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Win over Kansas keeps West Virginia’s Big 12 title hopes alive

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire

A week after suffering their first defeat and possibly losing their shot at the College Football Playoff, the West Virginia Mountaineers bounced back, defeating the Kansas Jayhawks, 48-21.

Against Oklahoma State, West Virginia only put up 421 yards of offense–212 passing and 209 rushing. Against Kansas, it tallied 605 yards with everyone contributing after a sluggish start.

West Virginia couldn’t establish any momentum on its first three drives: field goal, three-and-out and three-and-out.

Then came the fourth series.

All season long, the Mountaineers have relied heavily on the rushing duo of bellcow Rushel Shell and speedster Justin Crawford. However, before the game against Kansas, West Virginia announced Shell wasn’t going to play. That meant the Mountaineers would rely on Crawford and freshman back Kennedy McKoy. What an effective tandem Crawford and McKoy turned out to be.

On the second play of the fourth drive for West Virginia, quarterback Skyler Howard received the snap and handed the ball to McKoy. The young back scooted for 44 yards. Three plays later, Howard ran for 22-yard score to give the Mountaineers a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.

The fifth series for West Virginia amounted to nothing, but on the next three drives, the Mountaineers found the end zone thanks to Howard–a 33 yard run, a 7-yard pass to Daikiel Shorts and a 19-yard toss to Shelton Gibson–to go into halftime with a 31-0 lead.

While those drives were capped with scores by Howard, they were primarily set up by Crawford or McKoy. The backs finished with 58 and 93 yards respectively at half.

The opening drive of the second half wasn’t pretty for the Mountaineers. A fumble led to the Jayhawks’ first points. After that, West Virginia reeled off 14 straight points before Kansas saw the end zone again.

Once the 60 minutes had passed, Howard finished with 260 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-27 passing while rushing for 64 yards and two scores. Crawford and McKoy rushed for 129 and 127 yards respectively with Crawford landing in the end zone once.

“It wasn’t pretty, we’ll take it and move on to the next one,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen on his team’s performance against Kansas.

While in Holgorsen’s eyes, the performance was uneven, it still did its job: keep the Mountaineers in the Big 12 title race.

Currently, West Virginia sits tied for second in the conference standings with Oklahoma State with one loss apiece. However, the Cowboys hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Mountaineers. However, there is a scenario in which West Virginia can leapfrog Oklahoma State and claim a Big 12 championship.

The Oklahoma Sooners are currently sitting atop the Big 12 with no conference losses. They remain on the Mountaineers’ schedule. On Nov. 19, Oklahoma will travel to Morgantown. If the Mountaineers hand the Sooners their first conference loss, assuming Oklahoma beats Baylor and West Virginia is victorious over Texas next week, it would send first place in the Big 12 into a three-way tie: OU, WVU and Oklahoma State. This is where the second part of the scenario comes into play.

The Mountaineers would have to win out–against Iowa State and Baylor–if they were to finish with an 8-1 Big 12 record. If the Sooners then defeat Oklahoma State in their last game of the season, West Virginia and Oklahoma would be 8-1 and Oklahoma State would be 7-2. WVU would beat OU in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The path to the New Year’s Six is clear for the ‘Eers. 

Yes, Holgorsen may not have thought that much of his team’s performance on Saturday night, but it kept the Mountaineers on the road to a conference championship.

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