MORGANTOWN — Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 19 Kansas State, West Virginia wanted to hold dangerous running back Deuce Vaughn in check. The Mountaineers focused so much on Vaughn, however, that they might have forgotten about everybody else.
Vaughn was held way below his season average with just 67 rushing yards and no receptions, but the Wildcats still had 437 yards of total offense and put up 48 points.
“If you told me we were going to win the rushing battle, we were going to score 25 points in the first half and Duece Vaughn was going to be held to 67 yards rushing…I’d feel really good about our chance to win the game,” WVU coach Neal Brown said.
Part of WVU’s shortcoming was giving up 11 explosive plays to KSU’s offense. Another was two interceptions from first-time starting quarterback Garrett Greene that turned into 14 points for the opposition.
“I can’t make those mistakes at critical times in order for us to beat good teams,” Greene said. “Those two picks really sealed the game. We can’t do that — I can’t do that — and beat really, really good teams.”
Despite the 41-25 halftime score, it was still a two-possession game for a large stretch of time. The Mountaineers failed to ever capitalize, however.
The biggest missed chance came at the beginning of the second half. WVU embarked on a 16-play drive that chewed up eight and a half minutes of clock, but the possession ended with a missed 44-yard field goal and no points.
“From a momentum standpoint, that definitely hurt us,” Brown said. “You had the ball for nine minutes, you overcome penalties, you get down there and you don’t get any points out of it.”
“That probably was the nail in the coffin,” receiver Sam James said.
WVU’s usually-solid special teams made several critical mistakes Saturday.
Kicker Casey Legg, who hadn’t missed a kick all season, missed two extra points and was short on a 44-yard field goal.
“Special teams has been a strength of ours all year and really hurt us today,” Brown said. “We left points on the board…that unit, which has been solid, was not very good today. We left maybe seven points out there.”
Kansas State also had 98 yards on kick returns.
Prior to the game, 19 WVU players participated in Senior Day activities with their parents. Of those 19, 11 players still have at least a year of eligibility remaining, either naturally or because of the blanket waiver during the 2020 season. Of those 11, nine have yet to announce their future plans — offensive linemen Doug Nester, Donovan Beaver and Tyler Connolly, wide receivers Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James, kicker Casey Legg, punter Kolton McGhee and tight end Mike O’Laughlin.
Brown said Senior Day is usually tough on players who naturally get emotion during the ceremony then have to turn around and play the game.
“There’s no other time you have your family on the field and it’s just a retrospective moment…You have emotions and it grabs you. I’m shaking their hand and I see tears in their eyes,” Brown said. “It’s a really tough, emotional swing…I don’t think we handled those emotions as well as we probably could have.”
WVU linebacker Jasir Cox saw some familiar faces on the Kansas State sideline — several of his former coaches while at North Dakota State.
Cox transferred to WVU from NDSU before this season and was reunited with Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman, who previously coached Cox for a few seasons with the Bison.
Cox got the chance to talk to Klieman and a few assistants before the game Saturday.
“He said he still has love for me,” Cox said. “Those are the guys who gave me the opportunity to play college football. It was great to see them again.”
Cox said he enjoyed his time at NDSU, but called playing for West Virginia this season a dream come true. He credited the success Klieman has had with the Wildcats to the system he runs and the type of players he recruits.
“I just think it’s the scheme, having guys know what they’re doing,” Cox said. “And having great guys off the field as well, I know they pride themselves on that. I feel like I’m one of those guys as well who came out of that system.”
Cox also joked that his time in North Dakota prepared him for the 30-degree temperatures in Morgantown on Saturday.
James made the most of his Senior Day, catching three passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns. James had not passed 100 yards since he had 223 against Texas Tech on Nov. 9, 2019.
“We knew they couldn’t run with us,” James said. “We just exploited that.”
James caught a 26-yard touchdown, a 71-yard touchdown and capped off the day with one final 5-yard score.
- Falling to 4-7, WVU will finish with at least seven losses for the third time in four seasons under Brown. WVU will not make a bowl game for the second time under Brown.
- Legg was a perfect 13-13 on field goals and 33-33 on PATs coming into the game.
- Wide receiver Kaden Prather missed the game with an undisclosed injury. Brown said he will play next week at Oklahoma State if available.
- Kansas State had outscored opponents 191-94 in the first half coming into Saturday. The Wildcats outscored WVU 41-25 before halftime.
- With Kansas State’s 34-17 win in 2021, this is the Wildcats’ first winning streak against the Mountaineers since 2014/15. WVU had won five-straight matchups from 2016-2020.
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