MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia is going from the bright lights of Atlanta last weekend to the bright lights of Milan Puskar Stadium this Saturday for a special 7:30 p.m. kickoff when the Mountaineers play host to the Towson Tigers.
The game will be televised locally on Root Sports.
Towson brings an 11-game, road-winning streak into Morgantown after reaching the FCS national championship game in 2013. The Tigers opened some eyes last year with a season-opening victory over Connecticut and Towson once again opened eyes at the start of this season, but this time for different reasons.
Towson dropped a 31-27 decision last Saturday to Central Connecticut in its home opener, giving up 273 yards passing and 192 yards on the ground to the Blue Devils.
“The biggest thing that stands out about Towson is how they did last year,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “They beat UConn, then they dropped a couple close games in the middle of the season, but then they made a pretty good run towards the playoffs. They won some huge games in the playoffs in tough places to play.”
Towson had to replace eight starters on offense, including running back Terrance West, a third-round draft choice in last spring’s NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. Darius Victor got the bulk of the carries during last weekend’s loss to Central Connecticut, the sophomore running 19 times for 105 yards and a touchdown.
Connor Frazier, a 6-foot, 200-pound junior quarterback, completed 14 of 26 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown and seven different Tiger players caught passes last weekend, including two from Tanner Vallely for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Towson runs a pro-style offense and a base, 4-3 scheme on defense with zone blitzing.
“They’ve had the same system for some time, about six or seven years and (coach) Rob Ambrose has built the program,” said Holgorsen. “He was at UConn prior to that as an offensive coordinator so he’s familiar with West Virginia.”
Ryan Delaire, a 6-foot-4-inch, 250-pound senior defensive end, has caught the eye of the West Virginia offensive coaches after being credited with a sack and 11 total tackles during last weekend’s loss.
“That guy can come off the edge,” said Holgorsen of Delaire. “He was their best player last year and he does a great job. They’re pretty basic and they base out of a 4-3 front. They’re not incredibly multiple with their schemes, they just try and keep the ball in front of them and tackle well. They did a good job of that last year.”
James Simms, a 6-foot-3-inch, 190-pound inside linebacker, led Towson with 14 total tackles.
West Virginia, meanwhile, is coming off a encouraging performance down in Atlanta last Saturday when the Mountaineers fell 33-23 to second-ranked Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
“The biggest thing from last week that we were happy with on all three sides of the ball was our excitement level to play the game,” noted Holgorsen. “It was off the charts. Our energy throughout the course of the game was at an all-time high. The effort the guys played with was exactly what we wanted. I’ve told them they have set the standard of how they are going to play all year and if they can keep up the effort, energy and that excitement, then we will have a good year.”
Quarterback Clint Trickett completed 29 of 45 passes for a career-high 365 yards with one touchdown. Trickett’s 365 yards passing were the 17th-most in school history.
Senior Kevin White put up an impressive nine-catch, 143-yard, one-touchdown performance against Alabama’s touted secondary, and senior Mario Alford flashed his game-breaking speed by returning a second quarter kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Overall, the Mountaineer offense managed to produce 393 total yards against an Alabama defense that came into the game holding its opponents to less than 300 yards 64 percent of the time under coach Nick Saban.
“We didn’t finish well, but we sustained drives,” said Holgorsen of his offensive performance last week against the Tide. “We all would have liked to have had a couple touchdowns in the score zone.”
West Virginia’s defense gave up 538 yards, including 288 on the ground, but it wasn’t because of blown assignments or an inability to get lined up properly. The Mountaineers also had several opportunities to get to Alabama quarterback Blake Sims but were unsuccessful in hauling him down. For the afternoon, West Virginia produced just three negative yardage plays, those coming from Karl Joseph, Daryl Worley and KJ Dillon on tackles in the backfield.
Speaking of Joseph, he led all defensive backs in the country with 18 total tackles last weekend, including seven solos. Worley and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski contributed 11 stops each.
Overall, considering how much the Mountaineer D has struggled the past two seasons stopping teams, it was a step in the right direction.
Holgorsen expects to see additional improvement from his team this weekend.
“If you look at championship teams they’re good in critical situations,” said Holgorsen. “Third downs, fourth downs, score zones and the end of the game are all things I’ve touched on. We’ve got to get better in those situations.”
Based on ticket sales earlier this week, an estimated crowd of about 55,000 is expected for Saturday’s game. Those coming to the game to tailgate in the Blue Lot are encouraged to get to the stadium early to allow for some of the new parking changes that have taken place to accommodate ongoing construction at Ruby Memorial Hospital.
Saturday’s game is a Family Day promotion with more than 5,000 Family Day packages being sold so far. Also, as of Wednesday morning more than 1,200 tickets have been sold to active duty military, veterans and first responders through a special offer being extended by the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics.
For more details on game promotions, including a special fireworks show, log on to the web site WVUGAME.com.
Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG coverage begins at 10 a.m. with the IMG-produced Mountaineer Gameday show airing on West Virginia Media affiliates throughout the state until 11 a.m. Another hour of coverage follows on Root Sports.
Radio coverage begins at 4 p.m. with the Mountaineer Tailgate Show leading into the game coverage with Tony Caridi, Dwight Wallace and Jed Drenning beginning an hour before kickoff.
Listen to the broadcast on affiliates throughout West Virginia, on satellite radio through Sirius/XM, or via several online platforms, including the TuneIn app, the WVU Gameday App or online on leanStream through WVUsports.com.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled we are to be able to play a home game, especially a night game in Morgantown,” Holgorsen said. “Our guys are excited to get under the lights. We’ve seen some of the new stuff that’s been done to the stadium and I think our fans will be excited about it.”
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