Categories
West Virginia Sports

McPhearson fumble return lifts Texas Tech over West Virginia

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Cornerback Zech McPhearson returned a fumble 56 yards for a touchdown with 8:44 left to lift Texas Tech to a 34-27 victory over West Virginia on Saturday night.
West Virginia’s Sam James caught a short pass from Jarret Doege but fumbled on a hit from Jacob Morganstern. McPhearson, a graduate transfer from Penn State, picked up the ball and went the length of the field untouched.
West Virginia punted from near midfield on its next series and got the ball back one last time at its 17 with 42 seconds left and no timeouts. Doege moved the Mountaineers past midfield but his pass into the end zone as the clock ran out fell incomplete.
“Just so proud of our players,” said Texas Tech coach Matt Wells. “Man, that was a 15-round fight. You traded blows, you just kind of went back and forth and we made one huge play at the end.”
“That’s what it comes down to. Find a way to make a play and win a game.”
West Virginia coach Neal Brown said the fumble return isn’t the reason why the Mountaineers lost. His team just didn’t have a response to a key play.
“They won the fourth quarter. They won the game,” Brown said. “We lost the fourth quarter. We lost the game. It’s pretty much that simple. They returned it and then we didn’t answer. This game’s not complicated. That was the story.”
Texas Tech (2-3, 1-3 Big 12) snapped a three-game home losing streak to the Mountaineers (3-2, 2-2). McPhearson’s heroics made a winner out of Henry Colombi, who was making his first career start.
Colombi, a junior transfer from Utah State, was named the starter a week ago after he replaced Alan Bowman midway through an Oct. 10 loss at Iowa State.
Colombi completed 22 of 28 passes for 168 yards and one score. He also ran for 40 yards and another TD.
“I thought Henry was very, very steady,” Wells said.
West Virginia’s Leddie Brown scored on two short runs but was held to 77 yards, well below his 129-yard average.
Doege was trying to win on the same field that he stormed as a fan in 2012 after his hometown Red Raiders beat then-No. 5 West Virginia behind his brother, quarterback Seth Doege.
West Virginia trailed 20-10 just before halftime after Colombi hit Trey Cleveland with an 11-yard scoring pass.
The Mountaineers got a 45-yard field goal from Evan Staley as time expired at the half. Then, after Dante Stills recovered a Ja’Lynn Polk fumble at the Texas Tech 24 to start the third quarter, T.J. Banks caught his first career touchdown pass, a 2-yarder from Doege to knot the score.
Doege completed 32 of 50 passes for 347 yards.
THE TAKEAWAY
West Virginia: The Mountaineers converted just four of 15 third-down chances and were plagued by several dropped passes. The nation’s top overall defense allowed Texas Tech to rush for 179 yards.
Texas Tech: Wells talked in the past week about “putting a better product on the field.” His players listened.
FAKE PUNT
Winston Wright took a direct snap on a fake punt and ran 7 yards to get a first down early in the third. Wright caught a 38-yard pass on the next play to set up Leddie Brown’s 1-yard score to tie the game at 30-30.
VETERAN MISTAKES
West Virginia linebacker Tony Fields, the Big 12’s leading tackler, was ejected in the second quarter after he was flagged for targeting on a hit on Colombi. Later in the quarter, Fields cost the Mountaineers 15 yards when he was penalized for going onto the field during a celebration.
Mountaineers cornerback Alonzo Addae, the team’s second-leading tackler, was flagged for a facemask penalty that helped keep a third-quarter Texas Tech touchdown drive alive.
UP NEXT
West Virginia hosts No. 20 Kansas State next Saturday.
Texas Tech hosts Oklahoma next Saturday.
___
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Categories
West Virginia Sports

