Takeaways, special teams make difference in season opener

WVU Football

Mountaineers forced three turnovers in hard-fought win vs. Dukes.

The Neal Brown era in Morgantown began with a victory and Country Roads, as the Mountaineers survived a test against FCS No. 2 James Madison, winning 20-13. 

As advertised, earning that victory was far from an easy task. 

It took some time for the Mountaineer offense to get settled in, as the home team trailed 7-3 at halftime. But WVU immediately pulled ahead as new quarterback Austin Kendall found his groove. 

The graduate transfer from Oklahoma led a quick scoring drive to open the third quarter, culminating with a touchdown pass to fellow grad transfer George Campbell. He’d later add a second TD pass to Tevin Bush following a clutch interception by defensive back Keith Washington. 

Kendall completed 27 of his 42 pass attempts for 260 yards and two scores. 

“I was really proud of this group and how we reacted at halftime. We didn’t panic, and that’s your concern when the first half goes like it did, especially offensively. Guys hit the panic button. They didn’t do that,” said head coach Neal Brown. “We came out, and I thought we took control of the game. Even though we had to win it right at the end, I thought we took control of the game.”

But Brown said it was defense and special teams that really solidified this West Virginia win. The Mountaineers forced three total takeaways: two fumbles — one on special teams — and Washington’s interception. Junior nose guard Darius Still also blocked a JMU field goal attempt in the second quarter when the Mountaineers already trailed 7-3. 

Stills racked up six total tackles, tied for second on the team in the win, and produced a drive-stalling sack of Dukes’ quarterback Ben DiNucci late in the fourth quarter as JMU attempted to rally. 

The defensive line as a whole looked strong in West Virginia’s regular season debut, as the Mountaineers totaled six tackles for loss and four sacks. 

“Turnovers and special teams we’re the difference,” Brown said. “Defensively, we allowed them to run the ball on us in the first half, but if you look at it, six tackles for loss, four sacks, three takeaways — we talk about wanting to create negative plays, and we were able to do that in this game.” 

As Brown improves to 1-0 as the head coach of the Mountaineers, WVU remains perfect all-time against FCS opponents, moving to 20-0. 

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