MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia started its 2015 season in dominating fashion, pounding the Georgia Southern Eagles 44-0 in Morgantown.
WVU showed early, on the first play of the game in fact, that it is not afraid to feature fleet-footed quarterback Skyler Howard in its running game. Howard picked up just two yards on his first designed run of the contest, but he has the quickness and elusiveness to be dangerous in that facet this season.
This young receiving corps proved it could be dangerous today. True freshman Jovon Durante didn’t waste any time making a big splash, burning Georgia Southern’s defense for a 41-yard touchdown on the Mountaineers’ first possession of the game. He and Skyler Howard would hook up for another long connection, this time a 57 yard bomb on the last play of the first quarter.
While you may take his big time debut with a grain of salt because it came against Georgia Southern, there is plenty of reason to get excited about what he can bring to the table this season. It appears there will be no wait-and-see period for Durante. He may have been late to fall camp, but he’s here now, and his presence will be felt all season.
Redshirt sophomore Shelton Gibson finally showed his big play potential, too. After struggling to find his footing, to say the least, in 2014, Gibson appeared confident as can be in the 2015 opener. He finished with three catches for 130 yards and a score and showed he is capable of being a big time deep threat now that he has learned to harness his blazing speed.
A lot was made before this game about how confusing Georgia Southern’s option offense could be. West Virginia was not the least bit befuddled. The Mountaineers did what you have to do against an offense like the Eagles’: Pin your ears back, trust your instincts and attack.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s group was so stifling in the pass game that it took until 8:17 left in the third quarter for the Eagles to register their first completion. The Mountaineers had picked off GSU quarterback Favian Upshaw three times before he finally connected with one of his own teammates for a change.
West Virginia’s coaching staff hemmed and hawed all offseason about needing to turn things around in the turnover margin. The Mountaineers’ performance in that vein was downright unacceptable last season.
Things finally took a turn for the good Saturday. Led by its ball hawking secondary, West Virginia forced five turnovers on the night and set a good tone for the rest of the season with its performance.
Questions about how WVU would fare in the red zone this season didn’t really get answered tonight. The Mountaineers got inside the Eagles’ 20-yard-line four times in the first half and had to settle for field goals three times, and failed to convert on a 4th-and-one from the GSU 17 once.
Things got better in the second half, when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood each found their way to pay dirt and put a little shine back in WVU’s red zone statistics for the evening.
Safety Karl Joseph got his senior season started with a bang, registering three interceptions and causing havoc at every turn. Joseph is the kind of player opposing offenses have nightmares about on Friday nights, and performances like this remind you why.
He may not get the national recognition he deserves, but if he can come even close to replicating this level of play over duration of this season, he should be remembered as an all-time great to put on a WVU uniform.