Darius Reynaud caught two touchdowns passes – including a backbreaker after a turnover – and Eric Wicks tallied a team-tying high seven tackles, two for loss, to lead No. 9 West Virginia to a 38-13 win over Mississippi State in garnering Player of the Game honors.
Reynaud caught three passes for 20 yards, but two went for touchdowns. The first, with 6:09 left in the opening quarter, put West Virginia ahead 21-0 and essentially ended any hope of an upset. The second, the final score in the game with 14:19 left, padded a 31-13 lead and was the lone score in the last 44:54 of the game after the Mountaineers took an initial 31-0 lead. The touchdown was a psychological lift for West Virginia (6-1) and a dagger for Mississippi State (4-4).
"We talked about finishing the job and not giving them hope," WVU head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "When you let another team hang around you give them hope. I don't know how much we really gave them, but they had hope when they took that thing down for the second half start. I think it is natural. If you have 60,000 let emotion out, you can expect 18-19 year olds to do the same. We have to put people away. That's why I was glad to see that last score."
Wicks played well in every phase, including fitting up to the run an in pass coverage. The senior tracked down MSU quarterback Wesley Carroll for a sack, one of three in the game for minus-33 yards. The Pittsburgh native had four solo stops in his seven tackles, and had one other tackle for loss in addition to the sack.
"I thought our defense was in control for most of the game," Rodriguez said. "We gave up a couple drives, but for the most part we were in control. Our defense was effective. Everybody knew they were going to run the football, and we were able to force them into third and long situations. We were stout. We forced them into what we wanted to force them into, and the lead took them out of what they wanted to do. We did some different blitz packages that forced them into throwing it quicker."
Patrick White. In starting despite suffering a bruised thigh and shoulder strain within the past three weeks, White completed eight of 12 passes, including two scores and made nearly every right read in the running game to total 155 yards of offense. He ran 64 yards on WVU's first play from scrimmage for an early 7-0 lead, his fourth-longest scoring run of his career. That tied his 64-yarder at Pitt last year and was just 12 yards short of his career long of 76 against South Florida in 2005. The junior was brilliant in the passing game, finding a wide-open Reynaud in the back of the end zone on a 10-yard score on third and four from the 10 when the southpaw rolled left and threw a line-drive strike across his body.
White also had a 12-yard scoring pass to Owen Schmitt out of the backfield, though that was a product of the fullback's post-catch running as he avoided one tackle and dove for the pylon, tumbling in with the ball across the goal line before his shoulder hit. The junior also showed a bit of maturation, deciding to slide instead of taking several big hits just one week before West Virginia must travel to Rutgers in a key Big East tilt after the Knights beat then-No. 2 South Florida on Friday. White also stepped out of bounds, and took just one solid hit, that coming on a free play off when Mississippi State was offsides. An edge rusher hit White when he threw the ball out of bounds. He grimaced upon standing, but remained in the game before being giving way to backup Jarrett Brown for the first series of the second half. WVU was ahead 31-13 then, as MSU drove 58 yards for a score before missing the two-point attempt.
Steve Slaton. The back, held under 100 yards in two consecutive starts for the first time in his career, rushed for 127 yards against Mississippi State. His touchdown, a 26-yarder in which he cut right, then back to the left, set a school career rushing touchdown record with 43, one more than that of Avon Cobourne and Ira Errett Rodgers, who both had 42. The back was again largely a decoy, as he sucked the defense to the right so White could hit Schmitt for a score. He also returned a kickoff, although the junior did fumble the initial return, which was negated by MSU's offsides penalty.
Reed Williams and Marc Magro. The duo gets duel mention for the strip and recovery-return of a key fumble. Williams, coming up from his linebacking slot, hit Mississippi State tailback Anthony Dixon, causing the ball to pop loose. The pigskin fell directly into the hands of Magro without hitting the ground, and the senior ran to his left, toward the Mountaineer sideline, for a 39-yard return. He was brought down from behind in the red zone, and West Virginia punched in three plays later on White's 10-yard toss to Reynaud. The return was the first of Magro's career and his second recovery, the other coming against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. He finished with five tackles, while Williams, WVU's leader with 48 entering, had seven.
Keilen Dykes. The defensive lineman was able to slide into the end slot because of the decent play of Chris Neild at nose tackle. Dykes jumped offsides twice, but was able to better pursue ball carriers and make edge plays from his position. The slot if where the coaching staff has wanted to play him throughout the year, and the test might be enough to judge whether the four-year starter and All-Big East pick can continue there. He finished with three tackles and one of three sacks for West Virginia.