www.charlestondailymail.com WVU Sports http://www.charlestondailymail.com Daily Mail feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers WVU BASKETBALL: Mountaineers rally to beat BC; UConn up next in title game http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129765 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129765 Fri, 21 Nov 2014 20:15:19 -0500

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Devin Williams, Juwan Staten and Jevon Carter had 15 points apiece as West Virginia rallied in the second half to top Boston College 70-66 in the semifinals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Friday.

The Mountaineers shot less than 30 percent in the first half, but shot 62 percent in the final 20 minutes.

They also had 10 steals while forcing 21 Eagles' turnovers.

Olivier Hanlan led Boston College with 23 points. Patrick Heckmann added 14 points and seven rebounds.

Boston College shot the ball well and scored 40 points in the paint, but allowed West Virginia 17 second-chance points.

The Mountaineers chipped away at what had been a 12-pont deficit to take their first lead of the night, 50-48, on a layup by Carter midway through the second half.

The lead grew as high as six before a free throw by Hanlan got the Eagles back within 60-58 with less than four minutes to play.

After Eagles' center Dennis Clifford fouled out, West Virginia attacked the lane, scoring five straight points to push its lead back to seven.

The Eagles weren't done, surging again with back-to-back baskets.

West Virginia missed a layup out of a timeout, and Aaron Brown found Hanlan for a layup. He was fouled on the play, but missed the tying free throw.

Carter grabbed the rebound and found Devin Williams, who was fouled on a layup. He converted on his free throw to put the Mountaineers back up 68-64.

Boston College had one more chance, trailing 69-66 after Patrick Heckmann hit a pair of free throws, but the Eagles would lose a scramble for the ball and were forced to foul.

TIP-INS

Boston College: Both teams had 10 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, but the Eagles were able to inch out to a 32-21 halftime advantage shooting 56 percent from the field (13 for 23).

West Virginia: This will be West Virginia coach Bobby Huggins fourth time coaching in the championship game of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. He won it twice as Cincinnati's head coach.

UP NEXT

West Virginia plays No. 17 Connecticut in the championship game Sunday. Boston College gets Dayton in the third place game.

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Chuck McGill: November stays cruel to Mountaineers http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129826 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129826 Fri, 21 Nov 2014 00:20:06 -0500 By Chuck McGill MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - This wasn't the reversal of fortune for which the West Virginia University football team had hoped in this, the cruelest of months.

No. 12 Kansas State wasn't one of the Big 12's best here at Milan Puskar Stadium on Thursday night, but it didn't have to be. Little went WVU's way in a 26-20 loss. It seemed like the final margin should've been closer to the 32-point average by which K-State won the past two meetings. There was the usual litany of special teams gaffes and the injury that sidelined WVU quarterback Clint Trickett for all but one series of the second half of his final game at Mountaineer Field.

Another late-season swoon has Dana Holgorsen's program reeling into Thanksgiving week. This is the fourth three-game losing skid in the past three seasons, and West Virginia is now 2-9 in conference games played in November the last three seasons.

"Tough team to beat," Holgorsen said. "Can't make too many mistakes; made too many mistakes."

Indeed, the Mountaineers seemed to invent new ways of detriment. Like a roughing the punter penalty that would've given Kansas State a first down if not for WVU punt returner Vernon Davis fumbling the punt downfield and giving the Wildcats choice field position.

This was WVU's first scoreless opening quarter of the season, Trickett misfired on more than 50 percent of his passes (12 of 25) with two interceptions before a concussion cost him senior night. There were four turnovers total (two picks and two fumbles). Kansas State scored with 72 seconds left of the first half on a 43-yard punt return by Tyler Lockett, who also had 10 receptions for 196 yards as the Wildcats' passing game again had its way with West Virginia.

In three Big 12 meetings, K-State quarterbacks have combined to pile up these numbers against WVU: 60 for 78, 1,024 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It didn't matter that K-State rushed for only one yard on 29 carries, or had more than 100 yards in penalties for the first time since Bill Snyder returned to coach the Wildcats in 2009.

Yes, this was a bizarre one, even going back to an overturned touchdown in the second quarter that initially appeared to be a game-tying opportunity.

The play started with Trickett zipping a pass to receiver Jordan Thompson, who watched the ball deflect off his hands inside the 10-yard line and right to safety Dante Barnett, who tumbled to the ground. As Barnett rolled over, the ball went right into the hands of WVU's Biletnikoff finalist Kevin White, who plunged from the 2-yard line into the end zone to give the Mountaineers a chance to tie it at 10-10.

The ball, however, touched the ground when Barnett tried to intercept it at the 4-yard line, and WVU had to settle for a 40-yard field goal that Josh Lambert pushed wide right.

The 47,683 who braved the 25-degree temperatures, the third-lowest home crowd in Holgorsen's four seasons as coach, watched the momentum swing to the visitors.

"We should've been winning at halftime," Holgorsen said.

Instead, K-State held a 17-3 advantage at the break and the program has now won 46 in a row when leading at intermission.

It seemed like the Mountaineers were going to test that streak, even with junior college transfer Skyler Howard getting his first meaningful snaps, which would've been the type of ending that pushed the team past the November struggles.

If WVU had defeated Kansas State, the team's record-tying fifth nationally ranked opponent this season, it would've given Holgorsen and the program a pair of wins over top-12 teams. Only the 1993 Mountaineers, with wins over No. 4 Miami and No. 11 Boston College in November, had accomplished that feat.

Instead, the Mountaineers are 6-5 overall after flirting with Big 12 title aspirations at the end of October. Next Saturday at Iowa State, Holgorsen's 50th game as head coach, WVU will need to win to finish with its first Big 12 record above .500 since joining the league.

Holgorsen is 27-22 overall, but 12-19 in his last 31 games.

"Didn't get the job done," he said Thursday night. "That's on me."

He sees how close his program is to contending in the Big 12, though. He understands how five of 11 regular-season games against teams ranked in the top 12 will show his team the way.

Sometimes it's as close as the nose of the ball, like on the reversed touchdown.

"We're going to have to beat those teams if we want to win the Big 12," Holgorsen said. "We're coming up a little bit short."

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WVU FOOTBALL: Kansas State tops Mountaineers in Morgantown http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129829 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141121/DM03/141129829 Fri, 21 Nov 2014 00:13:41 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No. 12 Kansas State was about as beatable as a ranked team can be Thursday night, but West Virginia wouldn't hear of it.

The Mountaineers allowed a punt return touchdown and fumbled away a punt return that led to a field goal. They committed one of their four turnovers on the goal line, had some of their nine penalties at uncooperative times and also lost their starting quarterback to injury in a 26-20 loss before a crowd of 47,683 at Mountaineer Field.

It was the third-smallest crowd in coach Dana Holgorsen's four seasons.

The Wildcats finished with 1 yard rushing on 29 carries and nothing longer than 8 yards and were 1-for-11 on third down in the final three quarters. The one conversion was an important one on a field-goal drive late in the fourth quarter to put KSU up by nine points. The second-least penalized team in the country was called for nine penalties for 97 yards, the most penalty yardage since 2010.

Wildcats quarterback Jake Waters completed 22 of 33 passes for 400 yards and a touchdown. Receiver Tyler Lockett caught 10 passes for 196 yards. In three games in his career against WVU, the senior caught 27 passes for 511 yards and five scores.

"I don't normally do this, but I went up to Lockett after the game and said, "I'm really glad you're graduating,'" Holgorsen said. "The kid's a special, special football player. He's done it to us three years in a row. He's as good as it gets."

WVU played most of the second half without quarterback Clint Trickett, who struggled with two interceptions and 125 yards on 12 for 25 passing and left with a concussion. His replacement, Skyler Howard, was 15 for 23 for 198 yards and two scores. Holgorsen said the coaching staff will consider if or how much Howard will play in the regular-season finale after watching the film and getting a read on Trickett's availability.

"If you want to talk about something positive, that's something that's incrediblly positive," Holgorsen said. "He went in there and didn't bat an eye. He was confident. He was comfortable. I could have went as fast to or as slow as I wanted to. The communication was perfect."

Kevin White caught seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown and Alford had four catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.

WVU (6-5, 4-4 Big 12) trailed 23-10 in the fourth quarter, but was given reason to believe when KSU stalled in the red zone and then missed a 22-yard field goal. Howard hurried WVU down the field and finished an 80-yard touchdown drive with a 53-yard scoring pass to Alford.

Senior Mike Molinari then sailed the kickoff out of bounds with 7:23 to go and the Wildcats (8-2, 6-1) began at their 35-yard line after the penalty. They converted their first third down of the second half on third-and-9 with a 28-yard pass to Lockett. He'd add a 17-yard reception to set up Mike McCrane's 32-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining for a 26-17 lead.

Howard moved WVU into field goal position and Josh Lambert made a 25-yard kick with 53 seconds to go, but the Wildcats recovered the onside kick.

WVU is now 1-4 against top-12 teams this season with the losses coming by 10, 12, 1 and 6 points.

"I feel as though we're more frustrated because we know what we're capable of doing and that we can go out there and beat these teams to that we lost to," safety K.J. Dillon said. "To come up short is not a good feeling."

