Burned by running QBs before, WVU will face another one vs. Orange
ORLANDO, Fla. - The last time the West Virginia University football team played a game, the Mountaineers held Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray to just nine carries.
The trouble, of course, is Murray ran for 114 yards on those nine carries - including a 55-yard touchdown - as the Sooners slipped past WVU in the regular-season finale. Murray went on to lead Oklahoma to the Big 12 championship, a spot in the College Football Playoff and claim the Heisman Trophy.
A little more than a month later and West Virginia is tasked with stopping another running quarterback in Friday’s Camping World Bowl (5:15 p.m., ESPN). The Mountaineers have faced the best in the country in Murray, but Syracuse senior Eric Dungey is no slouch.
The WVU defense knows it is in for a test from the Oregon native, but the act of preparing for a mobile quarterback is certainly not new for this West Virginia team.
“I don’t think it’s any different from other guys we’ve prepared for,” WVU linebacker David Long said Tuesday during WVU’s media session. “But we’ve definitely had more time to prepare and work on the stuff that has hurt us when we’ve faced mobile quarterbacks.”
Murray wasn’t the only opposing quarterback to bust up the West Virginia defense on the ground this season. The week before the loss to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius ran for 106 yards and a touchdown as the Cowboys rallied to beat WVU. Back in September the Mountaineers nearly blew a 25-point halftime lead in a 42-34 win in Lubbock, Texas, as Texas Tech backup quarterback Jett Duffey came in the game and ran for 86 yards and a touchdown after starter Alan Bowman was injured.
So if you take West Virginia’s three losses and the near-loss at Texas Tech, quarterbacks have used their legs to punish WVU in three of those four games. It’s been a common thread for this team - when the other side’s quarterback is having success on the ground, the results have not been great for West Virginia. The Mountaineers know how important it is to limit what Dungey gets in the run game Friday.
“It kind of adds a 12th man to that offense that somebody has to account for, where most quarterbacks are just back there throwing the ball,” WVU senior defensive lineman Kenny Bigelow said. “He’s a real dual-threat kind of guy. He has, what, 15 touchdowns? So, he’s a really accomplished runner and is somebody we definitely have to keep track of.”
Dungey ran the ball 167 times this season for the Orange, gaining 732 yards for an average for 4.4 yards per carry to go with 15 rushing touchdowns.
“We definitely have to be more conscious of the ‘A’ gap, because, like I said, he does have the threat of being able to pull the ball and run it,” Bigelow said. “So, that’s someone I’m keeping an extra eye on now and probably won’t get off a block as fast, so I get a chance to get a little bit better.”
SYRACUSE UNFAMILIAR WITH BOWLS: Syracuse has not played in a bowl game since 2013 Texas Bowl, so this week’s festivities and preparation process are new for most of the Orange players.
“It takes a lot of focus,” Dungey said Tuesday. “It is the first bowl game for everyone on the team. There is a lot going on. I think today is going to be a huge practice for us to get mentally sharp and mentally prepared for the game. West Virginia is a tough opponent. We really have to bring it all.”
For Syracuse head coach Dino Babers, Friday’s game will be his first bowl appearance since leading Bowling Green to the Mid-American Conference title and a loss in the 2015 GoDaddy Bowl.
“Bowl preparation is different because you have a lot more time to do it and you do it at two different sites,” Babers said Tuesday. “Most of the work has already been done before we get down here, but you still have to fine-tune a lot of the little things to make sure that you are going to give a good performance.”
WVU QB AUDITIONS: Quarterback Will Grier’s decision to skip the Camping World Bowl left the West Virginia University football team with an opportunity.
Grier was a redshirt senior. If he had played, it would be his last game as a Mountaineer. Now that he is out of the picture, redshirt sophomore Jack Allison and freshman Trey Lowe can get a head start on their auditions for the starting job going into the 2019 season.
Allison was a well-regarded recruit coming out of high school and landed at the University of Miami. He wouldn’t stay long in Coral Gables, leaving the Hurricanes after a redshirt season and landing in Morgantown. He spent 2017 sitting out as a transfer and served as Grier’s backup this season. Allison saw limited playing time, completing 6 of 10 pass attempts for 75 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Camping World Bowl: West Virginia (8-3) vs. Syracuse (9-3)
5:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 28, Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
Radio: WWQB 102.3-FM