West Virginia’s offense scored on all seven of its red zone trips, its defense forced four turnovers and the Mountaineers snapped their two-game losing streak with a 41-28 win at UCF Saturday afternoon.
A week after being outscored 28-10 in the fourth quarter, WVU (5-3, 3-2) pulled away from the Knights (3-5, 0-5) with a 17-7 advantage in the final frame.
“Really proud of the team, players and staff the entire way around,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “We’ve got a resilient group. If you’ve been paying attention to us all year, we’ve been a group that even when bad things happen, we’ve always responded.”
WVU scored on seven of its 10 meaningful drives, finding the endzone five times while only punting twice and losing a fumble.
“I think this offense can be as good as I let it,” quarterback Garrett Greene said. “A lot of it falls on my shoulders. We scored 41, but there were so many plays out there and so many points left on the board.”
Greene began the scoring when he capped off an effective opening drive with a six-yard rushing touchdown.
UCF answered with a touchdown of its own to tie the game 7-7, but the Mountaineers kicked a 24-yard field goal on its next possession and never relinquished the lead again.
Greene got into the endzone three times, finishing with 55 rushing yards and three scores, bringing his season total up to eight. The junior completed 14 of 23 passes for 156 yards and did not turn the ball over.
“He’s a great quarterback,” left tackle Wyatt Milum said. “Having him as a quarterback, as a leader, he gets us going. You never see him down, he’s always pushing us, leading us.”
It was the first game in a couple of weeks that Greene did not have to do it all himself as WVU running backs CJ Donaldson and Jaheim White were dynamic. Donaldson, who did not start for the first time this season, ran 17 times for 121 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that put WVU up 38-21.
“CJ had a different mentality this week, so I had a lot of confidence in him,” Brown said. “I thought this was CJ’s best game since Pitt. When he runs like that, he’s a load. The thing (Saturday) was he was so good after contact. Even on that last drive, he was so good after contact.”
White ran for 85 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. His second-quarter touchdown gave the Mountaineers a 17-7 lead.
“He gave us a spark,” Brown said. “When you play true freshmen, it’s always a trust deal. He’s taken care of his body better, but he’s not making errors that could be absolutely critical.”
UCF’s offense was just as effective but made the mistakes that WVU avoided. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee completed 25 of 36 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 45 yards and another score, but he also threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
The Knights out-gained WVU 463-450, but those four turnovers proved costly as the Mountaineers scored 21 points off takeaways.
“That was the reason we won the game,” Brown said. “We scored 21 points and that was the story of the game.”
Cornerback Beanie Bishop grabbed two interceptions and safety Marcis Floyd had the other.
“Beanie’s played at a high level, he’s been around the ball a lot,” Brown said. “Those were huge, especially the first one because they were driving down the field and we turned that into a touchdown.”
Bishop is up to four interceptions this season, matching WVU’s entire total from last year.
“During the two games that we dropped, we know we’ve got to take the ball away,” Bishop said. “We haven’t really been able to create takeaways so we kind of harped on that.”
Linebacker Lee Kpogba sacked Plumlee to force the fumble that Jalen Thornton recovered. That set up Greene’s third touchdown run that put the Mountaineers up 31-21 as they started to pull away late. WVU went on to score 17 unanswered points before UCF managed a touchdown in the waning minutes.
West Virginia returns home next week to face BYU. UCF will take its five-game losing streak to Cincinnati.