WVU football: Run defense fails Mountaineers
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Shaq Rowell was sure he'd witnessed a winning performance by West Virginia's defense, that the nose guard and the rest of those Mountaineers had done enough to handle a Kansas team that was last in the Big 12 in passing offense, scoring offense and total offense.
The Jayhawks passed for 61 yards and completed only 5 of 12 passes. They punted seven times and were 5-for-15 on third down. For a WVU defense that had struggled with all of that in the past five games, that seemed significant.
"We did everything right," Rowell said, "but give up those 300 rushing yards."
Kansas, a rather one-dimensional team started a true freshman quarterback for the first time in his career and asked Montell Cozart to do almost nothing with his arm, ran the ball 54 times for 315 yards and four touchdowns in the 31-19 win. Two of those 54 carries were the longest of the season for the Jayhawks and were separated by just six snaps.
The five completed passes were the fewest in a win by an opponent since Syracuse ended an eight-game losing streak in the series with a 19-14 win at Mountaineer Field in 2010, the last season Bill Stewart was head coach. The 61 passing yards were the fewest by an opponent in a win since Penn State passed for 40 in 1989.
And as much as WVU likes to say it's stout against the run, what Kansas managed, which was significant and at times dominant, is just the third best total this season and the fourth-highest in the past 12 games.
Baylor ran for 495 yards, the most ever by an opponent, in October. Oklahoma gained 372 four weeks earlier. Syracuse had 395 in the Pinstripe Bowl in December, which was Keith Patterson's first game as the defensive coordinator.
The previous four 300-yard games against the Mountaineers happened between 1999 and 2005. There were none from 2006-11. Only five players have ever run for 200 yards against WVU. Only three did it between the first game in 1891 and the final game of the 2012 regular season. Syracuse's Prince-Tyson Gulley (217) and Kansas' James Sims (211) have done it in the past 12 games.
"Sims was great," Rowell said. "Forget the offensive line. I feel like he was tired of losing. He got the ball and ran like a possessed man."
Sims and the rest of the Jayhawks had been used to losing. They'd lost their past 27 Big 12 games. The last Big 12 win was three years and 10 days earlier and the last conference win against a team still in the Big 12 was 13 months and eight games before that.
Kansas had 14 first downs and 12 came on a running play.
"It really wasn't trouble for us," Patterson said, "except two plays."
But those two plays count and they were undeniably critical toward the outcome. In the second quarter, defensive end Will Clarke slipped into the backfield and had Sims 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Sims broke free and gained 62 yards, which at that moment was the team's longest run of the season.
"It's a game of intensity," Patterson said. "When you don't have that or don't play with an edge, big plays occur. You haven't seen that happen to us all year long. It happened (Saturday). Twice. In seven minutes."
Clarke was otherwise terrific with a career-best 10 tackles and two tackles for a loss defending outside runs and zone reads.
"That stuff happens," Rowell said. "Every good player has bad moments. Ray Lewis had bad moments. Steve Young had bad moments. We're not going to sit here and talk about what Will could have done."
The first run set up the first of Sims' three touchdowns two snaps later. The Mountaineers punted - actually, they punted, had a touchback erased by a delay of game and then punted again and watched the ball go out of bounds at the 32 - and tried to simply hang on for the final 39 seconds of the first half.
Kansas instead tossed a pitch outside to the right and watched Sims cut inside and run untouched and away from hobbling safety Darwin Cook for a 68-yard touchdown. Cook had been hurt twice in the first half and Patterson took blame for having Cook in the game because "obviously he couldn't play."
The score guaranteed the Jayhawks only their second halftime lead of the season and the first since the season-opener against South Dakota.
"I felt like those two running plays were the end of the game," Rowell said.
It was the first toss play in the game and the second time the Jayhawks were under center. They were in the same formation on Sims' first touchdown with a guard and two tackles lined up to the right of the center and a fullback in front of Sims in the backfield. That was a power run to the right with the guard on the left side pulling to the right and giving Sims a path.
Defensive end Kyle Rose said WVU expected the same play at the end of the half, but the way they lined up left them outnumbered on the right side of the play, which meant they were in trouble when the toss went that way.
Kansas was devious with an array of outside zone runs, quarterback reads with the running back and draws by Sims and Cozart that were effective on third down.
"Obviously it slows us down," Rose said. "We can't get a pass rush because we're always worried about them playing up and having to read blocks. We're not able to come off the ball and rush the passer like we used to or like we like to. It keeps us on our heels so we play preventive and not attacking how we should and how the defense was created for us to play. So it created a lot of problems for us."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.