Wells throws 2 TD passes, No. 22 Marshall beats FAU 20-9

By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Redshirt freshman Grant Wells showed some poise in the pocket when No. 22 Marshall faced its first deficit of the season.
Wells threw two touchdown passes, including a 41-yard strike for the go-ahead score, and the Thundering Herd beat pandemic-depleted Florida Atlantic 20-9 on Saturday.
“I just kind of stay in myself,” Wells said. “I’ve proven to myself that I can do everything that (offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey) has asked of me. And not to panic, because at that time we knew we had a lot of football game left to play.
“So just staying within myself and sticking to my reads because as soon as I start outside of my mind or start thinking about the score or anything else, that’s when mistakes start to happen.”
Marshall (5-0, 3-0 Conference USA) managed enough offense to hold off the pesky Owls (1-1, 1-1), who brought 57 players on their first trip of the season, just above the mandated minimum of 53 available scholarship players during the pandemic. The Owls even held a third-quarter lead before Marshall scored the final 13 points.
With FAU missing both of its starting offensive tackles due to the virus, the Owls were limited to 234 yards of offense.
“When you’re down guys and you don’t have everybody, you’ve got to execute,” FAU coach Willie Taggart said. “You’ve got to be on point with everything. You can’t panic. I thought our guys wanted it really bad. We weren’t focused enough to do the things we were supposed to do.”
Marshall came up with another solid performance in stopping the run. FAU quarterback Nick Tronti, who ran for 94 yards in the Owls’ only other game on Oct. 3, was held to minus-45 yards on 11 rushes and was sacked five times. The Thundering Herd entered Saturday third in the nation in rush defense at 68.5 yards per game.
“I thought our guys just fought their tails off,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “The defense played lights out.”
Marshall trailed in a game for the first time this season after Vladimir Rivas kicked a 43-yard field goal to put FAU ahead 9-7 midway through the third quarter.
The deficit didn’t last long.
Brenden Knox, the preseason Conference USA player of the year who finished with 101 yards rushing, ran 17 yards on third down on the next series. Wells capped the four-play drive with his long scoring pass to Artie Henry to put Marshall ahead to stay.
A short punt on FAU’s next drive set up Marshall inside the Owls’ territory, and Shane Ciucci converted a 35-yard field goal for a 17-9 lead.
Wells threw what appeared to be his third interception early in the fourth quarter, but FAU was called for a personal foul in the end zone. The officiating crew did not signal an incompletion, although Taggart said that from his vantage point, the ball appeared to be dropped.
Marshall was given a first down at the FAU 11, leading to a short field goal by Ciucci for the final margin.
Wells finished 18 of 31 for 251 yards.
FAU had a chance to make it a one-possession game but Tronti threw incomplete into the end zone on fourth-and-5 from the Marshall 17 with a little over 3 minutes left.
FAU was hurt by 11 penalties for 126 yards.
“We couldn’t have any selfish penalties,” Taggart said. “This game was close, but those penalties cost us. I think it’s a different ballgame, you take those penalties away.”
Knox was bottled up for much of the game but he occasionally found daylight. Knox took a first-quarter screen pass from Wells and went 58 yards down the right sideline to open the scoring.
THE TAKEAWAY
FAU: The Owls should be commended for staying in the game as long as they did. A total of 43 players who began fall camp did not make the trip, including 28 related to COVID-19. Five of the Owls’ first six games were canceled by the pandemic.
Marshall: The Thundering Herd’s offensive line got pushed around by FAU’s defensive line. Marshall’s 385 yards of total offense was 100 yards below its season average.
POLL IMPLICATIONS
While Marshall didn’t put on a scoreboard show, the Thundering Herd should hold onto their ranking or even gain a spot or two.
UP NEXT
FAU hosts UTSA next Saturday.
Marshall plays at Florida International on Friday night.
___
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Categories
National Sports West Virginia Sports

