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Kendall tosses 2 TDs, West Virginia tops James Madison 20-13

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, left, and quarterback Austin Kendall, right, chat in-between plays during the first half of an NCAA college football game against James Madison Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Missouri had a rough Saturday at Wyoming, but Las Vegas isn’t too down on the Tigers (0-1). Barry Odom’s team is an early 14-point favorite over West Virginia for Saturday’s home opener.

How can that be? The Mountaineers (1-0) didn’t exactly impress in its season debut either. Under first-year coach Neal Brown, WVU held off James Madison 20-13 thanks in large part to a 3-0 advantage in the turnover margin.

If Missouri fans need some consolation this Labor Day, here’s a closer look at a West Virginia team that’s in rebuild mode:

• James Madison is one of the best teams in the FCS and the Dukes had chances to knock off the Mountaineers. JMU outgained its Big 12 opponent 328-294 in total yardage ... stopped WVU on 12 of 18 third downs ... had an 18-13 advantage in first downs ... and out-rushed WVU 172-34. The Mountaineers didn't take any snaps in the red zone.  

• WVU starts one of the country’s many Power 5 graduate transfer quarterbacks, Austin Kendall, who left Oklahoma after last season when the Sooners landed Alabama grad transfer Jalen Hurts. OU initially blocked Kendall’s request to play immediately at WVU but then relented after some negative media attention. Kendall was Baker Mayfield’s backup in 2017, redshirted in 2018 and served as Kyler Murray’s backup in 2018.

In his first career start, Kendall completed 27 of 42 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday.

"I thought he handled himself well,” WVU coach Neal Brown said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “We've got to do a better job around him. We had three blown pass protections. We gave up big hits and we had six drops in the game. I thought he did a commendable job. I thought he saw the game well. I thought he stood in the pocket and had some courage. I thought his decision making was good. But we've got to play better around him. We’ve got to be able to connect on the deep ball. Some of those were on the receiver. Some were on him.”

• WVU rushed for only 34 yards on 24 attempts Saturday. Not good. It was the Mountaineers’ first game under 100 rushing yards since the 2017 Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Utah. WVU didn’t have a run longer than 5 yards. Starting running back Kennedy McKoy ran for all of 11 yards on 11 carries, though he caught seven passes. Martell Pettaway was the team’s leading rusher with 20 yards on nine carries. Leddie Brown, the team’s No. 3 back, missed the game with an injury and is questionable to play at Mizzou, Neal Brown said.

“It’s got to be better. I think that’s pretty evident,” Neal Brown said of WVU’s running game. “We've got to strain harder up front," Brown said. "I think our offensive line was getting on people but they weren’t creating any movement, so we've got to strain. I think we've got to get more out of our tight ends. I don't think our tight ends were a factor in the game. Our running backs, I don't think read the run game very well. We didn't set up our blocks. And our quarterback has got to do a better job with his run fakes.”

“We’ve got to game-plan better, too,” he said. “We went into the game thinking we could win those 1-on-1 (blocks) and we didn’t have to necessarily trick them in the run game and we could just line up and play. That wasn’t the case.”

Brown said his team’s receiver blocking on the perimeter “was probably as bad as I've been around in a long time.”

• In his 40th game as Missouri’s head coach, this will be just the second time Barry Odom is older than the opponent’s head coach. Brown is 39. Odom is 42. Last year, Odom coached against Memphis’ Mike Norvell, who had just turned 37.

For still being in his 30s, Brown is a veteran coach, having gone 35-16 in four seasons as the head coach at Troy from 2015-18. Prior to that he was an offensive coordinator at Troy — getting the job in 2008 when he was just 28 — then Texas Tech and Kentucky.  He’s 1-3 as an assistant against Mizzou.

• The Mountaineers feature one local product, starting right guard Chase Behrndt, a junior from Lafayette High in Wildwood. He didn’t have a Mizzou offer coming out of high school and chose WVU over Illinois, Indiana, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. He made his fourth career start Saturday.

• Like Mizzou, West Virginia’s base defense is a 4-2-5 system under coordinator Vic Koenning with a nickelback replacing the third linebacker. WVU calls that fifth defensive back the Spear and on Saturday started Jovanni Stewart, a 5-8, 196-pound senior, at the hybrid linebacker/safety/nickel position that plays on the wide side of the formation. Here’s a Mizzou connection: Koenning was Troy’s defensive coordinator in the 2004 upset of Mizzou. He was also D coordinator at Kansas State in 2009 when Danario Alexander torched the Wildcats for 200 receiving yards and three touchdowns … and the coordinator at Illinois in 2010 when the Tigers beat the Illini in St. Louis on Blaine Gabbert and T.J. Moe’s big day.

• Here’s Brown on Mizzou’s season-opening loss at Wyoming: “The thing that sticks out is they threw the ball really well. They had a bunch of big plays. Kelly Bryant for his first start at Missouri did a really nice job. Wyoming offensively did a lot of motions and shifts and got numbers in the run game and were able to take advantage. Wyoming’s quarterback is a really, really good athlete. He can run and he broke some tackles. That was kind of the story of the game — that and Missouri turned the ball over. I think we’ll see a much different team in Columbia on Saturday.”

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