^pBy TOM BRAGG
LAWRENCE, Kan. — Running back Martell Pettaway has been a big part of the West Virginia University offense for several seasons, but in last week’s win against North Carolina State the senior did not play a single snap despite being healthy.
That was not the case Saturday, as Pettaway not only played in WVU’s 29-24 win at Kansas to open Big 12 Conference play, but was arguably the Mountaineers’ star on offense against the Jayhawks.
“Last week, I know I wasn’t in the game plan but that’s fine,” Pettaway said. “I know it was what’s best for the team. This week, they decided to put me in.”
Pettaway, a Detroit native who finished Saturday’s game with 41 yards and two touchdowns on six carries, made the most of his first carry in two weeks. Early in the third quarter with West Virginia facing a third-and-3 at the Kansas 23-yard line, the Mountaineers just wanted to get a first down and continue their drive.
Quarterback Austin Kendall handed the ball to Pettaway, who twisted his way through the first level of the Kansas defense before outrunning the secondary on his way to the end zone.
“It was a short-yardage play and we were just looking to get the first down,” WVU offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Moore said. “I believe they blitzed us off the short side — we kind of unbalanced the formation and they actually had us. They had more over there than we could account for, and we didn’t think they’d make that adjustment that fast. [Lineman Kelby] Wickline did a good job of seeing it and one of the tight ends, I’m not sure which one it was, came over and got a hit to clear the way.”
Pettaway said when he saw how Kansas was lined up, he knew there was an opportunity to possibly score on the play.
“It felt great,” Pettaway said. “First carry of the game and a touchdown.
“I saw they were in a three-down front and there was one safety over the top. I already knew the play was on the cut-back side, but [tight end] Mike O’Laughlin made a hell of a block to cut off the linebacker and after I broke the tackle I just bounced back to where I new the hole was at. I knew it was going to be a touchdown if it happened like that, and it happened.”
Paving the way
West Virginia’s offensive line has gone through some significant personnel changes during the first month of the 2019 season, but for the second consecutive week the Mountaineers have been able to move defenders out of the way up front to open some space for their running backs to go to work.
“I thought running the ball, we did some good things,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “They were playing the run and had multiple hats in there, but I thought our running backs did a really good job running through some arm tackles and I thought we did a good job of covering up.”
West Virginia ran the ball for 192 yards on 48 carries as a team Saturday against the Jayhawks — by far the team’s highest output of the season. WVU accomplished that without offensive line mainstay Josh Sills, who missed his second consecutive game at right guard with a shoulder injury.
Chase Behrndt got the start in his place, and according to Moore played well.
“I just can’t say enough about these kids,” Moore said. “With what we went through the first two weeks, we made some changes — like Chase Behrndt has gone from the starting center, to a starting guard, to not starting at all and now back to starting guard. You just can’t say enough about how resilient these kids are. They’re fighting, and it starts with Colton McKivitz. He’s the leader of this group and he’s a fighter that comes out and works every day.”
Sophomore James Gmiter got his second consecutive start at left guard and while he did have some plays where he got beat, WVU’s coaching staff has been pleased with him the last two weeks.
“Gmiter, I think he gave up a sack and got bull-rushed one time,” Moore said. “Other than that, I thought he played really well. He’s one of those guys — he and Colton — they’re not going to stop. They’re the same way every day. They’re going to go hard every day, and they’re going to make some mistakes but they’re going to do it full speed.”
Then there was redshirt freshman Briason Mays at center.
“Mays came out Tuesday and I bet he had six bad snaps at practice,” Moore said. “I think he just does that to make me not sleep at night. He came back today and did a really nice job.”
Wind not a problem
Wind seemed to change the way both teams approached the kicking game on Saturday, but Brown said he didn’t think it played too big of a role in the game’s outcome.
“You know, I lived in Lubbock, Texas for three years — so, was it windy?” Brown said. “I’m just kidding. I thought it effected the one [missed WVU] field goal. The ball got caught up. I thought a couple of the kickoffs hung up in the air. I thought it was more of a factor in the first half. It wasn’t really a factor in the second half, and I don’t think it really played a role in the game.”