MORGANTOWN — With a crowd of 50,911 in attendance, it wasn’t quite a sellout at Milan Puskar Stadium as West Virginia played at home for the first time without crowd restrictions in nearly 22 months.
But those fans who were in attendance certainly got their money’s worth.
It started with a bang — a 90-yard kickoff return touchdown for Winston Wright to be exact — and it never slowed down as the Mountaineers steamrolled past FCS Long Island for a 66-0 win on Saturday.
The Mountaineers scored on their first eight possessions after Wright’s opening score and built a 38-0 halftime lead with several reserves, including backup quarterback Garrett Greene, getting reps early and often.
And while it wasn’t perfect, WVU coach Neal Brown said the team accomplished many of the goals he’d laid out prior to the game against the Sharks.
“A really fun atmosphere and I appreciate the fans, I thought they showed up,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “The administration’s decision to move the kick back to 5 [p.m.] was a good one. People had a good time in the parking lot and a bunch of students showed up. I always appreciate that.
“We got done what we needed to get done. It wasn’t perfect by any means. The defense flew around, the communication improved from a week ago. I thought we did a better job other than that drive right before the half. I thought we played better team defense.”
Both of WVU’s top two quarterbacks played well, beginning with starter Jarret Doege, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns.
Greene, meanwhile, completed 4 of 7 passes for 67 yards as a backup and led a first-half touchdown drive, capping it with a 3-yard touchdown run to make the score 28-0 at the time. He was WVU’s leading rusher, piling up 98 yards on 14 rushes and added another touchdown run of 13 yards in third quarter.
“We had his first two drives of the game scripted for him play wise and I don’t know if he ran any of the plays the way they’re supposed to be ran, but he made some plays,” Brown said.
“He’s fun to watch. He’s got some juice about him. He does a great job creating plays. He showed some growth. Some things he probably didn’t do a good job of, but everything he did was full throttle and that’s one of the reasons we’re excited about him.”
Junior wideout Sam James, who led the team in receiving in the Mountaineers’ 30-24 loss at Maryland in the season opener, was on the receiving end of two of Doege’s scoring tosses, getting into the end zone from 18 and 15 yards out. Sean Ryan caught the other, taking a swing pass, splitting two defenders and breaking a tackle while galloping 39 yards to the goal line. Ryan led all receivers with 77 yards on three catches.
WVU’s defense locked down on the outmanned Sharks offense as well. Long Island mustered just 95 total yards and nine first downs. A total of 33 players recorded a defensive statistic for the Mountaineers. LIU also struggled on special teams, where it punted 10 times for just a 28.4-yard average, gifting West Virginia with great field position several times throughout.
Perhaps the only concern for the Mountaineers was the relative ineffectiveness of starting running back Leddie Brown, who scored twice but managed just 31 yards on 15 carries. Neal Brown again stressed the importance of further development in the run game but said some adjustments at halftime led to further success on the ground in the second half, once Leddie Brown was pulled with the score getting out of hand.
“We didn’t scheme a bunch of things this week and I think they’re really well coached on offense and defense,” Brown said. “They did a good job of moving and twisting and did some things that our defense does, so credit to them. We went into half and said, ‘OK, here’s a couple of things, the way they’re attacking our back placement,’ and ran the ball much better in the third quarter. We’ve got to continue to run the football better. I thought it was tight quarters in there in the first half.”
Among Mountaineer newcomers producing for the first time were true freshmen Justin Johnson, who ran 10 times for 42 yards, and wideout Kaden Prather, who caught his first two passes for 33 yards. A’varius Sparrow, a redshirt freshman listed as the team’s fourth-string back, scored his first WVU touchdown with a 2-yard plunge in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
- There were multiple pregame and midgame ceremonies on Saturday, including the honoring of the team’s 2020 seniors, West Virginia first responders and fallen victims of 9/11. That included former WVU quarterback Chris Gray and former LIU standout Durrell Pearsall, both of whom perished at the World Trade Center during the attacks.
- Former Mountaineer and NFL cornerback Adam “Pac-Man” Jones was also in attendance and was introduced to the crowd during the first half.