After a mid-week offensive shakeup that saw Dana Holgorsen hand the keys to a redshirt freshman for the first time in his coaching career, the West Virginia Mountaineers were solid if not spectacular in defeating the Georgia State Panthers 41-7 at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
After a slow start that saw WVU head into the halftime locker room up only 17-0 and saw GSU score a 3rd quarter TD that cut it to 17-7, the Mountaineers finally wore down the Panthers, scoring the final 24 points of the game. While the performance certainly didn't have the feel of a high-powered offensive showing, it looked plenty good on paper. WVU totaled 604 yards with 245 on the ground and 359 through the air.
Overcoming some early underthrows and an uneven start, quarterback Ford Childress set a WVU record for single game production by a freshman signalcaller (breaking Scott McBrien's record), going 25/41 for 359 yards, 3 TDs and 1 interception. He seemed to get more comfortable as the game wore on but has a lot to work on as WVU prepares for Maryland next week. "I liked his poise" Holgorsen told WVU sideline reporter Jed Drenning after the game. "He did a relatively good job of taking care of the ball."
Despite solid numbers from the offense, there was much concern showed with the WVU offensive line - radio play-by-play man Tony Caridi called the performance "unacceptable" in the fourth quarter. Coach Dana Holgorsen had replaced center Tyler Orlosky with Pat Eger earlier in the week, but the change didn't seem to yield very positive results as the Panthers consistently got pressure in the WVU backfield and disrupted the offense.
In happier news the Mountaineer defense continued its streak of solid play led by first year starting Will linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski who had the team lead in tackles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Karl Joseph. They held strong all day, giving up only 220 total yards, with over a quarter of that coming on a 65 yard touchdown run that represented the Panther's lone touchdown.
For the first week there were no interceptions logged by a vastly improved defensive back unit, but the 'eers did get a trio of sacks and held the Panthers to 3 of 13 third down conversions.
The name of the game for the WVU offense was balance - especially with the run game. Stud back Charles Sims carried a bulk of the load with 116 yards on 8 carries, but Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood were productive as well, running for 60 and 62 yards respectively.
Balance was the name of the game among receivers as well as 9 different Mountaineers caught passes and four of those totaled at least 64 yards. Of particular note was how well players seemed to deal with Holgorsen's mid-week depth chart demotions - the 3 most productive receivers were all guys who were supplanted in the starting lineup. Daikiel Shorts led the way with 5 catches for 88 yards and 2 scores, KJ Meyers led the team in receptions with 6 for 66 yards and the enigmatic Ivan McCartney caught a pair of passes including a 45 yard TD that was his first end zone foray in quite a while.
All in all it was a good effort by the Mountaineers comprised of substance if not necessarily style. The level of competition will stair step precipitously over the next two weeks with a trip to Maryland and then a home game against Oklahoma State and we'll get a lot better idea what these guys are made of, but the WVU team continued to give plenty of indications that they are on track to grow into their potential as the season continues.