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The Run Game Won West Virginia the Texas Game

Photo by WVU Athletics

Will Grier’s 40-yard, one-legged touchdown heave to Gary Jennings and his game-winning two-point conversion run against Texas will undoubtedly be remembered for decades to come. Expect those two plays to be included in the pregame montage video that precedes kickoff during every home game at Milan Puskar Stadium for years to come, and hopefully, fans will re-live those plays during his Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York City this year.

While the final seconds proved to be the climax in what was an instant-classic in the seventh edition of the series between West Virginia and Texas as Big 12 Conference opponents, it was the play of the Mountaineers’ running backs, namely Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy that gave West Virginia the opportunity to win.

For an offense that has arguably the best passer and the best receiving corps in the country, fans often times furiously question offensive coordinator Jake Spavital’s logic when he calls for the run more times than he calls for the pass on any given series. However, Saturday, it became obvious by game’s end that Texas couldn’t stop the Mountaineers’ ground game. The Longhorns were dropping six to eight guys back in coverage, fearing Grier’s capacity as a quarterback. Running the ball early and often was the correct call.

Flashes of Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy gashing Texas’s defense for 13.4 and 5.5 yards per carry, respectively, must have kept Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando up all night after the game. The duo proved to be the perfect combination for success in Austin when one considers they were gobbling up nearly 20 yards every every two plays.

Pettaway, who finished the game rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries, finished the game with the highest yards per carry average for a player with multiple carries in the game since Justin Crawford’s 331-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma two years ago (13.8). It was also the most rushing yards Pettaway has gained in a game since his first contest as a Mountaineer—181 in 2016 at Iowa State.

His 55-yard second quarter touchdown scamper was a prime example of why the coaching staff had the confidence in him to be the game-one starting running back. His one-cut downhill running style was on full display Saturday when he tied the game up at 34 late in the fourth quarter thanks to a 13-yard touchdown run. Pettaway reminds me of Quincy Wilson. He’s faster than one would think, compact and will lay the lumber when needed.

McKoy was a workhorse for the Mountaineers, both through the air and on the ground. He walked out of Darrell K. Royal Stadium amassing 149 total yards on 17 carries and three receptions. His 55 yards receiving were good for a tie for second-best on the team. The swing pass to McKoy out of the backfield proved to be effective because of Texas’s secondary playing deep in coverage.

It was a quiet day for freshman sensation Leddie Brown, mainly because Holgorsen was riding the hot hands of Pettaway and McKoy. Still, Brown had a slick, 17-yard run on West Virginia’s first drive of the game that was called back 10 yards due to a ticky-tack block in the back by David Sills.

It also can’t be overstated how well the backs pass blocked against a Texas defense that came into the game with 15 sacks. The blocking overall was night and day compared to WVU’s last road contest. While Grier did take a few hits that fans probably wish he didn’t have to have taken in this game, the line, tight ends and backs blocked the likes of Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu much better than they did at Iowa State.

There were countless unsung heroes for the Mountaineers in this game, and all of them were needed to pull out a victory over the Longhorns. While the game will be remembered for Grier’s fearlessness and Holgorsen’s gutsy call to win the game, don’t forget about how important Pettaway and McKoy were in the victory.

Horns down.

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