Big 12 Previews

West Virginia vs. Eastern Kentucky: Preview and Prediction

NCAA Football: James Madison at West Virginia

Here is everything you need to know about the West Virginia Mountaineers’ season opener in our Eastern Kentucky (0-1) vs. West Virginia Preview.

Game Info

11 a.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020, Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia.

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network; WZST-FM, 100.9, WMMN-FM, 95.7 and WMMN-AM, 920 in Morgantown and Fairmont.

 

Key players

Eastern Kentucky

QBs Parker McKinney and Dakota Allen

Chances are McKinney, the redshirt sophomore, will get the start for the Colonels against West Virginia. Despite the lopsided 59-0 loss to Marshall, McKinney played well, going 7-of-10 for 70 yards. The Colonels just didn’t keep the football enough. Dakota Allen played, too, completing three of his five passes for 9 yards. McKinney is coming off a 2019 in which he threw for 1,371 yards, seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions, along with rushing for 280 yards and five touchdowns. Allen bears watching because he started six games for EKU in 2018 and played in nine others last season. The Mountaineers could see both on Saturday.

RB Alonzo Booth

The redshirt junior is worth keeping an eye on going into this game. He led the Colonels with 15 carries and 33 yards in the loss to Marshall. That doesn’t look imposing. But in 2019 Booth was a Second-Team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection at running back, as he finished the season with 673 rushing yards on 140 carries (4.8 yards per carry) and scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. He led the OVC and ranked 16th in the nation in rushing touchdowns. So if you’re looking for the straw that stirs the drink on this offense, here he is, and it’s proof that his performance against Marshall is not indicative of his talent.

LB Matthew Jackson

The Colonels defense had to work hard in the opener and no EKU player worked harder than Jackson. The redshirt junior has been a special teams contributor who had 26 total tackles in two seasons. Against Marshall he had 12 tackles (three solo). Jackson will be looking to continue that momentum against WVU.

West Virginia

QB Jarret Doege

The Mountaineers made the move last week to insert Doege into the lineup as the starting quarterback for the opener, eschewing Austin Kendall. The Mountaineers took advantage of the redshirt rule last year by starting Doege in the season’s final three games, as he threw for 818 yards and seven touchdowns in four total games. In doing so the Mountaineers not only get two more years with the former Bowling Green starter, they dipped his feet into the Big 12 pool against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, he led the Mountaineers to wins over Kansas State and TCU. At Bowling Green he threw for 2,660 yards, 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. That year he led the Mid-American Conference in passing yards and passing touchdowns. This feels like the right decision for the Mountaineers.

WR Sam James

James was a revelation as a redshirt freshman last year, as he led WVU in receptions (69) and receiving yards (677), along with scoring two touchdowns. Expect the touchdowns to go up in 2020. He was in the Top 10 in the Big 12 in receptions per game and receiving yards per game last season. A jump from Big 12 honorable mention to Big 12 first team is definitely a possibility.

DLs Darius and Dante Stills

Let’s just address this dynamic duo right now, shall we? Mountaineers fans breathed a sigh of relief when Darius decided to forego the 2020 NFL Draft and return to West Virginia. Darius, the senior, and Dante, the junior, are one of the best 1-2 punches on the defensive line in the Big 12. Both led the Mountaineers with seven sacks each in 2019 and combined for 26 tackles for loss, with Darius compiling a team-high 14.5. You can bet the brothers are going to be in the backfield a lot this season.

 

Key storylines

Eastern Kentucky

The Colonels played against Marshall on Saturday and lost, 59-0. That about covers it, right? It was a bad day all around for the Colonels. EKU had a 21-24 record under head coach Mike Elder from 2016-19 and hadn’t been to the FCS playoffs since 2014. That necessitated a move to Walt Wells as head coach. The Colonels are a long way from the program that won two FCS national crowns in 1979 and 1982 under Roy Kidd, who won 315 career games at EKU from 1964-2002. Fortunately, Wells has ties to Kidd, as he was an assistant under the legend from 1997-2002 and knows the ropes there in Richmond, Kentucky. His previous two stops were at Kentucky and Tennessee. 

West Virginia

The Mountaineers are coming off a 5-7 season in 2019, but a 3-6 record in Big 12 play that featured two wins in their final three games. Those two wins came with Doege at quarterback and that should give the Mountaineers some momentum going into 2020. So should Year 2 of Neal Brown’s program to turn the Mountaineers into a true Big 12 contender? For a guide one could look back at his time at Troy University. In 2015 Brown took over the Trojans, who had won three games in 2014. Troy won four games in 2015, and then in 2016 he and the Trojans had three straight 10- or 11-win seasons. Now, that might be asking for a bit much from Brown in Year 2 in West Virginia, but assuming there is a bowl season, getting the Mountaineers back to a bowl game seems doable.

Prediction: West Virginia 55, Eastern Kentucky 24

The temptation here, based on EKU’s blowout loss to Marshall, is to think that West Virginia is going to do even worse things to the Colonels. And the Mountaineers might. But teams typically make their biggest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2 of the season, and the Colonels just got hit in the mouth. They will be looking for a little redemption. EKU won’t get the win they’re looking for, but they will play better. Plus, EKU had a game to work out the sluggish play that can be typical of a season opener. West Virginia won’t have that luxury. Don’t get me wrong. WVU will win and win pretty easily. But don’t be surprised if it takes them a quarter to get rolling.

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