West Virginia rode superior talent and 426 rushing yards to beat Kansas 49-0 on Saturday for its third straight win. The victory, paced by another exceptional ground game matched versus an inferior foe, checked the bowl eligibility box, and setup WVU for a two-game finish in looking for a non-October sweep.
The Mountaineers scored nearly at will, and led 42-0 at the half while racking up 402 yards against just 59 for Kanas, including minus-one on the ground. The final tallies were more telling, if not statistically as dominant, WVU finishing with an 630-221 edge in total yardage in their first clear blowout conference win since a 33-14 victory against Kansas last year. The Mountaineers led that one 33-7, but it was never as controlling as this effort in which WVU scored 28 points in the first quarter, the most since the 35-point output against Clemson in the second quarter of the Orange Bowl.
The historical and stat lines proved more than worthy. West Virginia had three backs reach the 100-plus yard mark in the same game for the first time since Sept. 13, 1969 in a win over Cincinnati, and the fourth time in school history; Shell totaled 108 yards while Wendell Smallwood had 115 in complimenting Howard’s career-best 129 rushing yards. The Bearcats figured prominently in another stat, this one noting that the Mountaineers managed a conference shutout for the first time since beating UC 38-0 in 2005; it was the first time WVU had two shutouts in the same season (Georgia Southern 44-0 in the opener) since 1996, when the ‘Eers beat Pitt 34-0 and Maryland 13-0 while finishing with the nation’s top total defense.
Some perspective, however. The truth here is Kansas is even worse than Kansas normally is this season, and any win over the program as it is now is nothing but a token. It remains, though, that the Mountaineers did exactly what they needed to in using the line and backfield to open the game up, and its receivers to compliment the arsenal as the day wore on. It was boring, it was bland, and it matched the crowd and surrounding landscape, about as bereft of hope as a Big 12 cellar dweller can be.
West Virginia had kicked over all the dominoes by the midway point, including a second defensive score in as many weeks when Terrell Chestnut returned an interception 32 yards for a 14-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. The Mountaineers piled on with two more scores in the opening quarter, all on the ground as Shell had touchdowns of eight and 26 yards and Smallwood finally found that goal line Dana Hogorsen showed him for a 24-yard touchdown. He later added a one-yarder in the third quarter for the lone second-half score as WVU had it on cruise.
Howard had already set his new mark in rushing in the first quarter when he tallied 77 yards. Perhaps most surprisingly, his previous major college high came at Iowa State last season, when he rushed for just 69 yards.
Howard’s day was done by the seven-minute mark of the third quarter, when William Crest entered in reserve with WVU leading 49-0. Howard finished 13 of 22 passing for 133 yards with one touchdown and an interception in a mostly sound outing.
Add in a defense that held Kansas to 221 yards, and didn’t allow a third down conversion until the 8:06 mark of the third quarter, and the mastery was complete. Kansas started 0-for-9 on third downs, and didn’t pick up a first down by means other than penalty until the third quarter. It was an inept performance from an offense which at least showed signs against TCU; Instead, the Jayhawks fell to 2-42 in league play since 2010, and must now try to avoid an 0-12 season against rival Kansas State in a week.
But credit as deserved KU head coach David Beaty. The first-year mentor has instilled both belief and fortitude within his team. Kansas was into the game throughout, and the sideline erupted when it stopped WVU with a blocked field goal down 42-0 late in the first half. All players surrounded the main sideline mass huddled near the line of scrimmage, and they reacted with enthusiasm throughout the game. That’s a feather in the cap during a very down initial season for Beaty, who is dealing with just 65 scholarship players out of a possible 85 while using a two-deep littered with undergrads.
That alone means the future appears to at last hold some promise for Kansas, though whether it can regain the type of traction it had during an 11-1 Orange Bowl season in 2008 remains to be seen. Beaty has set the correct goals of playing hard and with attention for this season, and it’s allowing Kansas to show itself well in those areas, if little else.
For West Virginia, the attention now turns to the home finale’ and a Senior Day match-up against a pesky Iowa State team far more capable of an upset. The Cyclones come in sans the ability to get bowl eligible, and looking for little more than some late season momentum with head coach Paul Rhoades job in major jeopardy. WVU enters winners of three in a row and looking for its strongest ending to Big 12 play to date; finish with a five-game streak and October has been fully exorcized – and at least partially forgotten.