The Mountaineers, who were bowl eligible a month ago and four games above .500, will limp into the final game of the regular season at Iowa State next week trying to simply clinch a winning record. They have a three-game losing streak for the third straight season, a stretch the school hasn't seen since 1999-2001 - the final two years with Don Nehlen as the coach and the first with Rich Rodriguez.

Trickett left the field for the locker room after the first drive in the second half and did not return. Howard promptly led the offense on an eight-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. He was 4 for 4 for 56 yards and scrambled 16 yards. Howard completed a 28-yard pass to Daikiel Shorts on third-and-2 and then ran 16 yards on third-and-6 to give the Mountaineers a first down on KSU's 11. He capped the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to White.

The defense forced punt, but roughed the punter on a kick that still went 42 yards and then watched receiver Vernon Davis fumble it away at his 16. The Wildcats had first-and-goal at the 3, but McCrane ended up kicking a field goal for a 23-10 lead.

WVU drove and converted a pair of fourth downs, the first at midfield and the second from KSU's 32. With 12:29 left in the game, the Mountaineers went for it again on fourth-and-7 and Howard's pass was incomplete. Waters completed a 54 yards pass - his fourth completion of at least 30 yards in the game - to Lockett, but KSU would come up empty when McCrane missed from up close and leave the door open for the Mountaineers.

"They couldn't run the ball," defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said, "but obviously they didn't need to."

WVU began the game by punting on its first drive, the ninth time in 10 games the Wildcats haven't allowed points on the opening possession. Their offense then shrugged off some issues on the first drive. After a 32-yard pass play to the WVU 19-yard line, a personal foul penalty set up first-and-25. KSU converted that with an 11-yard gain to the 8 on third-and-10, but then lost 4 yards on first down. On third down, Waters wiggled out of the pocket and fit a pass into the right side of the end zone to running back DeMarcus Robinson for a 7-yard touchdown.

The Mountaineers then got a drive going with some help from the Wildcats, the team with the second-fewest penalties in the nation. A facemask on the first play moved the ball 15 yards, but WVU would soon turn a second-and-5 into third-and-13 when Trickett was sacked and Jordan Thompson was flagged for encroachment for lining up offsides. Trickett still moved the chains with a 16-yard pass to White, and pass interference on the Wildcats in the end zone gave WVU a first down at the 2.

Just when the Wildcats looked a little vulnerable, WVU turned the ball over when running back Wendell Smallwood simply dropped a handoff safety Dylan Schnellenberg recovered at the 3.

"You can't beat a team like Kansas State if you can't hand the ball off," offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said.

After trading punts, KSU moved the ball again with a 49-yard pass to tight end Zach Trujillo, and pass interference on Dillon moved the ball to the WVU 10. The Wildcats lost 13 yards on a bad option pitch from Waters on second down and had a pass go through Kody Cook's arms in the end zone before they settled for a 36-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.

WVU found the scoreboard on the next possession with a 47-yard field goal, one that barely made it over the bar. On the kickoff return, WVU's Justin Arndt stripped KSU's Tyler Lockett and WVU's Dayron Wilson recovered at the 22. On third-and-11, Trickett threw to Thompson, who could only put a hand on it. The pass floated toward the ground and safety Dante Barnett dived for it, but batted it into the air. White grabbed it and lunged over the goal line for a touchdown.

Officials reviewed the play, though, and found the ball hit the ground as Barnett reached for it and before he tipped it to White. Lambert then missed a 40-yard field goal to the right.

The Mountaineers allowed a 30-yard pass before forcing a punt, but White lost 2 yards on a screen pass and then his offensive pass interference backed the offense up half the distance to the goal line. Shell lost a yard and KSU called a timeout with 1:30 left in the half, but WVU decided to pass and was lucky that linebacker Elijah Lee's tipped pass wasn't intercepted near the goal line. Punter Nick O'Toole then pushed a punt to the left while the coverage team went right and Lockett needed just one block for a 48-yard return and a 17-3 lead.

WVU continued to push with 1:06 to go in the half, but did pick up a first down and had the ball at its 45. Trickett then threw a soft pass a she moved to his right that was intercepted on the run by cornerback Randall Evans. Trickett saved a certain touchdown with a tackle and the Mountaineers somehow escaped the disaster when nose guard Kyle Rose blocked a 34-yard field goal attempt as the half ended.

The Wildcats have now won 46 straight games they've led at the half, the second-best streak in the country and trailing Oklahoma by just one.

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WVU BASKETBALL: Mountaineers top George Mason in Puerto Rico http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129840 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129840 Thu, 20 Nov 2014 22:41:27 -0500

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Devin Williams had 16 points and 10 rebounds as West Virginia dominated George Mason 91-65 in the first round of Puerto Rico Tip-Off on Thursday.

Johnathan Holton added 16 points and seven rebounds. As a team the Mountaineers (3-0) finished with 16 steals and forced 24 turnovers by the Patriots (1-2)

For Williams it was his third straight double-double. It was the 11th of the sophomore's career.

Williams played sparingly in the final 20 minutes being sent to the floor after a collision underneath the basket. But he was able to walk off under his own power.

Patrick Holloway led the Patriots with 17 points.

West Virginia used its quickness in the first half to speed up George Mason's offense, racking up 10 steals and forcing 16 Patriots' turnovers. Those turnovers led to 19 Mountaineers' points, including several dunks.

The dominance extended inside the paint, where West Virginia outscored George Mason 24-8 for the half and 40-26 for the game.

George Mason entered the game having committed just 18 turnovers combined in its first two outings.

* * *

TO GO ALONG with its turnover problems, the Patriots also struggled from the free throw line, connecting on just 16 of their 32 attempts. ...This is George Mason's second appearance in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, having played in the event in 2009.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers improved to 4-0 all-time against George Mason. ...West Virginia has now won 84 of its last 101 games when scoring 70 or more points. ...This is the Mountaineers' third appearance in Puerto Rico. They won the 1997 San Juan Shootout and finished second in the 2010 Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

* * *

WEST VIRGINIA plays Boston College in second round on Friday. George Mason falls to the consolation bracket where it will meet New Mexico.

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WVU WRESTLING: Mountaineer recruiting class ranked fifth http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129887 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129887 Thu, 20 Nov 2014 18:13:56 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia University wrestling head coach Sammie Henson's first recruiting class is already making a mark on the program, as the first 12 signees have been named the nation's fifth-best recruiting class by FloWrestling.

Six of the Mountaineers' 12 signees have moved into the top-20 in the nation in their respective weight classes as they begin their senior prep campaigns.

West Virginia's first dual match foe of the season, Arizona State, earned top recruiting honors for 2015 with five signees in the top 10 of their respective weight. Big 12 foe Oklahoma State comes in second with seven top-20 signees. Minnesota and Ohio State rank third and fourth. The Golden Gophers landed four top-20 prospects, while the Buckeyes added four top-five signees.

WVU will head to Annapolis, Maryland, for the Navy Classic on Saturday.

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WVU special teams has hands full with Lockett http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129954 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141120/DM03/141129954 Thu, 20 Nov 2014 08:44:17 -0500 MORGANTOWN - This has been a long season for Joe DeForest.

He is West Virginia's safeties coach, and it was a safety who failed an assignment when it mattered most against TCU and it was safeties who missed tackles and got caught out of position against Texas. Those are merely among the reasons the Mountaineers have lost two in a row for the first time this season.

He is also the special team's coordinator, and though place kicker Josh Lambert was named a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Lambert promptly missed two field goals against the Longhorns a few days later. WVU's kickoff return defense ranks No. 91 nationally. The punt return defense ranks No. 110. Those two combined to give up touchdowns in three straight games earlier this season.

But, again, it's been a long season.

"We've covered pretty well the past six or seven games," DeForest said, quite correctly.

The Mountaineers have allowed seven punt return yards since giving up a punt return touchdown against Kansas on Oct. 4. A week earlier, Oklahoma returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Since then, DeForest's team has given up just 19 yards per return, which would rank No. 31 nationally.

Once more: It's a long season and DeForest knows the end is nowhere near when WVU (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) plays host to No. 12 Kansas State at 7 p.m. Thursday on Fox Sports 1. Receiver Tyler Lockett, who's toyed with the WVU the past two seasons, is coming to Mountaineer Field and he's not coming alone.

"It's the biggest challenge of the year," DeForest said. "Oklahoma State was the biggest challenge, but this is just a step further."

Oklahoma State had Tyreek Hill, who you may have heard is fast. Like, Olympic fast. Remember that number 19 from earlier? Hill hit that mark, too - three punt returns, one kickoff return, 19 combined yards.

Despite the early touchdowns and the dependable debacles returning punts, the Mountaineers have actually done well to throw a net over the other team's returners for more than a month now.

But Lockett is just a different deal.

"He's probable the most dynamic kick returner and punt returner in the country," DeForest said.

He accentuated the word "and" on purpose. Punt returning and kickoff returning are separate skills that require and reward different abilities. It's not often one player does both, and if he does, it's usually because he's good at one and better than the alternatives at the other.

Lockett's great at one and great at the other. He has five return touchdowns in his career, one on a punt and four on kickoffs. The punt return score came this season, when he's returned 14 points. He returned 11 his first three years, so he's actually getting better on special teams in his final season with the Wildcats (7-2, 5-1).

