J. Simmons and Isaiah Esdale.
In their absence, true freshman Zach Frazier started at center and fellow true freshmen Reese Smith and Sam Brown filled in at slot.
“It was a really young (offensive) group we put out there,” Brown said. “I think (right guard) Mike Brown, (quarterback Jarret) Doege and (running back) Leddie (Brown) were the only older guys.”
Brown singled out the young trio of Frazier, Smith and Brown and praised them after the game.
“Those three guys are going to play a lot of football here for a long time and I was pleased they got off to a good start,” Brown said. “Reese has been ultra-competitive since he’s been here. He had a couple really nice blocks on the perimeter that don’t get talked about. I have high hopes for him moving forward. He’s going to be a guy that we can really build around, going to be a great program player.”
Those three were not the only players making their debuts for the Mountaineers, however.
Smith (four catches, 32 yards) and Brown (four catches, 43 yards) both made their first career receptions in the first half, but walk-on Graeson Malasevich also made his first career catch, taking it for 30 yards. True freshman tight end Charles Finley also hauled in his first career pass for two yards.
True freshman quarterback Garrett Greene also got in on the action in the fourth quarter. He completed three of four passes for 24 yards and ran five times for 33 yards.
Defensively, a slew of players had firsts Saturday. Arizona transfer linebacker Tony Fields II and safety Alonzo Addae both made their WVU debuts and lead the team in tackling. Fields had 10 tackles and Addae had seven, plus an interception.
Addae was at WVU last season after transferring from New Hampshire but had to sit out the entire season to fulfill transfer requirements.
“(Sitting out) was definitely difficult, but at the same time I trusted in the process and the coaches put me in a situation where I was here and I was still continuously growing my skills,” Addae said. “It was hard but today I let my emotions just run. I was kind of speechless to go out there suited up in a Mountaineer uniform.”
Cornerback Dreshun Miller also had to sit out all last season with an injury, but started on the outside Saturday and finished with one tackle.
True freshmen Akheem Mesidor and Taurus Simmons both picked up their first career sacks. True freshman Jairo Faverus also made his debut and had two tackles.