MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — No. 14 West Virginia has the opportunity to shore up its depth with a Championship Subdivision opponent looming and the Big 12 opener just two weeks away.
The defense in particular could use a few more linebackers as the Mountaineers (1-0) prepare for their home opener Saturday night against Youngstown State (0-1).
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson inserted an extra lineman at times in a 40-14 win over Tennessee last week after linebacker Charlie Benton suffered a season-ending knee injury. Two others linebackers, Brendan Ferns and Quondarius Qualls, are already out with injuries.
Junior Shea Campbell filled in for Benton in his first college action. Redshirt freshman Exree Loe is listed as the starter ahead of Campbell in Benton’s spot this week.
“We’re not going to sit here and pout about it,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That’s part of the game. It’s never going to go away. It’s what we always talk about. Guys need to step up and go play.”
On offense, West Virginia’s backup quarterbacks have never played a down in college.
Last year the Mountaineers struggled after Will Grier missed most of the final three games with a hand injury. Backup Chris Chugunov transferred to Ohio State, leaving Miami transfer Jack Allison and dual-threat Trey Lowe to battle for the spot behind Grier this season.
If Grier has another solid effort and the Mountaineers put Saturday’s game out of reach, it could give either Allison or Lowe an opportunity to have their debut.
Youngstown State coach Bo Pelini is trying to figure out his own team’s “comedy of errors” in a 23-21 loss to Butler. The Penguins were penalized nine times and Butler none. Youngstown State missed two field goals and had a touchdown run called back by penalty.
“We had so many opportunities,” Pelini said. “We blew every one of them. We have a tremendous challenge this week.”
Here’s some things to know about the Mountaineers and Penguins:
Kennedy McKoy was West Virginia’s top returning running back this season but didn’t enter the Tennessee game until the third quarter. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said junior Martell Pettaway deserved to start against Tennessee because he “had an unbelievable summer.” With four capable running backs, West Virginia could stagger their use against the Penguins.
West Virginia had 12 tackles for loss in the opener, led by a revamped defensive line. Darius Stills had 2.5 and Kenny Bigelow and Reese Donahue had two apiece. Bigelow is a graduate transfer from Southern Cal. Jabril Robinson joined him as a graduate transfer from Clemson after two other linemen transferred last spring.
TIGHT END SIGHTING
Holgorsen promised before the season that there would be some new wrinkles on offense to make the Mountaineers less predictable. Tight end Trevon Wesco caught two passes combined in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Last Saturday he had two catches for 35 yards while Miami transfer Jovani Haskins had one catch for nine yards. Some offensive formations used both tight ends.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS
Youngstown State lost to James Madison 28-14 in last year’s FCS championship game and is off to a rough start this season. Notre Dame transfer Montgomery VanGorder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns last week in a 23-21 home loss to Butler, which rallied from 14 points down in the fourth quarter to win on a 44-yard field goal with four seconds left.
THE LAST TIME
The Mountaineers have never lost to an FCS opponent. But there have been head-scratching moments. When Youngstown State visited Morgantown in 2016, the Penguins jumped out to a 14-7 lead before West Virginia rallied for 24 straight points and won 38-21.
“FCS teams best FBS teams every single week, it happens,” Holgorsen said. “Our goal and our job is to make sure it doesn’t happen to us. So we’re going to take this very, very, very seriously and prepare just like we did last week.”
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