MORGANTOWN — A crowd made up of all ones — 11,111 to be exact — largely decked in old gold and blue, attended West Virginia’s penultimate home game of the 2020 season on Saturday against TCU.
And the two guys wearing No. 1 old gold and blue jerseys on the field gave that crowd plenty to cheer about.
Linebacker Tony Fields continued his monster season with a game-high 14 tackles and senior wideout TJ Simmons hauled in two long touchdown catches as the Mountaineers jumped ahead early and took advantage of TCU mistakes late in a 24-6 win at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
The victory clinched at least a .500 season for WVU (5-3 overall, 4-3 Big 12 Conference) with only a home tilt against Oklahoma in two weeks and a season-closing trip to Iowa State remaining.
“Huge win for us,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “Really proud of our players and staff. We talked about it this week, but it matters how you play. I’m not talking about outcomes all the time. When you go out and you play this game that we are extremely blessed to have the opportunity, especially with all that’s going on pandemic-wise and everything, it matters what you put on tape. It matters how you play.
“I thought what we put on tape today was West Virginia football. Individually and collectively, I thought our guys laid it on the line.”
In road losses to Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas, West Virginia found itself in an early hole and was ultimately unable to dig itself out of it.
On Saturday, the Mountaineers turned the tables, using a 15-play, 99-yard touchdown march on its first possession to go up 7-0. A 26-yard scoring strike from quarterback Jarret Doege to Simmons in the second quarter to made it a two-score lead at 14-3. It was never closer than 11 from there on.
A large part of that was due to the Mountaineer defense, which again turned in a largely dominant performance. The Horned Frogs (3-4, 3-4) finished with 295 total yards, were limited to 3.9 yards per carry and lost the time of possession battle 34:20-25:40.
“Zero touchdowns, under 300 total yards,” Brown said of his defense. “Really good on third downs [TCU was 6 for 14], especially in the first half. Our red-zone defense holding them to two field goals and getting an interception down there was huge. Tony Fields continues to make play after play”.
WVU running back Leddie Brown, who was questionable after being injured against Texas last week, started and it was difficult to tell he was ever injured at all. After entering the game as the Big 12’s second-leading rusher (105.86 yards per game), Brown rumbled for 156 yards on 24 carries in helping the Mountaineers control the game once they were out in front.
Leddie Brown told his coach all the way back on Sunday that he would play this week.
“When I saw him on Sunday he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to play,’” Neal Brown said. “I told him we’ll take care of you, but you’ve got to do your end of the bargain, which is put in the time to put yourself in position to play, and he did. Our training staff really worked with him to make that happen.
“By Wednesday he was running and making football movements so I felt good about it. He got mental reps on Thursday and Friday and he looked good in warm-ups.”
After a 42-yard field goal from Casey Legg put WVU in front 17-3 with 7:57 left in the third quarter, TCU answered with a 32-yard field goal from Griffin Kell and hung around as a Mountaineer offense that was hot early fell mostly silent.
But early in the fourth, WVU’s Tyler Sumpter booted a 36-yard punt that was muffed by TCU’s Trevon Mohrig and recovered by Mountaineer safety Sean Mahone. Two plays later, Doege hit Simmons again, this time from 38 yards out to put the Mountaineers up 24-6 with 12:01 remaining.
Against a WVU defense that smelled blood in the water, 18 points was far too much for the visitors to overcome.
It was a big performance for the elder statesman of the WVU receiving corps, who along with most of the other receivers has had his share of struggles this season. Saturday marked a season-high in receiving yards (90) and the first two scores for Simmons so far this season, and both were on contested balls that were obviously pivotal plays in the final outcome.
“Coming into the game we knew they did a good job of matching routes so that was our big focus — try to win when they matched our routes, and whenever we do get one-on-one matchups we have to win those matchups,” Simmons said.
Doege finished 19 for 26 for 212 yards and added a 1-yard rushing touchdown to cap the Mountaineer’s 99-yard opening trek. Winston Wright caught a game-high six balls for 47 yards.
TCU quarterback Max Duggan went 16 for 29 for 161 yards and an interception and was held to 19 yards on 10 carries.
WVU linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo missed the game after sustaining an injury against Texas. Exree Loe started in his place and was second among Mountaineer defenders with 12 tackles.