LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen kept reminding his team all week about its trip to Kansas two years ago, when the lightly regarded Jayhawks stormed to a victory over the Mountaineers.
The message apparently sunk in.
Skyler Howard threw for 133 yards and a touchdown, ran for 129 yards and another score on the ground, and led a grinding West Virginia offense that produced three 100-yard rushers in a 49-0 win over the Jayhawks on Saturday that made his team bowl-eligible for the second straight year.
“It meant a lot to our team to come here and play well,” Holgorsen said. “It had everything to do with us and nothing to do with them. And I give our players a bunch of credit for attacking this week the right way. They were ready to play.”
Wendell Smallwood ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and Rushel Shell finished with 108 yards and two more scores, as the Mountaineers (6-4, 3-4 Big 12) had a trio of 100-yard rushers for the first time since Sept. 13, 1969, against Cincinnati.
“It’s what we hang our hat on,” West Virginia running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider said. “We’ve been able to run the ball efficient, and we threw the ball well enough.”
Their defense did its job, too. It was West Virginia’s first road shutout since 2005.
“We’re not finished,” Howard said. “We still have two more to play. Still work to be done.”
Kansas (0-11, 0-9) only managed 221 yards of total offense, and was held to 94 on the ground. A good chunk of that came on a 29-yard run by De’Andre Mann in the fourth quarter.
“I thought they outplayed us on both sides of the ball, the kicking game. They out-coached us. There’s no other way to say it,” Kansas coach David Beaty said. “At the end of the day, we’re all responsible for that. Our players are responsible for their performance as well.”
Freshman quarterback Ryan Willis was 13 of 38 for 127 yards with three interceptions. The first, moments after Shell’s first TD run, was returned by Terrell Chestnut 32 yards for another touchdown that gave the Mountaineers a 14-0 lead with 11:15 left in the first quarter.
Things only got worse the rest of the way for Kansas.
After the Jayhawks went three-and-out — something they did seven times in the first half — the Mountaineers quickly moved 76 yards for another score to take a 21-0 lead.
Smallwood added a 24-yard TD run, Cody Clay caught a short touchdown pass from Howard, and the quarterback ran for his own touchdown as the Mountaineers took a 42-0 lead by the break.
The only drama in the second half was whether Shell would join Howard and Smallwood in breaking the 100-yard mark. He did it with a 19-yard carry late in the third quarter, making West Virginia the first to accomplish the feat against Kansas since Eric Crouch, Correll Buckhalter and Dan Alexander led Nebraska to a 56-17 romp on Nov. 4, 2000.
“We ran the ball. We wanted to run the ball. Didn’t know Skyler would be our leading rusher,” Holgorsen said, “but to have three 100-yard rushers, that’s obviously important to us.”
The total meltdown by the Jayhawks was largely unexpected.
While they have now lost 14 consecutive games dating to last season, they did show signs of progress a week ago against No. 11 TCU. The Jayhawks had the ball with a chance to drive for a go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes before falling, 23-17.
That near-miss didn’t do much to build fan support, though. There were only a few thousand fans in Memorial Stadium on a cold, blustery day, even though students don’t leave for Thanksgiving break until next week. The student section behind the West Virginia bench was especially empty.
One reporter for the school newspaper counted just over 400 students in attendance.
“We knew we were going to have to create our own energy on the sidelines,” West Virginia defensive lineman Kyle Rose said. “I thought we did a really good job of that.”