When West Virginia took the field for the first time in 2020, the only thing to welcome them at Milan Puskar Stadium was the empty seats. That didn’t hamper the performance of the Mountaineers with them dominating the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, 56-10.
The university decided not to allow fans for the home opener in late August due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s finally time for football,” head coach Neal Brown said in a press conference on Saturday. “We didn’t know if we’d get to this point at certain times this year and I’m really humbled to coach with everything that has happened over the last few months.”
Junior quarterback Jarret Doege led the Mountaineers on the opening drive, going 82 yards in just four plays. The drive was capped by a 10-yard rushing touchdown from junior running back Leddie Brown.
Eastern Kentucky’s first possession was a quick drive that lasted 1:53 and gained nine yards on three plays. This was the theme for most of the day for the Colonels as they would go three-and-out seven times and only convert one third down all day (1-11).
On its second drive, the West Virginia offense struck again, with Doege connecting a 15-yard touchdown pass to Leddie Brown for his second touchdown of the game.
After a punt on their third drive, the Mountaineers extended their lead to 21-0 off a 32-yard touchdown pass from Doege to sophomore wide receiver, Sam James.
Following the third WVU touchdown, Eastern Kentucky got its offense moving and scored its first points of the season. Parker McKinney took the Colonels 75-yards in just five plays to cut the WVU lead to 21-7.
In 2019, the rushing attack was in a dismal state. Before Saturday's game in his weekly press conference, coach Brown asked if the running attack would be better and said, "We better be." The rushing attack wasn't just better; it was exceptional.
The Mountaineers totaled 329 yards rushing on 51 attempts for an average of 6.5 yards per carry. Brown led the team with 10 carries for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Alec Sinkfield added 15 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
Redshirt freshman, Tony Mathis Jr., got going in the second half and finished with 18 carries for 56 yards and one touchdown.
Coach Brown was impressed with the performance of the running backs but didn't think the team is close to the level it needs to be.
“This is just the start,” Brown said. “This performance doesn’t mean we’ve arrived, but this was the start to getting better on the ground.”
In just one half of action, Doege finished 19-of-25 for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Austin Kendall started after halftime and went 3-of-6 for 43 yards, and freshman Garrett Greene went 3-of-4 for 24 yards in his first appearance at West Virginia.
James led all receivers with five catches for 72 yards and one touchdown while fellow sophomore Bryce Ford-Wheaton had a solid performance with four catches for 67 yards and a touchdown.
West Virginia was without TJ Simmons and Isaiah Esdale who were part of a group of 11 players suspended before kickoff due to team violations. The Mountaineers were also without two starting offensive linemen, center Chase Behrndt and left tackle Junior Uzebu.
Overall, EKU had only 206 yards in total offense. The Colonels only reached the West Virginia red zone one time and scored a field goal.
Up next, West Virginia will travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Sep. 26.