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West Virginia rushes for 329 yards, rolls to 56-10 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday

By John Antonik
West Virginia University

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia had little trouble disposing of Eastern Kentucky in its COVID-19-delayed season opener Saturday afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Mountaineers built a 42-7 halftime lead and cruised to a 56-10 victory over the winless Colonels.

“It was a good win,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said afterward. “I’m just happy to be playing. It took a lot of work behind the scenes by a lot of people to get here.”

West Virginia’s Leddie Brown (right) rushed 10 times for a career-high 123 yards against EKU. (WVU photo)

“Just playing college football is a win,” Brown added. “This was probably the most relaxed I’ve been for any game I’ve ever been involved with.”

West Virginia (1-0) was supposed to open its season a week ago in Atlanta against Florida State, but the worldwide pandemic has forced cancellations and postponements throughout college football.

As a result, the Mountaineers lifted the lid on 2020 this weekend against an Eastern Kentucky team that dropped its season opener last Saturday at Marshall, 59-0. It’s the only non-conference game on West Virginia’s schedule.

The Mountaineers played the game before a high-school-sized crowd consisting of parents and family members with artificial noised piped in through the public address system and also without 11 players suspended an hour before kickoff, most notably offensive starters Chase Behrndt, Junior Uzebu, T.J. Simmons and tight ends T.J. Banks and Mike O’Laughlin.

Brown said afterward the suspensions were for this game only and were not a result of the COVID-19 virus.

“I love those guys, I believe in them and I believe they are going to be a big part of our success this year,” Brown said.

True freshman Zach Frazier replaced Behrndt at center, redshirt freshman Brandon Yates filled in for Uzebu at left tackle and the Mountaineers used fullback Jackson Knipper at tight end during the game.

But it didn’t really matter, particularly for the No. 1 offense led by Jarret Doege, who completed 19 of his 25 pass attempts for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the first half before giving way to backups Austin Kendall and Garrett Greene.

Doege’s touchdown aerials covered 15 yards to running back Leddie Brown, 32 yards to Sam James and 8 yards to Bryce Ford-Wheaton late in the second quarter. Doege completed passes to seven different receivers during his efficient, two-quarter performance.

Leddie Brown was also impressive in his one half of action, rushing 10 times for a career-high 123 yards before giving way to backup Alec Sinkfield.

Sinkfield scored an 8-yard touchdown jaunt in the second quarter and had a 24-yard TD run negated in the third quarter when wide receiver Sean Ryan was flagged for holding, but he scored three plays later from the 17 to give the Mountaineers a 49-10 lead.

EKU running back Alonzo Booth (right) attempts to elude a West Virginia defender on Saturday. Booth rushed for 45 yards on seven carries. (EKU photo)

Sinkfield’s touchdown run capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was directed by Kendall behind center. Kendall completed half of his six pass attempts for 43 yards during his two third-quarter possessions.

The running game, abysmal all last year, generated 329 yards with two different ball carriers exceeding 100 yards for the first time since Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy did it against Kansas in 2017. Sinkfield finished the afternoon with 15 carries for 123 yards, both career highs.

True freshman Greene was inserted into the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter and led the Mountaineers on a 16-play, 96-yard march that ended in the end zone when redshirt freshman Tony Mathis Jr. squeezed in from the 3. Mathis Jr. got the bulk of his 55 yards rushing during that drive, while Greene contributed 33 on the ground and completed three of his four pass attempts for 24 yards.

Defensively, Jared Bartlett, VanDarius Cowan, Taurus Simmons and true freshman Akheem Mesidor recorded sacks, senior Alonzo Addae registered an impressive diving interception, and Arizona transfer Tony Fields II led the Mountaineers with 10 total tackles.

EKU crossed the goal line in the second quarter when Patrick McKinney connected on a 28-yard scoring strike to Keyion Dixon, and added an Andrew Wozniak 32-yard field goal on its opening possession of the third quarter.

The Colonels (0-2) had points taken off the scoreboard in the second quarter when Davion Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return was called back because of offsetting penalties.

EKU star running back Alonzo Booth rushed for 45 yards on seven carries. The Colonels finished with 206 yards of total offense.

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