"If he has any space, it's just like anything else he does - he's pretty dangerous," DeForest said. "He's the best player on their team as both a receiver and as a kick returner and a punt returner."

Lockett happens to also be a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist as a receiver this season, and in two games against WVU he has 19 receptions for 305 yards and five touchdowns. The Mountaineers are well aware of what he can do there, but they're no less concerned with the damage he can do on special teams.

Lockett has averaged 29.9 yards on 68 kickoff returns in his career. His career average would rank No. 6 nationally this season. He's averaged 13.9 yards on 25 punt returns in his career, which would rank No. 9 this season, but never mind that. His 18.7 yards per return this season, his first as the full-time returner, is No. 2.

"It's all about the other 10 guys," DeForest said. "They do a tremendous job blocking for him."

Special teams seem to encapsulate everything the Wildcats represent. They are disciplined. They are committed to a team-first concept. They don't commit penalties or turnovers. They make a big deal out of the small things, like field position and hidden yardage and also neutralizing the other side's special teams.

Kansas State has 94 non-offensive touchdowns since 1999, which leads the country and is six better than Frank Beamer's brand of ball at Virginia Tech. Someone has returned at least one kickoff for a touchdown in each of the past 10 seasons, a streak that, of course, leads the nation and is four years longer than the second-best run.

Last season, the Wildcats blocked five kicks, which was the fifth-best total nationally. They beat Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., earlier this season, 31-30, thanks in large part to Travis Britz blocking an extra point. He's blocked five in his career, including an extra point against the Mountaineers last season..

"Kansas State's special teams are the best in the league and have been for a long time," said DeForest, who spent 11 seasons in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State before coming to WVU in 2012. "They're the most consistent, blue collar, hard-working guys and they take pride in their roles, in field position, in straining each and every play.

"For the last 14 of 15 years, that's all I've ever seen from that unit. They live and breath by the blue-collar mentality, and that's not a slight. That's a compliment in every sense of the word. This will be our toughest matchup this year across the board."

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WVU FOOTBALL: Defense hopes to reverse trend against Kansas State http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119041 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119041 Wed, 19 Nov 2014 21:37:21 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - For whatever reason, Kansas State's quarterbacks have been impossibly good against West Virginia since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 before the 2012 season. Two starters and a backup have completed 38 of 44 attempts for 624 yards and seven touchdowns in a pair of Wildcats wins.

The challenge for defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is a little more complicated than merely making sure Kansas State throws more incomplete passes than touchdown passes for the first time, but that'd be a good start.

Fortunately for the Mountaineers, who play host to the 12th-ranked Wildcats at 7 p.m. tonight at Mountaineer Field, complicated is a good place to start when describing what they do.

"They give you difficulty because of the front that you see very seldomly through the course of the year, and it takes added preparation for that," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said.

On the other side on Fox Sports 1 is a Kansas State defense that's a little easier to predict. WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said Wildcats tape from a decade ago is basically the same is what they showed 10 days ago.

"It's the same defense that we have seen out of them for the last couple of years, so nothing is new," Holgorsen said. "That's not the problem. Trying to figure out what they do is not the problem. Trying to effectively attack it is definitely a challenge."

The Mountaineers have improved their statistical standings significantly this season, the first with Gibson in charge and running the 3-3-5 odd stack he's learned to love. Three-player defensive lines are not the norm in college football, but most of the ones that do exist have four linebackers for a traditional 3-4. WVU has three linebackers and fills the open space with an extra defensive back.

That alignment of the linebackers and the fifth player in the secondary create new and unfamiliar obstacles for everyone on the offense to consider. Receivers see different alleys. Offensive linemen have to adjust their blocking assignments. Running backs meet defenders in unusual places. Quarterbacks have to account for the extra defender in the secondary and the unique angles pressure can start from at the snap.

Gibson likens his defense to an option offense at Navy or Georgia Tech that opponents might see once a year, but he cautioned that the 75-year-old Snyder has "been around longer than I've been alive, so I'm sure he's seen it before."

"Where we get so many looks out of it is our blitz game," Gibson said. "It's very multiple because we have eight guys on their feet at all time. Sometimes all 11 are standing up. That's different. It's hard to simulate."

Opponents try. That's why coaches watch film and prepare scout teams. WVU's defense knows how to disguise its looks and how to to keep the offense from figuring out what WVU is doing with coverage and pressure.

In short, the Mountaineers are better at what they do in a game than what an opponent's practice squad does during the week, which is a similar explanation for the Wildcats' success. They don't dabble in deceit before the snap. They just rely on their plays and the players.

"They're sound," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "They don't get out of position much partly due to the fact that they don't do a lot. Those guys know where to line up and they know what to do, so they never have any breakdowns. Tempo does not affect them much. Auburn lined up fast, but they lined up just as fast because they know where to line up."

From there, it's still pretty simple. Kansas State (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) plays a zone defense most of the time and the defenders stick to their responsibilities. They've given up the fewest 25-yard pass plays (13) and the second-fewest 15-yard running plays (seven) in the Big 12.

If opponents know where the Wildcats will be at the start of a play and where they'll go after the snap -- which is what WVU's defense tries to avoid giving away -- then it should be easy to design and call plays to beat that scheme.

That's far from reality. The defenders keep plays in front of them and rally to tackle the ball-carrier. The big plays they do allow are usually because of missed tackles and not missed assignments.

"Because they make you move the ball, you're rarely going to get big plays on them," Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett said. "It's going to be one of those annoying games where you have to consistently drive the ball down the field, but it's very smart. It's why Coach Snyder is one of the best coaches in the history of college football. There's no secret behind it. They're just good at it because they're very well-coached." The Mountaineers (6-4, 4-3) have a secret, though. They want to look exotic and confusing. They try to show the quarterback something different every snap to keep him from getting a clue, never mind getting comfortable. The truth is WVU is actually fairly simple, too.

"We disguise a lot, but we play four or five coverages and that's it," Gibson said. "When we start blitzing people is where we come up with some different things. We've actually scaled back our coverages and picked up on our blitzes. That's kind of what our tradeoff has been. But if we're going to play one or two coverages and just show it to them, it's going to be pretty easy for them to pick up on it, and that's when you get a little scared. We mix it up and our kids have responded pretty well."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.

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Mike Casazza: WVU bigs flourishing together http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119047 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119047 Wed, 19 Nov 2014 21:33:59 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The West Virginia men's basketball team might have the best player in the Big 12 and Bob Huggins might have a hodgepodge of players who can shoot the ball better than they have the first two games. The Mountaineers could turn back the clock and play the way they used to in their final days in the Big East and Huggins might revert to back when he'd dominate whatever conference Cincinnati was in at the time.

The greatest unknown about this team as it readies for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, a three-game event the Mountaineers begin Thursday with a 7:30 p.m. against George Mason on ESPNU, is what will become of the Jonathan Holton-Devin Williams duo. This is a peculiar pairing, alike and different in so many integral and irresistible ways, but bound by no greater reality than this: They hold the keys to the season.

"The way his energy and my energy mix, I swear to you we'll dominate the boards every game," Holton said.

What they mean to the team merely begins with rebounding. Last season, the Mountaineers were doomed by one particular and repetitive fate: If the first shot missed, the second shot wasn't around enough to bail them out of trouble. WVU took, made and missed a lot 3-pointers last season. Offenses face long odds getting long rebounds off those long misses.

WVU (2-0) has already taken, made and missed a lot of 3-pointers (14-for-62), but the 6-foot-9, 255-pound Williams already has two double-doubles this season, albeit against overmatched interiors. His first double-double stimulated the first for Holton, who was frankly jealous of the 15 rebounds Williams had in the opener against Monmouth.

Two days later, Holton had 10 rebounds in the first half against Lafayette and finished with 15, much to the playful dismay of Williams, who was trying to get a rest late in the blowout, but not before got another double-double.

"I had nine rebounds for like five or six minutes and Jon stole two or three more from me," Williams said. "But that's good. He continues to make me go out there and keep attacking the rim so I can get what I want."

Their similarities begin to branch there, though. The 6-7, 220-pound Holton said he's never really played next to a player as big and as good as Williams. Williams said he always played with someone by his side up until last year and that the absence probably hurt his performance.

Defensively, Williams is a large body who can crowd the paint and grab rebounds. Holton can answer the challenge of the Big 12's stretch forwards who float away from the basket and pull a defender with them. Williams probably won't block a lot of shots because he doesn't get very far off the ground. Holton is always running and lunging and leaping, which are ideal abilities for the full-court press the Mountaineers have used to contribute mightily toward 44 forced turnovers.

"Jonathan is a character," Williams said. "He doesn't stop. He's got a great motor."

Williams, on the other hand, is battling asthma that bothers him less now than it did last year. Huggins still said Williams was tired in the opener, which is something the Mountaineers will have to monitor with the pace they plan to keep throughout the season.

They're dissimilar on offense, too. WVU runs plays through and for Williams and he's taken 22 shots in two games without a lot of those coming on offensive rebounds. Holton made nine shots against Lafayette, but most were on offensive rebounds or breaks after turnovers. Hardly any plays are run through or for him.

