West Virginia Mountaineers Seek 2-0 Start

West Virginia Mountaineers seek 2-0 start
CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 01: Will Grier #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers drops back to pass against the Tennessee Volunteers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The West Virginia Mountaineers opened their season rattling off a 40-14 win against the Tennessee Volunteers. Now, the Mountaineers return to Morgantown for their home opener against Youngstown State. The West Virginia Mountaineers seek a 2-0 start against the Penguins for the second time in three (3) seasons.

Indeed, the Mountaineers last faced the Penguins after handing Missouri in the 2016 season opener. Before that, the Mountaineers last faced Youngstown State way back in 1938. The Mountaineers are 18-0 all-time against FCS schools, and they are 7-0 under Head Coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers have also won 12 of their last 13 non-conference regular season games.

The Penguins’ Hopes and Stars

Former Nebraska Head Coach Bo Pelini is in his fourth (4) season with Youngstown State. The Penguins’ goal in hiring Pelini was to return the program to the glory it saw under former Head Coach Jim Tressel. Under Tressel, the Penguins won four (4) FCS national championships in seven (7) seasons.

In 2016, the last time the Mountaineers faced the Penguins, Youngstown State looked primed to begin that run. The Penguins finished the 2016 season 12-4 with a 28-14 loss to James Madison in the FCS Championship Game. Hopes were high for the 2017 season. The Penguins, however, finished 6-5, and missed the FCS playoffs altogether.

Youngstown State opened this season hoping to return to the playoffs and FCS prominence. FCS coaches believed in them, vaulting the Penguins to a top 25 ranking in the preseason FCS coaches’ poll. The Penguins responded, however, by losing 23-21 to Butler in its season opener. Butler scored 16 points in the final nine (9) minutes to cool the Penguins early season expectations.

Pelini called the Penguins’ loss the culmination of a “comedy of errors,” rightfully blaming the loss on penalties and poor special teams play. Youngstown State finished the game with 9 penalties for 97 yards, to Butler’s single penalty for 0 yards. The Penguins gave up 253 passing yards. And kicker Zak Kennedy went 0 for 2 on field goals for the game.

Youngstown State, however, is not without some star power. Running back Tevin McCaster, who played for the Penguins in 2016, gained 176 yards on the ground on 29 carries. Quarterback Montgomery VanGorder, the Notre Dame transfer, finished with 234 yards and 3 touchdowns on 18 of 27 passing. His top receivers looked reliable, and Samuel St. Surin and Kendrick Mallory combined for 9 receptions, 163 yards, and 2 touchdowns. On defense, the Penguins return Bryce Gibson and Armand Dellovade, both of whom looked strong in the season opener.

The Prediction

The Mountaineers struggled early against Youngstown State in 2016, going into halftime tied at 14. West Virginia finally pulled away late, winning the game 38-21. This year’s Penguins, however, are far different than those the Mountaineers faced two (2) years ago.

And, for that matter, this year’s Mountaineers look far more polished than they did in 2016. Instead of Skyler Howard, West Virginia trots out Heisman hopeful Will Grier. He opened the season throwing for 429 yards and 5 touchdowns against the Volunteers, both of broke or tied all-time records against the Tennessee defense. And he made that effort look downright pedestrian. In the first Mountaineers drive of the fourth quarter, Grier’s helmet came off and Jack Allison signaled his eagerness to enter the game for the next play. The Mountaineers took a time out, and Allison was seen laughing, likely eased by the thought that he should see the field plenty this coming weekend.

The defense, by the way, looked every bit the part of a top 30 defense as predicted here.  The game began with Kenny Bigelow, picked here as one the defense’s biggest surprises for this season, downright mauling four-star Alabama transfer Brandon Kennedy, leading to a 10-yard loss on the play.

Unfortunately, the Mountaineers also saw Charlie Benton go down with an apparent knee injury, which, as of this writing, may or may simply be a sprain. The Mountaineers are already thin at linebacker, having lost Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns to knee injuries in the spring. Additionally, the Mountaineers cornerbacks looked weaker in coverage, especially Hakeem Bailey, though it is hard to tell whether that was a result of the scheme or simply poor play.

Either way, the Mountaineers certainly have enough talent on both sides of the ball to wear the Penguins down quickly. Fans can expect a lopsided victory for the Mountaineers that allows several key backups to see substantial time in the second half.

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