The reason? First, the Mountaineers' overall execution was far superior to what it had been in past games. It was forced, via Yodney Cajuste's injury, to substitute redshirt freshman talent for veteran savvy in fifth-year lineman Marquis Lucas. That, in turn, allowed Adam Pankey to slide back inside at guard, where he's far more confortable. The movement also elevated Marcell Lazard into the starting role at right tackle, the first for the redshirt freshman at the collegiate level. Overall, position coach Ron Crook, above, was pleased with the results. And it'd be difficult not to be, what with the 300 rushing yards, including a pair of backs to go over the 100-yard mark, the first time the Mountainers have accomplished the feat since the last time they played Texas Tech.
West Virginia averaged 5.3 yards per rush, with Wendell Smallwood's 22 carries netting 163 yards and a 7.4 yards per clip average. Rushel Shell was even better in the latter category, averaging 7.9 yards per carry while racking up 111 physical yards in reaching the century mark for the first time this season and just the fourth in his career. Even without his longest run of the day, a 43-yarder, Shell would have averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Take away Smallwood's 28-yarder which came on WVU's penultimate possession to jumpstart the final scoring drive, and the senior would still have averaged 6.4 yards per carry. As it finished, Smallwood managed the most rushing yards in a game for West Virginia since Tavon Austin amassed 344 against Oklahoma in 2012.
A solid part of that, even against a subpar Texas Tech front, was an offensive line which was much-maligned for significant portions of the first four games. WVU routinely blew the Raiders several yards off the ball, and both Shell and Smallwood had significant holes on nearly every possession. That was especially imperative over the final two drives, when the Mountaineers used seven runs in eight plays for the deciding touchdown, then salted the game away via 13 runs over 16 plays to reach inside the one-yard line before Howard took consecutive knees to end the contest.
Smallwood, who said he didn't think West Virginia needed to pass as often as it did, was the workhorse with 10 of the carries over the final pair of drives, including four runs of 10 or more yards. It was an example of what West Virginia did for the majority of the game, routinely ripping off five-plus yard gains while allowing the backs to get downhill quickly behind the push up front. Crook said the challenge juiced the line, and gave it a sense of reliance and dependability lacking over much of league play. Lazard, in among his first meetings with media, speaks to his physical edge and playing with a nasty mentality. Lazard, like Lucas above, also details the communication process and the attention to detail along the line in getting into the correct blocking schemes, especially in audible situations.