"I can find ways to score," he said. "I feel like if the coach has to set something up for you, you're limited. I feel like I don't really need all that stuff."

There is potential for it to come together, and Huggins sought to spotlight that late against Lafayette. With the game in hand and time available to work on some plays and ploys, Huggins positioned Holton on the elbow on the right side with Williams working to get open in the post on the left.

Huggins believes Holton is a smart and sharp passer, someone tall and long enough to make the tricky pass into the post, but wise enough to look for someone else. It not, Holton is supposed to be one of WVU's best perimeter shooters, but on this play, he backed off and swung the ball to the left, where Jevon Carter missed a 3.

"I can honest to God shoot the ball," said Holton, who is 10 for 27 from the floor and 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

On the next possessions, Huggins flipped the script. Williams was up high on the left and Holton was down low on the right. No one stepped out to cover Williams and he made a jumper, which is certainly in his arsenal. He missed his first 11 shots of the season, but has made 7 of the past 11.

The high-low action with one or two shooters to the side and Juwan Staten darting around the floor is something to track because it adds to WVU's attack, provided Williams and Holton can trigger it properly.

"We've got to get some things fixed with their mechanics," Huggins said. "Both those guys are very capable of making foul-line jump shots. Jon's capable of making 3s. Jon, really on most days, is our best 3-point shooter out of all of our bigs. He just hasn't done it in a game yet.

"Devin started out last year miserably. He just got off to an awful shot, but he started shooting it pretty well toward the end. With Devin, it's a matter of doing it right all the time. You can't change your shot every three days. He got in a groove last year toward the end and we need him to concentrate on getting in a groove and staying there."

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WVU FOOTBALL: Mountaineers' full 2015 schedule released http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119110 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141119/DM03/141119110 Wed, 19 Nov 2014 15:16:39 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

West Virginia University's 2015 football schedule was released Wednesday afternoon. The Mountaineers do not have to leave the state until October, but open Big 12 Conference play with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU.

"Seven home games return in 2015, and I think our fans and the Morgantown community will appreciate the extra game and another chance to see the team play at Milan Puskar Stadium," WVU athletic director Oliver Luck said. "The rivalry with Maryland returns at home for the first time since 2012, and the Big 12 schedule week-to-week will be a great test for our team."

WVU opens the season at home against Georgia Southern on Saturday, Sept. 5. The next week, Liberty visits Mountaineer Field. After an off week, the Mountaineers conclude the month by hosting Maryland on Saturday, Sept. 26.

West Virginia finally leaves the state in October, first with a road game against Oklahoma on Oct. 3. The Big 12 home opener is Oct. 10 vs. Oklahoma State, and then road games against Baylor (Oct. 17) and a Thursday night game at TCU (Oct. 29) loom.

The Mountaineers also host Texas Tech (Nov. 7), Texas (Nov. 14) and Iowa State (Nov. 28) in 2015.

The full schedule is below:

Saturday, Sept. 5 - Georgia Southern

Saturday, Sept. 12 - Liberty

Saturday, Sept. 26 - Maryland

Saturday, Oct. 3 - at Oklahoma

Saturday, Oct. 10 - Oklahoma State

Saturday, Oct. 17 - at Baylor

Thursday, Oct. 29 - at TCU

Saturday, Nov. 7 - Texas Tech

Saturday, Nov. 14 - Texas

Saturday, Nov. 21 - at Kansas

Saturday, Nov. 28 - Iowa State

Saturday, Dec. 5 - at Kansas State

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WVU FOOTBALL: Wildcats don't commit many penalties http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141118/DM03/141119182 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141118/DM03/141119182 Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:50:44 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Adam Pankey, West Virginia's starting left tackle, was penalized three times in the team's loss to Texas, the sort of thing that can happen to an offensive lineman every now and them.

Just not at Kansas State. The Wildcats average 3.6 penalties per game and have played six games with three or fewer penalties, including zero against Auburn, when the teams combined for 146 offensive snaps and 22 special teams snaps.

Kansas State (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 2 nationally in fewest penalties (32) and fewest penalty yards (209). The Wildcats visit Mountaineer Field for Thursday's 7 p.m. game against WVU (6-4, 4-3) on Fox Sports 1.

"Kansas State is a very, very solid team loaded with upperclassmen," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "A lot of seniors, a lot of juniors, a lot of guys that have been in their program. ... They have guys that have been in the program four or five years now, and it really shows on film.

"These guys know what to do. They're sound. It means a lot to them. They play hard. They're mentally and physically tough. They're going to be physical and they're well-coached, they work hard, they're blue-collar guys that are extremely productive, extremely efficient and extremely sound with what they do."

* * *

Though this is the third time WVU and Kansas State have met since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 before the 2012 season, it's the first time the Mountaineers have been bowl eligible for the game.

They started the season 5-0 in 2012, but lost at home to Kansas State, 55-14, as part of a five-game losing streak. WVU wasn't bowl eligible last season, the first time that had happened since 2001.

This team has lost two in a row for the first time this season to fall out of contention for the conference championship, including a loss to Texas, which is now bowl eligible and could possibly leap WVU in the Big 12's bowl order.

The Mountaineers, who are in sixth place in the standings with a 1-3 record against teams ahead of them and just the Kansas State game left against teams they trail, are likely to play in a bowl on Dec. 29 or Jan. 2.

The Texas and the Liberty bowls are Dec. 29 and the Cactus Bowl is Jan. 2. The Texas Bowl picks first among those three and has the third pick after the College Football Playoff. That game, against the SEC, could arrange a Texas-Texas A&M game in Houston.

The Liberty Bowl picks next and is also against an SEC team, but it's in Memphis, where the Longhorns and Aggies wouldn't be as interesting. WVU played in the Liberty Bowl 50 years ago and lost to Utah in Atlantic City, N.J. It was the first major bowl played indoors and the first broadcast nationwide, distinctions representatives have talked up on their visits to WVU home and road games.

The Cactus Bowl, in Phoenix, picks next and is partnered with the sixth pick from the Pac-12.

"We haven't even brought it up with the team, but I think our team understands it's got a lot to play for," Holgorsen said. "The thing about bowl games is the more you win, the pecking order changes a little bit. What's different about the Big 12 as opposed to the conference we were in prior to the Big 12 is they're all good bowl games.

"Whatever the pecking order is, whether it's the first spot or the sixth or seventh spot, they're all going to be good, quality games."

* * *

Thursday's game is the final home game for what Holgorsen calls an "odd" senior class that was born out of necessity the past few years. Holgorsen is in his fourth year as the team's coach and none of the seniors are players who were in his first recruiting class in 2011.

Quarterback Clint Trickett, running back Dreamius Smith, receivers Mario Alford and Kevin White, right guard Mark Glowinski, defensive ends Shaq Riddick and Dontrill Hyman, linebacker Brandon Golson and safety Cullen Christian start or play roles and either joined the team last year or this year. Offensive tackle Mike Callichio started off at WVU in 2010, transferred out a year later and returned in 2012.

"We've got 19 guys that go through senior night and of the 19, only five of them, if I'm not mistaken, are fifth year seniors," Holgorsen said, correctly. "Thirteen of the 19 are transfer guys so there's just not very many guys that have been in the program for four and five years. We had to get some four-year transfers and we had to get some junior college transfers to come in and increase the talent, which I think we've accomplished, and to get the numbers to where they're healthy as well. I think we've accomplished that."

* * *

The Wildcats have won 49 straight games that they lead at halftime. It's the second-longest streak in the nation, trailing only Oklahoma's 49-game streak. WVU led last season's game 9-7 at halftime, but were outscored 28-3 in the second half.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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WVU FOOTBALL: Kansas State QB finds mentor in Collin Klein http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141118/DM03/141119188 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141118/DM03/141119188 Tue, 18 Nov 2014 17:13:46 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN - Jake Waters was hanging out in the football facility at Kansas State one day over the summer when the current Kansas State quarterback bumped into a former Kansas State quarterback.

"Well," Collin Klein said, "I'm a coach now."

The 2012 Heisman Trophy finalist who was 21-5 as a starter and led the Wildcats to a No. 1 ranking, a Big 12 championship and a Fiesta Bowl his final season, would become a defensive quality control assistant and the assistant director of recruiting.

Waters was thrilled. Replacing Klein was one of the main reasons he picked Kansas State over Penn State. He suddenly had a chance to replicate Klein.

"It's incredible," Waters said. "I was probably the happiest person when they hired him. He was in the offense for four or five years and he knows it like the back of his hand. For me to be able to pick his brain, I'm probably annoying to him just because I'm trying to get so much out of him knowing what he did for Kansas State and how he played and how much he knew."

Klein's fame was largely the result of his running. He finished with more than 2,400 yards on the ground in his career, almost all of it coming in his final two seasons, and was the first quarterback from a major conference to run for 20 touchdowns and pass for 10 touchdowns in consecutive seasons.

Waters' reputation was much different. He spent his first two college seasons at Iowa Western College and spun together one of the finest junior college seasons ever in 2012. Waters was the national player of the year and set a record by completing 73.3 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,501 yards, 39 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

The Waters who leads No. 12 Kansas State (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) into Mountaineer Field for Thursday's 7 p.m. game at on Fox Sports 1 against West Virginia (6-4, 4-3) is equal parts of his former self and the player who has learned so much from Klein.

