(Neal Brown postgame press conference)
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head coach Neal Brown often talks about how important it is for his team to finish strong in Big 12 Conference play because of the consistency shown in the league each week.
Thanks to one of the Mountaineers’ first episodes of the Brown era, that didn’t matter Saturday in BYU’s first trip to Morgantown.
West Virginia did much of what it wanted to through the opening two quarters, controlling the line of play on both sides of the ball to build a 27-point halftime lead en route to a 37-7 victory.
As a result, WVU (6-3, 4-2) is bowl eligible, while BYU (5-4, 2-4) lost its second straight away from home a week after a 35-6 loss at Texas.
“We haven’t talked about it,” head coach Neal Brown said of being bowl eligible. “I didn’t say anything about it in the locker room. It’s about the best teams playing their best games in November and it was the best game we’ve played this year. “
For the second time in as many weeks, West Virginia converted the fourth quarter of its opening series, and it led to a first-game touchdown. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers had a 2-yard run from CJ Donaldson on fourth and 1 from the Cougars’ 35, and five plays later Donaldson scored on a 2-yard run.
“C.J. had a man rally on fourth and 1 and that started it again,” Brown said. “They put pressure on us and they tried again.”
BYU elected to try and tie WVU with a fourth-down conversion on its first possession, but the move backfired when Aidan Robbins was stopped by Marcis Floyd for a 2-yard loss.
The Mountaineers got on the board when Traylon Ray ran three times for 42 yards on three straight plays to set up Donaldson’s 1-yard TD run at the 6:17 mark of the opening quarter.
“If we can play every game like that, we’re going to be great,” freshman forward Ben Cutter said.
That streak lasted until the second quarter when Michael Hayes made it 17-0 with a 46-yard field goal. helped force an incompletion on a fourth-and-2 throw by BYU quarterback Jake Retzlaff, who was making his first career start in place of the injured Kedon Slovis.
The Mountaineers drove 93 yards for a third touchdown on their second drive of the second quarter, using a 12-yard pass from Garrett Greene to Preston Fox on third-and-9 to take a 24-0 lead with 2:18 left in the half.
“That is a drama that we always work in this area. He’s a really good guy with the ball in the air,” Greene said. “I let him fly and he did a great job.”
The third touchdown run began with runs of 14, 6 and 12 yards by freshman tight end Jahiem White, before the Cougars committed two penalties.
Aubrey Burks fumbled and recovered a 23-yard touchdown pass by Parker Kingston with 1:05 left in the opening half, and Brown’s decision to be stubborn paid off when Greene found Devin Carter on a 38-yard play on third-and. -14. The Mountaineers finally got into the red zone before setting up Hayes’ 22-yard field goal on the final play of the first half.
“That was the best our defense has done in a long time,” Brown said. “Aubrey Burks is back looking like he once did at TCU.”
The Mountaineers entered halftime with 352 yards on 43 plays and 204 rushing yards on 26 attempts.
“The offense is very good and they put a lot of work into what they do,” White said.
Hayes’ 23-yard field goal scored the first points of the second half, and as WVU’s defense continued to dominate, the Mountaineers used a second pass — this one from Greene to tight end Kole Taylor, who covered 27 yards 43 yards after the catch on a 1-and-out play. :09 left in the third quarter.
Greene gave up a pass to running back Nicco Marchiol throughout the fourth quarter, which the Mountaineers did not run into.
BYU avoided a shutout when Robbins had a 10-yard run with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter.
WVU gained 567 yards and rushed for 336 yards — its biggest total against Power 5 competition under Brown. It’s the second time in as many weeks that the Mountaineers have gone under 140 yards in 12 straight Power 5 games.
“The numbers tell the story,” Brown said.
White was the game’s leading rusher with 146 yards on 16 carries.
(Greg Carey & Joe Brocato end the match)
“If he continues to do the things he needs to do to be great, then he’s going to be great,” Brown said.
Donaldson added 102 yards on 14 attempts.
“When he’s running like that, it’s tough to deal with,” Greene said of Donaldson. “Their quarterbacks are anywhere from 180 to 210 pounds and he’s running down the stretch at 240. He’s a real asset. It all comes back to how our offensive team played today.”
Greene finished 12-of-24 for 205 yards. Carter’s 56 receiving yards were a team best and his three receptions tied Ray, EJ Horton and Fox for the team lead.
Retzlaff threw for 210 yards and completed 24-of-42 passes.
BYU was limited to 67 rushing yards on 21 carries.
Both teams committed 10 penalties, with the Mountaineers finishing with 7.5 yards per play to the Cougars’ 4.4.
BYU started the second half with a holding decision that negated Keelan Marion’s 91-yard return for a touchdown.
West Virginia is back on Saturday with another night game as the Mountaineers’ matchup at Oklahoma is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re alive and well in the conference tournament and that’s what we’re talking about,” Brown said. “Obviously a big game next week, but we’re looking to do better.”
(Postgame “Round of Sound”)