MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half and the offense did just enough to propel the Mountaineers to a 24-17, come-from-behind victory over William & Mary Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown.
"Offensively, we're obviously still trying to find an identity," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
At halftime, things weren’t looking too good for the home team. William & Mary, which scored 10 second-quarter points to take a 17-7 lead, was bottling up Holgorsen’s high-powered offense and the natives were getting a little restless.
But the Mountaineers (1-0) began the second half with a 15-play, 70-yard drive that resulted in a Josh Lambert
22-yard field goal, and on their following possession, Paul Millard
hooked up with Ronald Carswell
for a 69-yard touchdown to tie the game with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Fifteen minutes worth of game time later, Wendell Smallwood
scored the go-ahead score with 3:22 remaining when he lunged in from the 2.
The Smallwood score was set up by two terrific punts by Nick O’Toole to get West Virginia out of a hole. The first one traveled 56 yards to the William & Mary 17, where Darwin Cook
tackled Sean Ballard at the 22.
The second punt covered 60 yards to the Tribe 27, where Cook again hauled down Ballard for a 2-yard loss back to the 25.
"You talk about flipping the field," said Holgorsen. "When you average around 50 yards a punt when you talk about yardage our defense had great field position the whole day."
Following O'Toole's second booming punt, West Virginia’s defense was able to force a three-and-out series and John Carpenter’s 31-yard punt gave West Virginia the ball at the 50.
From there, the Mountaineers stayed on the ground for seven of the eight plays, although the big gainer was a 16-yard completion to K.J. Myers to the Tribe 15. On the play, Myers was stripped of the football but an alert Daikiel Shorts
was there to recover the fumble.
Three more runs set up Smallwood’s touchdown run, which was confirmed by instant replay.
Cook produced West Virginia’s only turnover on William & Mary’s final drive and the game ended with WVU taking a knee at the William & Mary 6.
"They were kind of exactly what we thought they were - extremely well-coached, played hard and they didn't make any mistakes," said Holgorsen. "I anticipate these guys winning some games."
"If you told me coming up here that we’d be tied going into the fourth quarter, I’d probably take you," said William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock. "It was disappointing at the end of the fourth quarter. To have offensive and defensive guys that - I don’t know if they ran out of gas (or) the depth (or) the heat got to us or whatever - we just couldn’t make the plays we needed to in the fourth quarter."
Houston transfer Charles Sims
finished with a game-high 120 yards rushing on 23 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown.
Millard, who started the game and shared the quarterbacking duties in the first half with Florida State transfer Clint Trickett
, played the entire second half and completed 19-of-25 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
"I thought Paul managed the game well," said Holgorsen. "We'll look at the tape and as guys see themselves in situations they will improve. No matter what we do, you can't duplicate a game. I don't care who you're playing. There are plenty of FCS teams who are a little bit more happy than William & Mary beating some FBS teams right now. It happens every week and we were fortunate to get out of there without it happening to us."
Carswell led all WVU receivers with 73 yards on two receptions. Freshman Shorts added seven catches for 63 yards.
The Mountaineers finished with 409 yards of offense with 172 of those coming on the ground. WVU ran the ball 44 times compared to just 27 pass attempts.
William & Mary (0-1) got 207 yards and a touchdown through the air from Michael Graham and Tre McBride led all Tribe receivers with three catches for 108 yards, including a pair of long receptions that resulted in both William & Mary touchdowns.
John Carpenter contributed a 29-yard field goal near the end of the first half.
Next week, the Mountaineers will face 16th-ranked Oklahoma in Norman in a game that will kick off at 7 p.m. and will be televised nationally on Fox.
"We will have them prepared and try and get a little better," Holgorsen concluded.