Mountaineers hit the road to face Mizzou

WVU Football

After earning their first win at home on Saturday against James Madison, West Virginia football is heading to enemy territory to face the Missouri Tigers in a non-conference match-up.

Head coach Neal Brown will get his second crack at coaching the Mountaineers at noon ET on Saturday when he faces a Missouri team that is hungry and looking to redeem themselves. This will be the seventh meeting between the two programs, with the all-time record sitting at an even 3-3.

The last match-up, which was the 2016 season opener at Milan Puskar Stadium, was a 26-11 victory for the Mountaineers. This game also doubled as Mizzou coach Barry Odom’s debut with the Tigers.

The Mountaineers are 26-25-2 all-time against SEC opponents, and have won their last two contests against them.

Coming in to this season, Missouri was voted to contend for the SEC East division, and Brown even called them “one of the hottest teams in the country coming in to the opening weekend.” The Tigers will be looking to get back on that track when they return home after getting upset 37-31 at Wyoming in week one. That loss, Brown says, isn’t indicative of the true quality of WVU’s week two opponent.

“I fully expect to see an entirely different team when we line up and play in Columbia on Saturday,” Brown said of the Tigers.

Missouri has routinely had one of the top offenses in the SEC under Odom, with his squads gaining among the top three teams in the conference. They maintained that trend against Wyoming (their 537 total yards was the most out of any SEC school), but costly mistakes and turnovers created opportunities for the Cowboys to cash in, and they did.

This is contrasted with the Mountaineers, who had the smallest offensive production out of any Big 12 school — but didn’t commit a single turnover all game.

Speaking of West Virginia’s slow offense, they will be looking to improve on their meager 34 rushing yards from week one, and Missouri’s defense is a prime chance to make that move. In their opener, they gave up a whopping 297 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns to the Cowboys on the ground. In fact, Wyoming ran so well, they only threw the ball 16 times, completing 6 of those attempts for just 92 yards.

Brown is quick to point out, though, that the way West Virginia and Wyoming run the ball are different. While the Cowboys are dynamic on the ground — utilizing their quarterback in the run game behind strong tight ends — West Virginia mainly hands the ball to their backs without any tight ends in front of them.

Here are some other things to keep an eye out for on Saturday:

Transfer QB showdown

Both squads debuted new quarterbacks in their season openers, and both received some mixed reviews for their play. Missouri’s Kelly Bryant put up some career numbers, but his costly turnovers would help tip the scales out of the Tigers’ favor.

On the flip side, while WVU’s Austin Kendall may not have wowed the crowd with his passing numbers, his lack of mistakes would help push the Mountaineers over the Dukes. As with pretty much every football game, how each signal caller plays will have a significant hand in the outcome of this contest.

Question marks up front

Neal Brown was quick to lament his team’s running game, but wouldn’t rush to point fingers as to what went wrong. There’s no doubt, however, that some of that burden lies on the shoulders of the young offensive line.

After Josh Sills started his first game at center, and Brown says his debut at the position was good, save for some errors that weren’t his fault.

Luckily for the WVU offensive front, Mizzou’s defensive line has several new starters and struggled mightily in their season opener. That doesn’t mean they lack in talent with players like redshirt junior Jordan Elliott, a transfer from Texas. He earned second team All-SEC honors in 2018 and could be one of the top defenders in the conference this season.

Where to watch:

The Mountaineers kick off against the Tigers on Saturday at noon ET, and it will be broadcast live on ESPN2. You can also stream it live on the WatchESPN app.

Join the West Virginia Illustrated team for three hours of pregame coverage in the lead-up to kick. 

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