"It is a little different body type," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They are both athletic. Collin Klein is just a smart player that was big. People say that he couldn't throw the ball well, but he came out here and completed 95 percent of his passes two years ago. They both can run the ball. Waters just keeps getting better and better. He is a tremendous competitor. He has developed with guys and you can tell by how the team is playing overall."

Waters, who at 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds is 4 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Klein, has passed for 200 yards in 10 straight games, but he has two games with 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing this season. His 286.1 yards of total offense per game is the second-best average in school history, trailing only Klein.

"As far as having the total package, he's as good as anybody we've faced over the year because all he can do throwing the ball really well and running the ball really well," WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. "He's patient. He understands the scheme and what they want to do. He takes care of the ball. Some of the quarterbacks we've played have been reckless. Some have been better throwers and were not threat to run. He brings all of that."

Waters is 166 for 261 passing this season for 2,169 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. Tyler Lockett is a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist with 60 receptions for 878 yards and six scores. Curry Sexton has 53 catches for 723 yards and four touchdowns. The offense is a little more spread out now than it was under Klein, and coach Bill Snyder has evolved to accommodate his offensive talent, including a Wildcat package with running back Charles Jones playing quarterback.

Yet Waters has a team-high 101 carries for 406 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 53-yard run against Oklahoma is the team's longest of the season, a little better than his 50-yard jaunt against Texas Tech.

"He is mobile," Holgorsen said. "They do a lot of quarterback run game. They will do some things where he is doing the option. They are just going to flat out snap it to him, and he's going to run the ball. They do some different things. They do some unique things in the run game with the quarterback that poses problems. You have to account for him, but then he can still throw the ball and he has some pretty quality receivers."

The Wildcats will spread out their offensive lineman to create creases in the middle, and Waters waits for blockers to block, but they'll tighten up the offensive line to give running plays a chance to get outside. They line up in power sets and spread sets, but they can run or pass out of both without giving away any clues. Even when the defense is onto something, the play can change. Waters is skilled and selling a run to pull defenders toward him and then throwing a pass to a receiver in open space.

"It's built into the play where he makes the decision," Gibson said. "A lot of people do it off the zone read scheme where the tailback's involved and the quarterback pulls it out and throws a quick bubble (screen). But this is all him.

"They run the quarterback power, the quarterback zone, the quarterback iso and they all have pass options off it, which means we have to get another guy in the box to stop the quarterback run. But then he can catch you in what you're doing coverage-wise and you've got to cover that up. He does it as well as anybody I've ever seen do it."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.

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WVU BASKETBALL: No. 17 Mountaineer women hold off Seton Hall http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/ARTICLE/141119247 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/ARTICLE/141119247 Mon, 17 Nov 2014 22:26:33 -0500

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No. 17 West Virginia went 9 of 12 from the line in the final five minutes to hold off Seton Hall, holding on for an 89-87 win Monday night.

Daisha Simmons and Tabatha Richardson-Smith both drilled 3-pointers in the final minute and Ka-Deidre Simmons added two free throws with :13 left to keep the Pirates within a point, 88-87, but West Virginia's Teana Muldrow hit the first of two free throws to make it 89-87 and Ka-Deidre Simmons missed a layup to tie at the buzzer.

Averee Fields tied the game for West Virginia with a free throw with 7:28 left, and sparked an 11-2 run to give the Mountaineers the lead, but Seton Hall battled back. Richardson-Smith drilled a 3 to make it 82-79 with under 2:00 left.

Bria Holmes led all scorers with 36 points to lead West Virginia (2-0).

Richardson-Smith scored 32 to lead Seton Hall (1-1).

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WVU FOOTBALL: Holgorsen trying to protect Trickett http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/DM03/141119293 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/DM03/141119293 Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:46:46 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Lost beneath the many words heaped upon the loss to Texas and the time that's passed since was West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen saying he's had to call plays recently that protect his quarterback.

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, Holgorsen said he's doing it - more runs and quicker passes to keep defenders away from Clint Trickett - because of the opposition and because of the situation behind his starter.

"When you have a defensive front that gets after it like those two teams (TCU and Texas) did, we have to be careful with how we call plays to protect him," Holgorsen said. "That's not different than any other team I have been on with a quarterback that we have to protect. He is our starting quarterback, and we don't have a very experienced backup, so we have to be careful in protecting him.

"I think everybody tries to protect their guys, so we try to figure out what Clint can do right, and I think his best attribute as far as being a quarterback is understanding what we are trying to do with the ball and make it happen."

Trickett's done his part as well, and Holgorsen was persistent early on that Trickett needed to be judicious with when he runs and slides and when he gets rid of the ball so he doesn't take hits. The quarterback understands why the coach is protective late in the season.

"That's up to him. That's a coach's decision. But there's a fine line when I'm out there," Trickett said. "Stuff's going to happen and plays are going to happen and sometimes I'm going to have to make a play and sometimes I've got to be smart.

"We're at the last part of the season. We're guaranteed a bowl game. We know that we still have three games left, and I'd like to be healthy for all of those, so we'll keep doing what we've been doing this year and hopefully we get three more wins."

Last season, Trickett suffered a concussion in the loss to Kansas State and didn't tell his coaches. He's mostly stayed out of trouble this season and his body benefited from the open week before Thursday's 7 p.m. game against the 12th-ranked Wildcats (7-2, 5-1 Big 12) at Mountaineer Field.

There have been exceptions, though. He's tried to run 10 times this season to escape pressure and gained 61 yards, and Trickett typically slides or gets out of bounds. Late in the Texas loss, Trickett was scrambling on third-and-7 but only gained 3 yards before he was folded in half by a hit from safety Mykkele Thompson.

"I tried to make him miss and obviously I didn't," Trickett said. "He was a lot faster than me. Good hit on his part. There was so much open field that I was like, 'I've definitely got to make him miss,' but I underestimated him.

"I usually get down, but on that one I was trying to get a first down and I didn't make it. For the most part, once I get yardage, I get down."

* * *

WVU's regular-season finale against Iowa State will kick off at noon and be televised by Fox Sports 1.

* * *

MOUNTAINEER receiver Kevin White, who is No. 2 nationally in receptions per game and No. 3 in receiving yards per game and has a NCAA-best eight 100-yard games, was named a semifinalist Monday for the Biletnikoff Award.

"I believe he had seven 100-yard games or so in a row," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said. "That is quite a bit of a day's work over a consistent period of time. If you watch him on tape, you realize that he is a gifted young guy. He can run, catch and make you miss after he catches the ball. He has all of it. He is getting at least eight or nine catches a ballgame, so that is a substantial number."

Kansas State's Miguel Lockett was one of the 10 semifinalists, as well, and Holgorsen said Lockett is "one of the best players in the country. He hurt us last year and he's hurt a lot of people over the last couple years."

White has 98 caches for 1,207 yards and eight touchdowns and set a school record with 16 receptions against Texas. Lockett has 60 catches for 878 yards and six scores. In two games against the Mountaineers, the senior has 17 receptions for 305 yards and five touchdowns.

* * *

The WIldcats rank No. 3 in the Big 12 in total defense and scoring defense, but No. 9 with 14 sacks, which is half as many as they had last season, and No. 8 with 52 tackles for a loss. This is good news for the Mountaineers (6-4, 4-3), who are ninth in the Big 12 in sacks allowed (24) and tackles for a loss allowed (70). Those totals rank No. 86 and 102 nationally.

The offensive line recuperated during the open weekend and line coach Ron Crook said his players needed to address "muscle fatigue" after six straight games with almost no relief from backups. They also had to get over their lowest-graded performance of the season by revisiting fundamentals and staying away from much physical contact.

"They all set a high standard for themselves and they know when they play well and when they don't," Crook said. "They take it a lot more personal than me saying anything to them. We talked a lot more about technique and improving in practice and things like that more than we talked about, 'Wow, we're not grading out well enough.' "

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu.

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WVU FOOTBALL: Kansas State walk-ons make an impression http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/DM03/141119316 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141117/DM03/141119316 Mon, 17 Nov 2014 16:30:08 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The topic is irresistible as it relates to Kansas State football because it personifies everything the program has come to represent under its iconic head coach.

In his 23 seasons in charge of the Wildcats, Bill Snyder has turned about 200 walk-ons into scholarship players. Fifty-eight players on the current roster were or are walk-ons, including sixteen players on the 50-player two deep.

"It's about technique and being tough and playing hard and they do an unbelievably great job of that. They teach great technique and play disciplined," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The thing that makes him so special is just the discipline his entire team plays with. They're program guys. They've got a lot of walk-ons who just do the right thing each and every day. It's pretty neat."

The 12th-ranked Wildcats, who visit Mountaineer Field for Thursday's 7 p.m. game on Fox Sports 1, have covered the landscape through the years.

