MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia had little trouble disposing of Eastern Kentucky in its COVID-19-delayed season opener this afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The Mountaineers built a 42-7 halftime lead and cruised to a 56-10 victory over the winless Colonels.
"It was a good win," West Virginia coach Neal Brown said afterward. "I'm just happy to be playing. It took a lot of work behind the scenes by a lot of people to get here.
"Just playing college football is a win," Brown added. "This was probably the most relaxed I've been for any game I've ever been involved with."
West Virginia (1-0) was supposed to open its season a week ago in Atlanta against Florida State, but the worldwide pandemic has forced cancellations and postponements throughout college football.
As a result, the Mountaineers lifted the lid on 2020 this weekend against an Eastern Kentucky team that dropped its season opener last Saturday at Marshall, 59-0. It's the only regular season non-conference game on West Virginia's schedule.
The Mountaineers played today's game before a high-school-sized crowd consisting of parents and family members with artificial noised piped in through the public address system and also without 11 players suspended an hour before kickoff, most notably offensive starters Chase Behrndt, Junior Uzebu, T.J. Simmons and tight ends T.J. Banks and Mike O'Laughlin.
Brown said afterward the suspensions were for this game only and were not a result of the COVID-19 virus.
"I love those guys, I believe in them and I believe they are going to be a big part of our success this year," Brown said.
True freshman Zach Frazier replaced Behrndt at center, redshirt freshman Brandon Yates filled in for Uzebu at left tackle and the Mountaineers used fullback Jackson Knipper at tight end during today's game.
But it didn't really matter, particularly for the No. 1 offense led by Jarret Doege, who completed 19 of his 25 pass attempts for 228 yards and three touchdowns in the first half before giving way to backups Austin Kendall and Garrett Greene.
Doege's touchdown aerials covered 15 yards to running back Leddie Brown, 32 yards to Sam James and 8 yards to Bryce Ford-Wheaton late in the second quarter.
Doege completed passes to seven different receivers during his efficient, two-quarter performance.
Leddie Brown was also impressive in his one half of action, rushing 10 times for a career-high 123 yards before giving way to backup Alec Sinkfield.
Sinkfield scored an 8-yard touchdown jaunt in the second quarter and had a 24-yard TD run negated in the third quarter when wide receiver Sean Ryan was flagged for holding, but he scored three plays later from the 17 to give the Mountaineers a 49-10 lead.
Sinkfield's touchdown run capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive that was directed by Kendall behind center. Kendall completed half of his six pass attempts for 43 yards during his two third-quarter possessions.
The running game, abysmal all last year, generated 329 yards with two different ball carriers exceeding 100 yards for the first time since Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy did it against Kansas in 2017.
Sinkfield finished the afternoon with 15 carries for 123 yards, both career highs.
True freshman Greene was inserted into the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter and led the Mountaineers on a 16-play, 96-yard march that ended in the end zone when redshirt freshman Tony Mathis Jr. squeezed in from the 3.
Mathis Jr. got the bulk of his 55 yards rushing during that drive, while Greene contributed 33 on the ground and completed 3 of his 4 pass attempts for 24 yards.
Defensively, Jared Bartlett, VanDarius Cowan, Taurus Simmons and true freshman Akheem Mesidor recorded sacks, senior Alonzo Addae registered an impressive diving interception, and Arizona transfer Tony Fields II led the Mountaineers with 10 total tackles.
EKU crossed the goal line in the second quarter when Patrick McKinney connected on a 28-yard scoring strike to Keyion Dixon, and added an Andrew Wozniak 32-yard field goal on its opening possession of the third quarter.
The Colonels (0-2) had points taken off the scoreboard in the second quarter when Davion Ross' 100-yard kickoff return was called back because of offsetting penalties.
Speaking of penalties, both teams were flagged a combined 16 times for 150 yards, many of those occurring during punts and kickoffs.
"Too many penalties on special teams," Brown said afterward.
Eastern Kentucky finished the afternoon with 204 total yards, 131 of those coming through the air.
Brown emptied his bench and played mostly backups and third-stringers in a second half, opting to keep the ball mostly on the ground to run clock after a two-hour first half.
More than 60 players saw action today despite the pregame suspensions.
The victory this afternoon improved West Virginia's record to 21-0 against FCS teams.
The official listed attendance for today's game was 976 - the first time during the modern era of Mountaineer football fewer than 1,000 spectators attended a home football game.
"We missed our fans," Brown noted. "I hope they had a good experience watching the game at home on their televisions."
The Mountaineers are idle next Saturday before opening Big 12 play on Saturday, Sept. 26 at Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys have rescheduled their season-opening game with Tulsa for next Saturday after several Golden Hurricanes were stricken with the COVID-19 virus.
A game time and television coverage for the Oklahoma State game will be announced next week.