West Virginia is ready to chase for Big 12 championship

MORGANTOWN — He left behind a program that went 40-4 the past three seasons yet Jabril Robinson says the mission here, at West Virginia, is the same as it was there, at Clemson.

Through two games at least, changing addresses hasn’t changed the winning experience.

The Mountaineers stand 2-0 after dismantling Youngstown State 52-17, doing what was necessary to make this rainy Saturday night satisfying.

Robinson collected his first TFL and then granted his first interview, sounding introspective yet inclusive about why he appreciates his new program. When he visited WVU for his transfer look-in, he said coaches “told me their only goal is to win,” and he sensed an optimistic vibe from the older players.

“It was like, ‘I feed off you, you feed off me, now let’s bring both positive energies together.’”

Positive dualities like an offense that has produced touchdowns on eight of 10 second-half drives so far, and a defense that has yielded touchdowns on only four of 21 possessions overall.

Dualities like a senior, Gary Jennings, catching three touchdown passes in the home opener and a freshman, Leddie Brown, catching Youngstown State tacklers unaware.

On defense, a 5-foot-8 safety jumped into the Sam linebacker spot and played as fierce as a chihuahua among mastiffs. Then the secondary’s most seasoned asset, Dravon Askew-Henry, was mobbed by teammates after a sideline interception so skilled it would’ve made Jennings proud.

“Oh yeah, I’ve been working on the toe tap,” Askew-Henry said. “You’ve got to get ready.”

From many angles, West Virginia appears ready to chase the Big 12 championship. Week 2 didn’t clinch anything, considering the FCS opposition, but it checked most of the right boxes. Ripe for a letdown, the Mountaineers led by two touchdowns at halftime and poured grease on the fire during the third quarter with four more TDs.

Wedged into the blowout was a tribute to the 1988 team that played for the national crown in the Fiesta Bowl. None of the current players, and a few of the assistants, weren’t even born when that squad galvanized Mountaineer Nation into a broiling pot of hope. But the current guys know and respect the ancestry.

“That’s a team that we strive to be like,” said quarterback Will Grier, who with a few more wins will approach the level of adoration Major Harris enjoyed 30 years ago.

“It was cool to get those guys down on the field. Those are people we look up to. They were an unbelievable team.”

At 40 points per game, no Mountaineers offense has ever matched the boys of ’88. Grier and the current group has averaged 46 in its first two games, an early sampling of what could evolve.

Of course offense is not what makes WVU fans apprehensive about dreaming large. It’s the defensive half that must provide resistance. If it’s any consolation, Robinson — after participating on some salty defenses for the three-time ACC champs — projects a quiet confidence about what lies ahead.

“At West Virginia,” he said, “it’s about the time to see the Big 12 championship.”

Robinson wore the No. 50 jersey at Clemson, his number since the days of pee-wee football. Now he’s sporting No. 12 at West Virginia, partly because his birthday is Dec. 12.

That falls 11 days after the Big 12 championship game, and nothing we’ve seen so far should extinguish the optimism about whether the Mountaineers belong there.

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West Virginia University vs. Youngstown State gallery

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