Freshman all-America and consensus all-America. NFL fullback. NFL safety. Jordy Nelson is a star wideout for the Green Bay Packers who started off as a defensive back for the Wildcats. Ryan Mueller was a seldom-used defensive lineman who had 17 tackles and 2 1/2 sacks his first two seasons. He was the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year last season with 62 tackles and 11 1/2 sacks.

It's impossible to ignore and almost as hard to comprehend.

"We walk through the door and coach Snyder sprinkles walk-on dust on you," Mueller said. "He's a wizard."

He is not, though Snyder is seemingly ageless and has cast a spell over his players through the years with his famed 16 Goals for Success that give the Wildcats a blueprint for their lives. The secret, though, is far less exotic.

It begins with simply targeting the right kids. Many of the walk-ons come from Kansas. Some are from remote areas where college coaches don't visit very often, like center B.J. Finney, who's from a small farming community called Andale with a population around 1,500. Finney was a freshman all-American and first-team all-Big 12 the past two years.

Linebacker Jonathan Truman is from a town called Kechi, which is slightly bigger than Andale. Mueller is from Leawood, which is enormous, by comparison, with about 31,000 people. Players from larger cities like Wichita, Overland Park or Topeka sign, too.

"Those small-town kids, they want to work," Finney said. "They're disciplined and they're relentless with their work ethic. They're going to make sure they get their opportunity to play. The in-state pride we all have in the K-State football program and the fact we all want to play for coach Snyder, when we get the opportunity, we want to make the most of it."

But there are outliers and players from out of state and far away. Senior Randall Evans is a two-year starter at cornerback who grew up in Miami.

"A lot of guys like myself didn't have any Division I offers out of high school, but I believed I should be playing Division I football," Truman said. "I had a chip on my shoulder about the whole thing and nobody offering me, so I thought I might as well prove them all wrong. Kansas State was the best place for me to get that opportunity to play football."

Once on campus, it's up to the players to invest in Snyder's philosophy and commit themselves to what it takes to earn an opportunity that's going to be available. It's not easy, it's frequently not fast, but it's there if the players stay in line.

It's not merely about following directions. It's about doing everything everyone else has to do and doing it right, but without the same rewards. Scholarship players can make mistakes and they don't lose their scholarship. Walk-ons can't make too many mistakes and hope to earn a scholarship.

"It's a struggle thinking, 'Man, am I good enough?'" Truman said. "I always asked myself that. But I always answered with, 'Absolutely. There's no reason I can't play here, and if it's not right now, I will be good enough later down the road and I'll get better every single day.' You have to work at it so you will get that scholarship because you really don't have any other choice."

Up until this year, walk-ons didn't get the free team meals. They still don't have their tuition, books and board paid for. Over time, it's natural to wonder why the difference exists and if it's all worth it.

"I wanted it to happen," Finney said. "I could easily see why it wouldn't happen for everyone."

Mueller, Finney and Truman and three or four others are all that's left from the three dozen or so walk-ons who joined the team in 2010. Mueller tied the school record for sacks last season. Finney is a three-time team captain. Truman leads the team with 85 tackles this season.

Those are not coincidences.

"We took it up in ourselves to make the difference and represent not only the school but where we're from," Mueller said. "We made it important to us, and it all comes back to buying into the program. Even though coach Snyder is 100 years old, his philosophy still works. No matter how old or how young you are, if you buy into the process and you buy into the program and what we're trying to do here, I promise you'll be happy with the results."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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WVU BASKETBALL: Mountaineers overcome shooting, move to 2-0 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141116/DM03/141119356 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141116/DM03/141119356 Sun, 16 Nov 2014 21:11:01 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In the end last season, West Virginia was a 17-16 team that needed to score a lot of points to win most of its games. When the shots weren't falling, the Mountaineers were, and they finished 1-10 when they shot less than 40 percent.

At the beginning this season, WVU is 2-0 and shot 26.1 percent in Friday's anxious season-opening win against Monmouth and 38.3 percent in Sunday's cozy 83-56 win against Lafayette before 6,089 at the Coliseum.

"We didn't guard before like we guard now," WVU men's basketball coach Bob Huggins said. "We can turn people over and create offense from our defense."

The opposition must be considered, and the Mountaineers started with a come-from-behind win against the team picked to finish sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and followed it by routing the team picked to finish fourth in the Patriot League. Lafayette also played up the road at Robert Morris and won by 27 points last Friday.

Yet WVU has taken 66 more shots than its opponents, scored 51 points off 44 turnovers and outrebounded the other team by 35, which is to say things are sort of going as Huggins predicted in the preseason.

"We want to get a lot more shots than what our opponent does," said Huggins, who Friday tied former Temple coach John Chaney for 16th place on the all-time Division I wins list and then moved into 15th place Sunday with win No. 742. "(Sunday) we did it the way you're supposed to do it. They had 20 turnovers. We had six. We outrebounded them by 19. That's what you're supposed to do."

Not everything is going according to script, though. WVU played both games without forward Kevin Noreen, who Huggins said Sunday may "never" play again as he recovers from surgeries, and Brandon Watkins, who is sick. Junior college transfer BillyDee Williams sat out both wins and is out indefinitely after he suffered a fractured orbital bone in practice last week.

Redshirt freshman forward Elijah Macon had five points and three rebounds in the opener but missed Sunday's game so he could be with his ill mother.

WVU will likely be shorthanded again when it leaves to play Thursday, Friday and Sunday in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Mountaineers begin with a 7:30 p.m. game Tuesday on ESPNU against George Mason.

"I'd like to have my whole team, but we don't really get a chance to make trades," Huggins said. "If we continue to approach things the right way, which to this point we have, it'll be good for us. These guys go a good job learning from their mistakes and trying to make things better."

There was plenty to improve after Friday's game. WVU had separate spells where it missed 13 consecutive shots and trailed Monmouth by 14 points on two occasions in the second half. The full-court press and the weight of 24 turnovers gradually wore down the Hawks. Forward Devin Williams fouled out three Monmouth players and he and point guard Juwan Staten scored the final 17 points to complete the comeback and win 64-54.

Sunday's win wasn't picturesque, either. After starting 4-for-7 shooting, WVU missed 14 straight shots, but only lost two points off the lead. The Mountaineers then made 8 of 10 shots, but the Leopards hung around and were down 28-22 when Daxter Miles made a 3-pointer to start an 11-2 run to close the half.

WVU led by double digits the rest of the way and got a boost from a pair of 3s from Jevon Carter. The Mountaineers never trailed after playing from behind for more than 21 minutes Friday.

"This is a lot closer to how we expected to play," Staten said, "but we're still not near where we want to be."

Staten, who scored 20 points Friday, finished with 10 points and eight assists Sunday and was only needed for 29 minutes after playing 34 in the opener. Williams followed his double-double in the opener (15 points, 12 rebounds) with another and had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Lafayette.

The difference, though, came from a pair of newcomers. Jonathan Holton, who played previously at Rhode Island and Palm Beach State College and sat out last season at WVU because he wasn't eligible, had 18 points and 15 rebounds. Holton scored two points on 1-for-7 shooting in the opener and had seven rebounds.

"It was mixed emotions," Holton said. "The first game, I was hyper and was trying to lay back, but my mind was just racing. The second game, I was trying to slow down and let things come to me. I had the mindset I was really going to go hard and I wasn't going to take a play off. I wasn't even going to look for my shot. I just wanted to rebound and hustle and play hard."

Junior college transfer Jaysean Paige, who started both games at guard, finished with 16 points and five rebounds. He scored 14 points and made three 3s in the first half. He scored five points and was 2-for-4 in the opener.

"This one was easier," Paige said. "We were on the same page from the jump. We didn't wait to get started. We weren't sluggish. We played hard from the start, which made it easier for us to get going. When we're pressing and getting stops and doing all that stuff, the rest is a lot easier."

Monmouth shot 44.7 percent in the opener. Lafayette shot 43.5 percent and actually made more than half its shots in the second half before fading late. WVU allowed just nine offensive rebounds and seven second-chance points in the two games while getting 56 offensive rebounds and 39 second-chance points of its own.

The easy baskets on extra shots or off turnovers offset the low shooting percentages and the 14-for-62 start (22.6 percent) from 3-point range.

"I think we can shoot it better that we shot it (Sunday)," Huggins said. "Once Jevon and Daxter get a little more comfortable - they're still wondering if it's a good shot or not. I think they're going to make shots, but I think we're going to ham-and-egg it and go with the hot hand. If somebody makes some, we'll play them more."

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WVU FOOTBALL: Mountaineers' offense has been trending down http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141116/DM03/141119357 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141116/DM03/141119357 Sun, 16 Nov 2014 21:10:00 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Assuming the first win against a top-10 team in five years is the high point of the football season, it is also true that West Virginia's offense has dipped to its lowest points in the three games following the 41-27 victory against then-No. 4 Baylor.

The 16 points scored in the loss to Texas was the worst output of the season, and the Mountaineers had been heading that direction.

A week earlier, they scored 30 points in a loss to TCU. That was the lowest total since the 33-23 loss to Alabama in the opener, and the offense scored 16 points that game with the other seven coming on Mario Alford's kickoff return. In between the Horned Frogs and Baylor, WVU beat Oklahoma State 34-10 and seven points came off a late interception return touchdown.

