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West Virginia Falls to Virginia Tech in Non-Conference Blockbuster

In a game that lived up to it’s billing, the Mountaineers fell to the Hokies.

Getty Images - Rob Carr

The latest iteration of the West Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry lived up to almost all the hype. FedEx Field was absolutely raucous. This particular neutral site set-up was kind of strange, but it worked. Pre-game festivities featured WVU’s marching band and some WVU hype videos, but the game itself felt entirely like a Virginia Tech home game, complete with gobbles on third down and you guessed it, the Hokie Pokie.

As expected, Tech seemed to have a larger crowd, but Mountaineer Nation showed up in an impressive way. West Virginia had a legitimate shot to tie on the last play, but untimely mistakes and a lack of discipline ultimately cost the Mountaineers a shot at the Black Diamond Trophy.

The two halves felt like two different football games.

In the first half, both offenses struggled to find a rhythm. Will Grier was rusty, and Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson looked less than lethal. Tech was the first to put together a solid drive and drew first blood with a 25-yard kick from Joey Slye. (We’ll talk more about Joey Slye in a moment.) WVU’s defense, full of fresh faces, looked okay, and Tech’s young quarterback was able to manage the offense well. The Mountaineers came out slinging, but Grier struggled to connect with his receivers. West Virginia finally put together a great drive in the second quarter culminating in a touchdown pass from Grier to David Sills. Most costly to the Mountaineers, Virginia Tech was continually winning the battle of field position. West Virginia was unable to flip the field on Virginia Tech while the Hokies were consistently pinning the Mountaineers deep in their own territory.

Both squads moved the ball much more efficiently in the second half, and Mountaineer fans got a glimpse of what Will Grier could be. Grier led an impressive drive early in the third quarter, but unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they couldn’t punch it in the end zone, thanks largely to a couple of penalties (one of which was Dana Holgerson’s inaugural personal foul call). Congrats to all of you who had Holgerson being the first Big 12 coach to earn one of those penalties, by the way. WVU finally started to hit some gaps in the run game with some nice runs from all three of their feature backs. Crawford had over 100 yards on thirteen carries.  The Mountaineers defense made some big blunders which resulted in big plays for the Hokies.

The ball seemed to be bouncing Virginia Tech’s way. The Mountaineers were never out of it, but played most of the game from behind. Virginia Tech missed a big field goal in the third quarter and just never could shake West Virginia. As the second half wore on, the Mountaineer offense really started humming, but their defense was wearing down just a bit.

After a West Virginia three-and-out deep into the fourth quarter, Virginia Tech took over at their own 34. Despite a couple of penalties, Tech moved the ball down the field. A controversial pass interference called on West Virginia’s Elijah Battle gave the Hokies a first down at West Virginia’s 37 with 3:45 to play. Josh Jackson ripped off a critical 14-yard run, running more clock and inching closer to the end zone. Tech reached the West Virginia 14 and trotted out their kicker, Joey Slye, to put the game on ice with 1:55 to play.

And wouldn’t ya know – he missed it.

Grier would have two minutes to become an instant legend in the hearts and minds of Mountaineers everywhere. Kennedy McKoy busted a couple first down runs. Grier threw in a 14-yard run of his own. On fourth down, Grier hurdled a Hokie to gain a West Virginia first down at the Virginia Tech 28. He then connected with Ka’Raun White on a quick 8-yard pitch and catch. Grier then scrambled again for a first down, allowing a clock stoppage to give the Mountaineers a couple looks at the end zone. With 10 seconds remaining, West Virginia had two shots to send the game to overtime. Sills broke open in the back of the end zone but could not hang on to Grier’s pass. The Mountaineers were penalized for holding on the game’s final play, which Justin Fuente declined with no time left on the clock.

In the end, Virginia Tech made fewer mistakes than West Virginia. They consistently had better field position, they committed fewer penalties, and their defense didn’t blow many assignments. Josh Jackson and company were able to do just enough to score 31 and burn clock when necessary.

Team Stats

1st Downs 29 21
3rd Down Eff 5-19 3-15
4th Down Eff 2-3 1-1
Total Yards 592 469
Passing 371 235
Comp-Att 31-54 15-27
Yards Per Pass 6.9 8.7
Interceptions 1 0
Rushing 221 234
Rush Att 35 45
Yards Per Rush 6.3 5.2
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 9-81 5-34
Possession 29:00 31:00
WVU – W. Grier 31/53 371 7.0 3 1 66.1
VT – J. Jackson 15-26 235 9.0 1 0 83.9
WVU – J. Crawford 13 106 8.2 0 42
VT – J. Jackson 11 101 9.2 1 46
WVU – G. Jennings 13 189 14.5 1 60
VT – C. Phillips 7 138 19.7 1 32

Emptying the Notebook

Special teams may have won Virginia Tech the game, but oh boy they almost cost them the game when Joey Slye missed two gimmes that he does not miss often.

WVU got off to a slow start but still ended with a ton of yardage – almost 600 to be exact. Will Grier ended 31-53 with 371 yards, 3 touchdowns, and one pick. He may not have been the instant messiah WVU fans expected, but his gutty performance in the fourth quarter and marked improvement in the second half should encourage Mountaineer fans.

The WVU run game never got into the rhythm many expected, but Crawford still got his yards and both Pettaway and McKoy had some big runs late in the game. Still though, Dana wants those big runs to end with touchdowns.

It’s probably about 50/50

That said, these Mountaineers look a little better than last year’s in the red zone. The jury is still out if their inability to get touchdowns in the red zone in 2016 will be a lingering issue.

Did anyone else notice how many people were cramping up? It was strange for a game with weather as mild as this one. It was a picture-perfect night in Landover, Maryland.

West Virginia’s defense needs to improve, and it should. Surprisingly, Gibby’s crew couldn’t gobble up any turnovers. That was a big part of their success in 2016.

Virginia Tech is a very solid football team who will contend in the ACC. If these teams played 10 times, the series would probably split 5-5. If WVU’s second half offense can consistently show up, the Mountaineers will be relevant in the Big 12 race late into November.

This is true. West Virginia always seems to have a hard-hitting safety lurking in the secondary, and this year it’s Kyzir White.

West Virginia has to punt more effectively and has to be able to get some return yards from their punt returners and kick returners.

The Black Diamond trophy remains in Blacksburg, and these teams should absolutely play more often. WVU captain Al-Rasheed Benton said it was the best atmosphere he has ever played in. I don’t know if I’d say it was the best atmosphere I’ve ever seen (I was there) – but it was absolutely the best opener I’ve ever witnessed.


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