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Mountaineers Clip Eagles

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's offense came alive with 28 second-half points and Tony Gibson's defense pitched a shutout as the Mountaineers enjoyed a surprisingly easy 44-0 victory over Georgia Southern Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's offense came alive with 28 second-half points and Tony Gibson's defense pitched a shutout as the Mountaineers enjoyed a surprisingly easy 44-0 victory over Georgia Southern Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia spent all summer concerned about Georgia's Southern spread option offensive attack, which gave NC State and Georgia Tech all it wanted last season and helped the Eagles knock off Florida in the Swamp two years ago.
Tonight, Georgia Southern had a tough time crossing the 50, and when it did, it didn't advance the football much farther than that .
"Obviously I'm very proud of the guys," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. "Our defense is pretty motivated and excited. The leadership that we have on that side of the ball is showing and hopefully it continues."
The defense produced five turnovers, including a fumble recovery, which means it is now already halfway to last year's total of two fumbles recovered.
Senior safety Karl Joseph was responsible for four of the five turnovers, picking off three passes (all three coming in the third quarter) while also pouncing on Favian Upshaw's first-quarter fumble.
Joseph's stat line tonight was pretty impressive: 7½ tackles, including seven solos, a fumble recovery and three interceptions.
"I've never given anybody a game ball, but I gave him one down there in the locker room," said Holgorsen. "He's the inspirational leader with what we're trying to do. It's been fun to watch him mature and grow."
Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski finished the night with seven tackles, five of them solos.
Georgia Southern had 224 yards of offense, including just 29 through the air.
And after sputtering for most of the second quarter, the West Virginia offense found its rhythm in the third quarter with quarterback Skyler Howard orchestrating a pair of drives that ended in Georgia Southern's end zone.
After Joseph's second pick gave West Virginia the ball at the Eagle 28, it took Howard only three plays to push over WVU's second touchdown – a six-yard burst up the middle by Rushel Shell.
Another touchdown followed on West Virginia's next possession.
Howard began the drive at the West Virginia 30 with a 23-yard pass to true freshman Jovon Durante that placed the ball at the 47. Two Wendell Smallwood runs got the Mountaineers to the Eagle 26, where Howard launched a pretty fade pass to Shelton Gibson in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. It was Gibson's first career touchdown reception.
Early in the fourth quarter, Smallwood reached paydirt when he took a Howard handoff and raced 19 yards untouched into the end zone, Josh Lambert's conversion pushing West Virginia's lead to 37-0.
The Mountaineers' final TD came with 5:21 left and with backup quarterback William Crest Jr. in the game. All 41 yards of the drive were produced on the ground with Crest Jr. taking it in from the two.
Josh Lambert kicked three first-half field goals of 26, 32 and 22 yards.
Howard completed 16 of 25 passes for 359 yards and two touchdowns, his other TD throw going to Durante on the game's opening drive when the freshman speedster beat single coverage down the near sideline for a 41-yard score. It was Durante's first career catch and he finished the night with three catches for 121 yards in his college debut, while Gibson had a game-high 130 yards on just three receptions.
"I'm excited with how those guys performed," said Holgorsen of his two young wide receivers. "We have two receivers that have over 100 yards in the first game of the year with a new quarterback is exciting. Those two guys can run, and we told you they can run. We're going to ask them to do a lot more than just run fast and catch balls down field."
Smallwood just missed a 100-yard rushing performance, the junior going for 96 yards on 11 carries while Shell added 42 yards on eight totes.
Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida, who led the country last year with an average of 8.7 yards per carry, finished the night with 70 yards on 17 attempts.
Eagle backup quarterback Upshaw, playing in place of the suspended Kevin Ellison, had a miserable night throwing the football. The junior completed six passes – two to his own guys and four to West Virginia players – to finish the night with a -27.4 passer rating.
The shutout was Gibson's second as West Virginia's defensive coordinator. The first came in last year's 54-0 win over Towson.
"Great job by West Virginia," said veteran Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz. "I was very impressed. Coach Holgorsen and his staff really did an excellent job. Coach Gibson's defense tonight … I know they prepared for us for quite some time. Obviously they did a great job with their preparation and my hat's off to their staff and their team for going out and executing and playing a tremendous ball game."
"Georgia Southern is a tricky bunch," added Holgorsen. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have guessed that we would beat them 44-0 because of what they do offensively. Defensively, they don't give up points like that every often."
West Virginia (1-0) is back in action next Saturday against Liberty at Milan Puskar Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:00 p.m. Tickets are on sale at WVUGAME.com and 1-800-WVU GAME.
Georgia Southern (0-1) returns home to play against Western Michigan in Statesboro.

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