"The opponent has something to do with it," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Certainly, and while Oklahoma State has struggled this season, it held receiver Kevin White to three catches for 27 yards when no one else had held him to fewer than six receptions and 101 yards.

TCU is one of the nation's best defenses every season and specializes against the pass, and the Horned Frogs limited White to three catches, too. Texas' defensive line can overwhelm opponents, which makes life easier on the secondary, and Longhorns were the first team to keep quarterback Clint Trickett from throwing a touchdown pass.

"It's just a collection of things," Holgorsen said. "TCU is pretty good on defense. Texas is pretty good on defense. They've got a lot of older guys who are experienced and who have played a lot of ball. We knew that going in. We're going to face another pretty good defense (this week) in Kansas State."

The Mountaineers play host to No. 12 Kansas State at 7 p.m. (Fox Sports 1) Thursday at Mountaineer Field. WVU (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) has seen its share of dignified defenses this season, but up until their loss to TCU two weeks ago, the WIldcats (8-2, 6-1) were leading the Big 12 in scoring defense and total defense. They now rank third in both, but by thin margins.

This is important for WVU because its powerful offense has dimmed as the passing offense has faltered. Trickett averaged 9.2 yards per attempt against Baylor, his second-best total of the season. It's dropped each of the past three games: 7.9, 6.2 and 5.1.

There are explanations for the trend and for the worst averages of the season coming in each of the past two games. The first, Holgorsen said, is zone coverage, something each opponent has used with some assortment of success to keep WVU's receivers from getting open down the field.

WVU has 43 pass plays covering 20 or more yards this season, but just six in the past three games. Trickett averages 11.69 yards per completion, but he's been below that the past three games and had a season-low 6.89 yards against Texas.

White set a school record with 16 receptions against Texas, but finished with 132 yards and actually averaged fewer yards per reception than he did the previous two games, when he caught just six passes for 55 yards.

"People play zone coverage to be able to take away the deep ball," Holgorsen said. "They put a lot of guys in coverage. That's why it was disappointing not to be able to run the ball better than we did (against Texas), because we had favorable numbers. We knew we were going to have that against TCU. Kansas State is going to be the same way. They're going to give us favorable numbers in the box, and they're going to play off coverage."

Another part of the problem is the time and comfort Trickett has been provided to do what he must do against zone defenses. There needs to be an opportunity for routes to develop or go down the field. There needs to be shelter for Trickett to go through his options.

Holgorsen admitted his offensive line gave him reason to worry as well as reason to alter his offense against Texas.

"I get questions about some of the play calls, and I get it, but I was doing my best to protect our quarterback," he said.

He called several quick throws outside to receivers. Trickett ended up completing a rare pass to his tight end, Cody Clay, and eight others to his running backs. Those throws were there because Trickett had to get rid of the ball or settle for something the defense was willing to give him.

He completed 36 passes against the Longhorns, the third-best total in school history and the 20th time a quarterback has completed 30 throws, but the 246 yards was the lowest total among those 20.

"You have to progress, which means you have to have time to throw the ball," Holgorsen said. "I thought Clint was much more comfortable in the pocket, even though he was pressured and getting hit and all that. He was still much more comfortable in the pocket and did a better job going through his reads and putting the ball in play when it was the second read, the third read or even the fourth read."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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WVU BASKETBALL: Mountaineers off to rough start, rally late to beat Monmouth http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141114/ARTICLE/141119466 ARTICLE http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141114/ARTICLE/141119466 Fri, 14 Nov 2014 23:29:54 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia opened its season Friday night with the sort of performance that seemed suggest it's going to be another long one for coach Bob Huggins, that after missing the NCAA tournament each of the last two seasons and playing to a combined .500 record in the past three.

The Mountaineers shot 26.1 percent from the floor, missed 23 of 29 3-point attempts, saw none of the 11 players make more than half their shots, were outscored by double digits in the paint, finished with more turnovers than assists, trailed a small school from a minor conference by 14 points with 16:39 to go and absorbed a smattering of boos from the 6,792 who bothered to watch them do battle with Monmouth at the Coliseum.

Yet they could live with all of that because they walked away with a 64-54 win and extended the school's winning streak in season openers to 25.

"Tonight was great for us," WVU point guard Juwan Staten said. "This wasn't a game we were expecting to be as hard as it was, but it's good to get as many hard games as you can out of the way. Even though this game was harder than it was supposed to be, a lot of our players grew. When you have a lot of new players, you're going to have growth every game."

Staten, the Big 12's preseason player of the year, and Devin Williams, who had as bizarre a game as imaginable, scored the team's final 17 points. The defense forced turnovers throughout and held the Hawks to one basket in the final 7:36 to pull away.

Staten scored 10 of his game-high 20 points in the final 4:47, starting with two free throws that put the Mountaineers ahead for good 49-48 after they trailed from the 2:52 mark of the first half onward.

"This is early in the season, and we've been bragging on this team all year," Staten said. "You can't come out and lose a game early like that. Me being the captain and having a lot of experience kind of being put in that situation before, I felt it was my job to carry the team through it."

Staten made 4 of 9 shots and 11 of 12 free throws and had five rebounds and two assists in 34 minutes, but Huggins said the senior was tired and is still out of shape as he works his way back from a sprained ankle that kept him out of practice until only recently.

Williams finished with 15 points and 15 rebounds (12 on offense), but he started the game 0-for-11 from the floor before making his final three shots. He had five turnovers, but also fouled out all three of Monmouth's inside players.

"I just try to focus on what's going to get my team going and what I mean to the team, which is rebounding," the sophomore forward said. "We've got to stay in it better. We're still trying to figure each other out offensively and figure out what we're trying to do. When the shots aren't falling, you've got to play some defense, which is what I'm good at."

The win was the regular-season debut for six of WVU's seven first-season players. Jonathan Holton shot 1-for-9 and scored two points, but had seven rebounds and two steals. Elijah Macon, who like Holton was ineligible to play at WVU last season, gave WVU a spark in the second half with two baskets during its comeback and finished with five points and three rebounds. Jaysean Paige made a 3-pointer to start that rally and had five points.

Freshmen Daxter Miles (1-for-7) and Jevon Carter (0-for-5) and junior college transfer Tarik Phillip (0-2) combined for two points in 45 minutes. Junior college transfer BillyDee Williams suffered a fractured orbital bone in practice Thursday and is out indefinitely.

"I'm not going to tell you we're the greatest shooting team in the world, but we're better than that," Huggins said. "The whole thing snowballed on us. Sometimes you want to do so good that you don't do any good because you put too much pressure on yourself."

WVU also played without sophomore Brandon Watkins, who is sick. Huggins doesn't know if Watkins will play Sunday when the Mountaineers play host to Lafayette (1-0), which won 77-50 at Robert Morris on Friday.

Deon Jones led Monmouth with 14 points and Andrew Nicholas added 10. Brice Kofane had eight points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots and was a handful in the middle in the second half, but fouled out with 5:04 remaining. The Hawks turned the ball over 24 times for 26 WVU points and were outrebounded 49-33. The Mountaineers had a 30-5 edge in offensive rebounds and had a 21-2 edge in second-chance points.

"I thought my kids played outstanding," said coach King Rice, whose team led for 21:51. "We fought. We did everything we could. I'm very proud of my kids."

The Hawks spun together an unlikely rally late in the first half with a sizable assist from WVU's unsightly play. The Mountaineers went 5:03 between points and 7:18 between baskets. Staten ended the latter rut with a 3 - he made six all last year - to give WVU its largest lead.

Monmouth then scored the next 12 points over a 5:45 stretch as WVU missed 10 straight shots and two free throws and finished the half missing 23 of its last 24 shots. The Hawks led 26-21 at halftime.

Slowly, though, WVU's press and its pressure in half-court defense started to take apart Monmouth, which continued to turn ball over on hasty passes or deep in the backcourt. After Paige made his to 3 cut the lead to 41-31 with 12:59 remaining, Gary Brown stole the ball just after the inbound pass and dribbled in for a layup to force Monmouth to call a timeout.

"You feel a lot better knowing that if we're not going to make shots, we still have a chance," Staten said. "Last year, if we came out and fell behind early and we weren't hitting 3s, it was like, 'Dang, it's going to be a long night.' Now it's nice to have something else to hang your hat."

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WVU BASKETBALL: Newcomer Holton ready for debut with Mountaineers http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141113/DM03/141119574 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141113/DM03/141119574 Thu, 13 Nov 2014 21:17:10 -0500 By Mike Casazza MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - In Jonathan Holton's exhibition debut, the 6-foot-7 forward scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds. His men's basketball coach at West Virginia, Bob Huggins, fully believes the newcomer will exceed both totals regularly this season.

Holton would have in last Sunday's tune-up against Shepherd, but he didn't play much against the Division II team. Holton's numbers will count Friday when the Mountaineers open the regular season by hosting Monmouth.

Still, he scored those points on six shots. He assisted on another basket. He blocked a shot. He had two steals. Holton wasn't the focus of the offense and he didn't stand out defensively, but he was unmistakably involved in his 14 minutes.

