Steve Slaton ran for 110 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries to lead the way for a Mountaineer rushing attack which amassed 397 yards and four touchdowns. East Carolina's ability to tackle in space, a key to its solid play against West Virginia the past two seasons, was at times nonexistent Saturday afternoon as the Mountaineers rolled to a 48-7 win in front of 60,021 fans.
As impressive as the running game was, the defense once again stole the show. The Pirates were held to just 160 total yards, including just 54 through the air. Jeff Casteel's defense constantly harassed ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney and his white-clad running mates, finishing with six tackles for a loss and four sacks.
"They did a nice job of getting their ends up the field and honing in on (Pinkney)," said third-year ECU head coach Skip Holtz. "They did a good job of collapsing the pocket, and their players executed well."
Heading into the game, the Pirates likely needed every break to bounce in their favor in order to pull a monumental upset. On the contrary, little went right on either side of the ball for ECU, now 1-3 on the year. The Pirates averaged just over three yards per play, and did not score a point until Chris Johnson's three-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. Defensively, the formerly difficult to solve Pirates could not so much as keep their team in the game from the get-go.
When the Mountaineers weren't running wild with Slaton, Jarrett Brown (82 yards on six carries), and Pat White (two touchdowns on nine carries), they got it done through the air. On the heels of a somewhat average performance against Maryland last week, White was as sharp as he's ever been. The junior finished 18-20 through the air for 188 yards and two scores, both courtesy of bubble screens to slot receiver Darius Reynaud. Freshman Brandon Hogan, in his first career start, caught six passes for 44 yards.
"West Virginia was really impressive," Holtz said. "They played a great game. I was impressed with Pat White and the way he threw the ball."
"I was very pleased with the way we played today in all three phases," Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I think we executed schemes well against a pretty good football team. Pat was extraordinary. He was the sharpest you could be today. I always say that a quarterback in this offense is like a point guard who can shoot the three. Pat can do that."
From the game's outset, thoughts of a third straight nail-biter against the Pirates were thrown out the window. As Rodriguez noted, the blue and gold was sound in all three phases of the game. Kicker Pat McAfee was perfect on his two field goal attempts; the defense, as noted, was spectacular against both the run and the pass; and the offense – ironically the Achilles' heel against ECU in recent years – was unstoppable no matter what players made up the personnel.
Brown made a brief cameo in the first half to run a two-minute drill, which resulted in McAfee's second field goal of the afternoon. In the fourth quarter, the sophomore returned to the field to execute his second scoring drive of the game, with Ed Collington's first career touchdown run providing the final points of the day for the Mountaineers.
"This was the best overall performance we've had in several years," Rodriguez said. "I'm looking forward to watching the film and seeing where we can improve."
"From an offensive standpoint we couldn't get anything going," said Holtz, who faced his biggest halftime deficit (27-0) in his three seasons as ECU coach. "We couldn't stop them on defense and we couldn't get a first down on offense."
Another noticeable difference in contrast to the past two seasons was West Virginia's ability to shed tackles in space against a normally-fundamental Pirate defense. Slaton and Reynaud broke several tackles on the day, leaving the ECU faithful frustrated.
"When they get into the open field they can make you miss," Holtz said. "That's what this group does. They just break tackles so well. That's a tribute to them."
Reynaud and Hogan were especially efficient on bubble screens, keeping ECU's defense off-balance in the early-going and grasping for air all afternoon. Outside receivers such as Wes Lyons and Dorrell Jalloh laid devastating blocks on defenseless Pirate linebackers throughout the day, opening up more space and running room for their teammates in the slot.
"They didn't hurt us throwing the ball down the field," Holtz said. "The just hurt us with those bubble screens. Their wide receivers were mauling us. They just had a great scheme."
The win, combined with a South Florida victory over North Carolina, sets up a marquee match-up of Big East unbeatens this coming Friday in Tampa.
"You always want to keep getting better," Rodriguez said. "Four games in you have to be playing pretty well. Our guys were focused this week and they executed their assignments, on both sides."
As a result, the Mountaineers are a perfect 4-0 heading into conference play as their quest to reclaim the Big East crown continues.