The Big 12 has had a very rough month of September but one of the few bright spots for the league has to be the play of West Virginia in racing out to a hot start to begin the season.
The Mountaineers started rolling on offense and didn’t really stop on Saturday afternoon but needed their defense to come up in a clutch situation to stay undefeated, putting away a pesky BYU team 35-32. As a result, Dana Holgorsen’s squad may have just installed themselves as the Big 12 favorites and de facto playoff hope after the first month of the season.
Quarterback Skyler Howard was nearly perfect on the day, going 31-of-40 for 332 yards with a score and an interception. Despite spreading the ball around to 10 different receivers in the outing, Howard’s favorite target was the uber-productive Shelton Gibson — who didn’t score but did tally 144 yards on just four catches.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill wasn’t quite as sharp as his counterpart but did help rally the Cougars early in the fourth quarter to cut it to a one-score game with nearly six minutes left. However he tossed interceptions on back-to-back drives to end the game and drop the team to 1-4 with yet another narrow loss. Running back Jamaal Williams was a nice bright spot for the team however, as he ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
Though the shaky ending may have caused a few scared looks at FedEx Field among the Mountaineers faithful, West Virginia will likely find themselves in the top 25 on Sunday and one of the surprising favorites to win the whacky Big 12. Holgorsen entered 2016 on a bit of a hot seat but with such a good start to the season, things appear to be going just fine in Morgantown ahead of next week’s conference opener against Kansas State.
Shootouts in college football are by definition fun, fast-paced and back-and-forth games involving just a little bit of everything.
If that’s the case, consider the first half of West Virginia and BYU’s matchup as more of a slow developing shootout. The Mountaineers went to the locker room with a 21-13 lead and the score probably could have been a little worse had there been any urgency to their offensive drives, which were methodical and efficient outside of a Skyler Howard interception.
Howard did have 180 yards passing through two quarters however and was dinking and dunking down the field against a normally tough BYU defense. Tailback Rushel Shell didn’t have a great half with just 2.1 yards per carry but did punch it into the end zone twice for West Virginia.
The third score of the day for the Mountaineers came on defense. Rasul Douglas found himself at the right place, at the right time, when Taysom Hill was pressured into a bad throw. Douglas snagged the ball out of the air and returned it 55 yards for an impressive pick-six to get the gold-clad crowd into the game.
The Cougars were able to move the ball in the first half even if the points didn’t quite follow, averaging 6.5 yards per play thanks in part to Jaamal Williams’ 128 yards rushing over two quarters.
BYU would have closed the gap between them and West Virginia even more had they not bungled the final few seconds of the half. Instead of getting out of bounds, receiver Mitchell Juergens decided to cut up field and the team needed a review to get one second left put back on the clock in order to kick a field goal.
This is a big game for West Virginia to hold on to as they’re one of just two undefeated Big 12 teams left heading into Saturday’s slate of games and one of the few bright spots for the league so far this season. As for BYU, the Cougars would love to pull of an upset on the East Coast (the game is at FedEx Field outside Washington, D.C.) and show Big 12 leaders that they can be very competitive in the conference should they ultimately decide to expand.
Either way, should make for a fun second half between the two.
And then there was one.
Entering Week 4, Nevada and Notre Dame were the lone FBS teams that had yet to register a sack during the first quarter of the 2016 season. Midway through the second quarter of the game against Purdue today, however, Nevada’s Korey Rush sacked David Blough for a four-yard loss.
With Notre Dame not playing until 3:30 ET this afternoon (on NBC), that leaves the Irish standing alone as the only sackless team left at the FBS level.
Ironically enough, Purdue entered today’s game as one of five FBS teams, along with East Carolina, Northern Illinois, Texas State and West Virginia, that had recorded just one sack on the year. And, for those who are curious, Florida came into Week 4 leading the nation in sacks with 16.
No. 2 in that category? The Irish’s opponent this afternoon, the Blue Devils (tied with Ball State).
UPDATED 6:11 p.m. ET: And then there were none.
Early in the third quarter of the game with Duke, Nyles Morgan sacked Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones, giving the Irish their first sack of the season 14 quarters after it started.
There was a never-before-seen oddity in today’s AP poll, though you are forgiven if it slipped by you unnoticed.
Just three Big 12 teams dotted the poll: No. 16 Baylor, No. 21 Texas and No. 25 Oklahoma. Which means, for the first time in the league’s 21-year history, not a single Big 12 team qualified for the AP’s top 15.
Saturday’s twin losses by Oklahoma (to Ohio State) and Texas (to Cal) likely doomed the Big 12 to its second CFP-free postseason in just the third year of the system.
Eliminating leagues entirely this early in the season is asking for trouble — recall what you thought of Ohio State’s title chances after that home loss to Virginia Tech in September of ’14 — but the Big 12’s seem safe considering the conference has accomplished next to nothing in non-conference play. Texas’s win over Notre Dame has aged like a forgotten cup of milk, and the league’s second-best win is… Oklahoma State over Pittsburgh? West Virginia over Missouri?
The most memorable moment of September has been Oklahoma State’s unjust loss to Central Michigan. (Which, oddly, has kept the Pokes out of the rankings even after Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh.)
Overall, the Big 12 is 3-10 against the Power 5, the American and the MAC and 16-12 against the rest of college football. That includes the FCS.
An empty non-conference season is bad enough, but it builds into the league’s inherent problem: its 9-game, round-robin schedule without a championship game was built for the bowl-and-poll era, not the Playoff. Heading into its sixth season of existence, no team has run through the 9-game gauntlet unbeaten.
With no title game to serve as a punctuator and no good non-conference wins to look back upon, the Big 12 champion — whoever it is — may have a tough time arguing for one of the final four spots.
West Virginia established a presence up front on the offensive line in a win against Missouri on Saturday, but one key player from that line has already been lost for the remainder of the 2016 season. Offensive tackle tore his right ACL in the game, and the injury will sideline him for the entire season.
Cajuste suffered the season-ending injury in the first quarter against the Tigers. Knee injuries are nothing new to Cajuste. It was just last year when Cajuste injured his knee midway through the 2015 season against Baylor. He missed the rest of the regular season for the Mountaineers but was able to return for West Virginia’s bowl game against Arizona State.
With Cajuste, a starter, knocked out of the mix for the rest of the year, West Virginia will bump redshirt freshman Colton McKivitz up to the starting line. McKivitiz took over for the injured Cajuste on Saturday. West Virginia’s offensive line played well against Missouri, which allowed Justin Crawford to run for 101 yards and Rushel Shell to pick up an additional 90 yards. Each scored a touchdown on the ground.
“Colton McKivitz went in there and did his job against a first round draft pick,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said, per West Virginia Illustrated. “That’s what needs to happen. When guys go down, guys need to go in and play at a high level.”
Knee injuries have already cost a couple of West Virginia players their seasons this year. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry tore his ACL in August. A few days later, linebacker Brendan Ferns went down with an ACL injury.