Jarrett Doege threw three touchdown passes, Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield gave West Virginia's running game a lift it hadn't seen in quite some time, and the Mountaineers beat Eastern Kentucky 56-10 Saturday.
Brown and Sinkfield both finished with career highs of 123 yards and two rushing TDs in the Mountaineers' season opener. It marked the first time that two West Virginia players went over 100 yards in the same game since the 2017 season.
West Virginia did not have a single 100-yard rusher last season and averaged just 73 yards per game as a team, the third worst in the Bowl Subdivision.
“We’re taking everything personal this season," Brown said. "Because nobody had faith in us coming into this season. So I’m here to prove them wrong.”
West Virginia overcame the suspension earlier in the day of 11 players for reasons that were undisclosed and not related to the coronavirus pandemic. Ten of those players were on offense, including starters at wide receiver and on the offensive line.
Just before kickoff, West Virginia’s players stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the sideline in a show of unity.
“It meant a lot, just to have my brothers there with me, just preparing to go to battle,” said West Virginia safety Alonzo Addae. “Linking arms was a sign of that.”
With only family members of the players and essential staff allowed in the stadium due to the pandemic, West Virginia’s players fed off of their own energy. The Mountaineers compiled 624 yards of offense against the Championship Subdivision Colonels (0-2).
Brown scored on first-half runs of 10 and 8 yards and caught a 15-yard scoring pass from Doege as the Mountaineers jumped ahead 42-7 at halftime.
Sinkfield’s second touchdown run, a 17-yarder in the third quarter, came after his fumble inside the Eastern Kentucky 30 was overturned upon review.
“They struggled running the football last year and they wanted to come out and get some positive yards, and they did,” said Eastern Kentucky first-year coach Walt Wells. "We've got to do a better job of tackling. They did a nice job of blocking the movement and picking some things up, and those backs are talented."
Doege also had TD tosses of 32 yards to Sam James and 8 yards to Bryce Ford-Wheaton. Doege finished 19 of 25 for 228 yards and sat out the second half.
Eastern Kentucky's Parker McKinney went 9 of 17 for 131 yards and one score.
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels will be glad to have a week off to figure out what's gone wrong after being outscored 108-10 in their first two games.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers saw an offensive balance that was missing a year ago. But there are no more chances to work the kinks out or get sorely needed experience for a young roster with the start of the Big 12 season already in view.
“This is just a start," coach Neal Brown said. "Just because we did it today doesn’t mean that all of a sudden we’ve arrived running the football. We’ve got to do it against people that we’re going to have to beat to be competitive in our league.”
The game was played in a nearly empty stadium in a county with by far the highest rate of positive virus cases in the state. Earlier Saturday, the city of Morgantown banned parties and large gatherings at residences across much of the town. Earlier in the week the university temporarily suspended in-person undergraduate classes, moving them online due to a spike in virus cases.
Doege, a transfer from Bowling Green, didn’t seem to be bothered by the empty stands.
“I played at Bowling Green in the MACtion on Tuesdays,” Doege said. “My family was the only people in the stands at the time, so it’s nothing new to me.”
Eastern Kentucky plays its third straight road contest Sept. 26 at The Citadel.
West Virginia has next weekend off before its scheduled Big 12 opener at No. 15 Oklahoma State on Sept. 26.