"He's a guy that you don't have to run things for for him to score," Huggins said. "Joe Alexander had a great year for us, but we had to run things for Joe. I think Jonathan's a guy who can score the ball without running plays for him. He's a guy who's going to get it off the glass. He's going to get it in transition. He's going to make open shots."

The Mountaineers, who play host to Monmouth at 7 p.m. and then Lafayette at 3 p.m. on Sunday at the Coliseum, will make more use of Holton as they prepare for next week's Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

Holton had but one offensive rebound against Shepherd, but he led all of junior college in rebounding at Palm Beach State Community College in the 2012-13 season and averaged 8.1 per game at Rhode Island the year before, when he made the Atlantic 10's all-rookie team. He was 1-for-3 Sunday from 3-point range, a sneaky feature in his game, and turned a steal into transition and a slam dunk.

"I don't know that I've had many people who have the enthusiasm that he has on a day‑to‑day basis," Huggins said. "He just comes in every day just excited to play. He loves to play."

And that's where the real Holton appeared Sunday. It was his first game since Palm Beach State, which was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation that season, lost in the first game of the state tournament to eventual national runner-up Northwest Florida on March 7, 2013.

Holton had 19 points and 18 rebounds in the loss and a lot of time off afterward. He sat out last season because he wasn't eligible to play for the Mountaineers, and the down time was doubly painful because he was trying desperately to get his career back on track after he was expelled from URI in the spring of 2011.

He couldn't want to get going again against the overmatched Rams, but he paid a price for that, too.

"I had a slow start because I was so happy to be out there," Holton said. "I did not want to foul and end up on the bench. I had so much energy and I'm so emotional when it comes to basketball and playing hard because I want to win for my teammates.

"But I wanted it too bad. I wanted to run, run, run. I was running like crazy, but it felt good to be out there."

There's a place for that, though, because Huggins believes he could play all 12 scholarship players, plus walkon Chase Connor, which means players can play hard and probably also must play hard.

"Either that," Holton said, "or you're going to sit down."

In so many ways, the descriptions of Holton and the one brief glimpse hint at a presence that was missing last season and is needed his season. WVU struggled with defense and rebounding last season, but Holton is committed to both. He averaged 14.1 rebounds per game in his one season at Palm Beach State while many other junior college players are gunning for their offensive stats and glory at a higher level.

Holton was instead a selfless player who sat out the first semester until he was eligible to play and then fit in during his 24 games. He led the team in blocked shots, total rebounds and defensive rebounds and was second in steals and offensive rebounds despite playing the sixth-highest minute total on the team.

He also led the team in scoring average and shots taken and was second in shots made, 3-point attempts and 3-point attempts despite missing eight games in the fall semester, but that's more a matter of his offensive skill than his need to be involved.

WVU's offense last season was dominated by two players. Juwan Staten led the Big 12 in scoring but also assists and paired his first-team all-conference award with a spot on the defense team. Eron Harris, who transferred to Michigan State, took four fewer shots than Staten despite playing 196 fewer minutes and finished with 211 3-pointers and 207 2-pointers, a negative assist-turnover ratio and one assist every 20 minutes.

Holton made 41 of 103 3-point attempts at Palm Beach State, but he had one assist every 5.4 minutes. He's now content buzzing around in Huggins' motion offense and scoring on cuts and missed shots or when Staten drives and draws defenders to leave Holton uncovered either at the basket or on the perimeter.

If it doesn't come on offense, Holton and his teammates on the perimeter have an ability to turn defense into offense, whether by steals or disciplined possessions that create missed shots and defensive rebounds.

"Defense, rebounding, giving us a low-post presence if I have to, stretching the floor, I'll do any of that," Holton said, "but I definitely like playing with high energy."

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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WVU FOOTBALL: Missouri contract has $250,000 guarantee http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141113/DM03/141119596 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141113/DM03/141119596 Thu, 13 Nov 2014 19:30:58 -0500

FROM STAFF REPORTS

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia will pay Missouri $250,000 as a game guarantee for playing host to the Tigers in 2016 and then make the same amount for traveling to the Show Me State in 2019, according to the game contract the two schools finalized last week.

The Mountaineers will open the season against the reigning SEC East champion on Sept. 3, 2016, at Mountaineer Field and then play at Faurot Field, in Columbia, Mo., on Sept. 7, 2019. Should one team breach the contract and cancel one game or both, it will owe the other team $1 million. If the 2016 game is canceled for any reason other than an "unforeseen catastrophe or disaster," the 2019 game is canceled, as well.

The visiting team is promised 60 sideline passes, 300 complimentary tickets and free admission for cheerleaders and the team mascot that doesn't count toward the complimentary allotment. The visitor also receives 3,000 tickets to sell to its fans and can retain no more than 500 tickets two weeks before the game and 100 tickets five days before the game. Those tickets will be returned to the home team.

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Mike Casazza: WVU headed in the right direction http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141112/DM03/141119745 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141112/DM03/141119745 Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:50:34 -0500 MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - True story: Two weeks ago, this space was going to ask a question about West Virginia's football team, one that was 6-2 at the time and among the favorites to win the Big 12.

The Mountaineers were 4-1 in the conference and had home games coming up against TCU and Kansas State, both contenders in their own right. True, WVU had that road trip to Texas in the middle, but with the way things were going, it seemed what happened at Mountaineer Field and not in central Texas would go a long way toward solving the Big 12.

This seemed sudden, if not celebratory, so the question had to be asked: Is WVU any good?

Don't misunderstand the curiosity. WVU is a better football team than it was a year ago. The offense is competent, the defense is organized, the roster and the coaching staff have evolved and the entire team is markedly more competitive. In short, the Mountaineers deserved six wins.

But there's always a but, and there were quite a few worth exploring. Remember, this is a team that needed a frantic finish against an ordinary Maryland team and then looked everything like another 4-8 flop trailing dreadful Texas Tech by 14 points in the middle of the fourth quarter.

There's no ignoring that, much like there's no denying that what made the Mountaineers such a curious case was how they were capable of those games but also of handling Baylor. That was the sort of dynamic that begged the question.

After eight games, you saw an offense that defenses were starting to slow. Opponents feared Kevin White and felt completely different about the running game. WVU ran the ball a lot, but didn't get many highlights. Defenses could see that and couldn't see another part of the passing game to make them change their approach.

Defensively, the Mountaineers were OK, but the snaps would start to accumulate sooner or later at key positions, which was worrisome because opponents had succeeded running the ball behind big formations. Some teams were even borrowing ideas that worked for others against WVU.

The offense turned the ball over way too much and the defense didn't get the ball back enough for anyone's liking. Special teams was bound to do something dangerous or disastrous at any moment. The Horned Frogs and Longhorns would be the final two games in a stretch of six in six weeks, and how the Mountaineers held up, especially at its thinner positions, like along the offensive line, was something to monitor against the formidable fronts of TCU and Texas.

This space went instead to explaining how WVU used towels, play boards and hand signals to call plays. Then White was contained, the offense committed five turnovers, the offensive tackles struggled, the running game faded and TCU won with its own frantic finish.

A week later, the space went to wondering how and why the other team's safety made so many tackles and barely ever missed one. Then the defensive line and linebackers were bullied in the first half as Texas ran wild, the offensive line had its worst game of the year, the reliable kicker missed two field goals and there again was no Plan B to complement White in the passing game. The Longhorns sent WVU sulking into an open week before a rather empty Kansas State game Nov. 20.

Still, there really isn't an answer to the question, is there? The Mountaineers did beat Baylor, which might win the Big 12 and make the College Football Playoff. They did compete against Alabama, which could also make the first Final Four, and Oklahoma, which has losses to Baylor, TCU and Kansas State, but looked CFP-worthy in the fourth week of the season. But the other losses tell a tale, too.

A lot is yet to be written about the 2014 Mountaineers, who have to grab the pen and dictate their own story the rest of the way. For now, the head coach has a humble view.

"I think we're about where I thought we would, to be honest with you. I thought we would show improvement on all three sides of the ball," Dana Holgorsen said.

And that leads us to another topic, one that's hard to articulate, but important to ask. Where is this headed? How will it look? Can WVU keep this going?

"I think a year from now that you're going to be looking at a team that's even better than what we've got right now," said Holgorsen.

The Mountaineers like to explain their improvement from last season by saying they have players who have been through the Big 12 twice now and who know all the venues. That is not and has not been true. Fifteen of WVU's 22 starters against Texas, plus the kicker and punter, weren't there in 2012. That shows Holgorsen still has work to do to get the program where he needs and wants it to be, but it also suggests a good outlook for being a step closer in 2015.

Indeed, all but seven of those 22 should be back next season, but the offense will need a new quarterback, which wasn't easy last season, plus two guards and two receivers, and neither position has seen relevant backups this season. On defense, nine starters should be back and flourish in the second year of a the 3-3-5. The Mountaineers have a large junior class and the 2015 recruiting class is regarded as a top-20 group by Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247sports.com.

That should help address one major perception. One reason the Mountaineers look so good this season is because they looked so bad last season. The improvements are impressive, but they were also inevitable. The same strides don't figure to come as easily next season, but that the Mountaineers are in the position to take that challenge when the roster wouldn't allow that before may mean this is going the right way.

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymailwv.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/wvu. Follow him on Twitter at @mikecasazza.

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