West Virginia dominated much of the second half on the way to a 26-11 victory over Missouri on Saturday in Morgantown. The Mountaineers found success on the ground and dominated the first and third quarters on the way to a comfortable win.
WVU led 13-3 at halftime, and the primary story was drive finishing. The Mountaineers were stuffed and forced to attempt an early 19-yard field goal and settled for a second-quarter field goal as well (a shaky pass interference penalty call on Aarion Penton gave them that scoring opportunity). The only touchdown of the first half was a 23-yard rush by Shell.
That allowed Missouri to stay close, and the Tigers put together a series of strong drives in the second quarter. But they lost a fumble on one and had to settle for two short field goals. Freshman Tucker McCann made the first and missed the second. Another field goal try in the fourth quarter was blocked.
The third quarter completely belonged to the Mountaineers. Missouri lost its offensive rhythm, and the WVU ground game began to find serious traction. Mizzou had outgained WVU, 141-71, in the second quarter, but the Mountaineers turned the tables. Third-quarter yardage: WVU 185, MU 36.
The game was basically put away when Crawford scored on a one-yard jaunt early in the third quarter, though Mizzou brought it closer with a late eight-yard touchdown pass from Drew Lock to Chris Black. The Tigers recovered an onside kick and quickly drove inside the WVU 10, but Lock threw repeated incompletions to J’Mon Moore, and WVU ran out the clock.
Three immediate reactions:
1. Missouri’s defensive line was a drastic disappointment.
West Virginia has one of the better, more experienced offensive lines on Missouri’s schedule, and the matchup with Mizzou’s defensive line was one of the keys to the contest. The Tigers had their moments, but Charles Harris had a quiet game (just two solo tackles), and nobody else made up the difference. The Mountaineers found major success running straight up the gut, and the duo of Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell carried 37 times for 191 yards.
Perhaps even more of a concern: Mizzou managed only six tackles for loss, and just a single one came from a defensive lineman. With Harris and this set of Tiger tackles, that was incredibly disappointing to see.
Total line from MU's 7 D-linemen who recorded a stat today: 21 tackles, TFL, FR. Jordan Harold and Charles Harris: 2 tackles.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) September 3, 2016
MU's top 8 D-linemen averaged 5.2 TFL per game last year. A notable step backward to start the season in that department.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) September 3, 2016
Meanwhile, some other potential weaknesses emerged. With likely starting cornerback T.J. Warren out, WVU was able to pick on John Gibson quite a bit, mostly electing to go to whoever he was covering instead of Penton’s man. And the plan to use Donavin Newsom as nickel back did not appear to work out very well. We’ll see if that changes.
2. I see what Josh Heupel is trying to do, and I like it (mostly).
At times, Drew Lock began to throw fruitless passes down the sideline a bit too frequently. (With the early defensive pass interference calls, I know why you would attempt to do that, and Mizzou did draw one such penalty. But most of the throws floated out of bounds, so you couldn’t throw a flag if you wanted to.) Still, for the most part, you could see the intent. Missouri attempted to stretch WVU from side to side and north to south. It was a sound, logical game plan, and despite miscues, it generated 462 yards. Clean up the mistakes, and the ceiling appears high.
Plus, Marvin Zanders saw action and did some nice things on the ground, and big, sexy Josh Augusta converted a fourth-and-1 at one point.
3. Last year’s offensive weaknesses haven’t magically turned into strengths.
The offensive line did a pretty good job of protecting Drew Lock, but any run push was sporadic at best. Alex Ross and Ish Witter combined to carry 28 times for only 99 yards (3.5 per carry).
Meanwhile, the receiving corps suffered a large handful of drops and struggled to hold blocks on the outside. At one point, Eric Laurent committed a holding penalty to negate a nice Marvin Zanders run, then dropped a third-down pass. (It went far beyond Laurent; but that was a prime example.)
Chris Black came on late and finished with seven targets, six catches, and 102 yards. Meanwhile, Sean Culkin caught two of four for 27. But outside receivers were, for the most part, inferior to WVU’s cover men.
J’Mon Moore had a couple of big plays but caught a miserable eight of 23 passes; he generated 104 yards, but that only works out to 4.5 yards per target. The No. 1 target should average nearly double that.
Meanwhile, other receivers (Emanuel Hall, Dominic Collins, Dimetrios Mason, Johnathan Johnson, Keyon Dilosa, and Ray Wingo) combined to catch just six of 13 passes for 45 yards (3.5 per target). Collins made a nice 22-yard catch late, which was encouraging; but that means the other 12 passes to this group gained 23 yards.
With the run game struggling, Drew Lock was asked to throw a ton of passes on passing downs. He threw passes that asked his receivers to make plays. They weren’t ready to do so just yet. Mizzou needed a player like Daikiel Shorts. Unfortunately, he plays for WVU (and caught eight of 11 balls for 131 yards).
Mizzou’s home opener against Eastern Michigan kicks off next Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m. CT.