Steelers dominate early, hold off Titans for 27-24 win

By TERESA M. WALKER AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers stand alone as the AFC’s last undefeated team thanks to a dominant start and a bit of late luck.
Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes to Diontae Johnson, and the Steelers remained perfect by holding off Tennessee for a 27-24 victory Sunday in a game postponed three weeks after the Titans came down with the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak of the season.
In a matchup of the conference’s two remaining unbeaten teams, the Titans rallied by scoring 17 straight after being smothered in the first half.
They failed to complete the comeback when Stephen Gostkowski, who made a 51-yarder earlier, missed wide right from 45 yards with 14 seconds left, sending the Steelers running around the field in celebration and stunning the Titans (5-1). Even Roethlisberger appeared shocked the four-time Pro Bowl kicker missed.
“Oh, man. I mean, I was surprised he missed it,” Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. “Our idea was to go into overtime. A good kicker. It’s tough. It’s good for us.”
The Steelers improved to 6-0 for their best start since 1978, when Pittsburgh won its first seven on the way to the Super Bowl. This was just the fifth time undefeated teams had met in Week 7 or later, and the winner of the previous four all made the Super Bowl.
“We feel we have a really good football team,” Roethlisberger said. “We feel we can be really special … That’s going to be a short-lived happiness because we know what’s coming next.”
What comes next? A matchup with the rival Ravens.
“We are perfect from a record standpoint, and so we respect that,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “We realize that we’ve got AFC North ball on next week on the road. We’re going to a group that has seven days’ advantage on us, so there’s a lot for us to be urgent about.”
Benny Snell Jr. added a 1-yard TD run, and Ray-Ray McCloud set up a touchdown with a 57-yard punt return. Pittsburgh scored at least 26 points for a sixth straight game to tie a stretch in 2015 for the longest in franchise history.
The Steelers were without cornerback Mike Hilton, one of their best blitzers, not that the NFL’s No. 2 defense in both yards and points allowed missed him much. Pittsburgh outgained Tennessee 362-292 and held the NFL’s second-best scoring offense under 31 points for the first time since the opening week of the season.
But the Titans had won four of their first five by rallying in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime, and they appeared ready to add another.
Ryan Tannehill hit A.J. Brown on a short pass that the receiver took to the end zone for a 73-yard TD in the third quarter. Jayon Brown picked off a batted pass, setting up Gostkowski. Then Derrick Henry capped a 12-play drive with a 1-yard TD with 10:13 left to set up the late drama.
The Titans had the chance for another late win after Amani Hooker intercepted Roethlisberger’s pass to Smith-Schuster in the back of the end zone with 2:35 left. It was Roethlisberger’s third of the game, which Tennessee turned into only a field goal.
Gostkowski had won the first three games this season for Tennessee with late field goals.
“It was a gut punch to see that kick go wide right,” Tannehill said. “Had a ton of confidence going out there that Stephen was going to nail that kick. Unfortunately, obviously, it was a little bit wide.”
Gostkowski said the kick was headed down the middle until it faded right late.
“Just very disappointed to let the team down like that,” Gostkowski said. “I was confident going out there but didn’t get it done.”
Pittsburgh dominated early with a 161-1 edge in total offense before the Titans’ second offensive possession. The Steelers led 24-7 at halftime.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time in 23 games, going 75 yards over 16 plays. Roethlisberger had his 1-yard TD pass to James Conner wiped out by penalty so he hit Johnson for an 11-yard TD and a 7-0 lead.
Snell Jr. capped the Steelers’ second drive for a 14-0 lead.
INJURIES
Steelers defensive end Chris Wormley was hurt early in the fourth. Johnson went to the sideline after a key third-down catch late in the game with what he called a bruised ankle. He missed last week’s game with a back injury.
Titans outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney hurt his left knee early in the third quarter but returned. Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton hurt a knee late in the first half.
SACK STREAK
Pittsburgh came in with an NFL-high 24 sacks and had two more, extending its streak to 63 straight games with at least one sack. That’s the longest active streak in the league and second-longest in NFL history — Tampa Bay went 69 straight games with at least one sack from Oct. 10, 1999, to Nov. 9, 2003. But they did snap a streak of six straight games with at least three or more sacks that dated to the 2019 season finale and had tied for longest in franchise history.
THIRD-DOWN WOES
The Titans came in with the NFL’s worst defense on third down, and they allowed Pittsburgh to convert their first seven. The Steelers finished 13 of 18 for a 72% conversion rate.
UP NEXT
Steelers: Visit Baltimore in a game rescheduled because of the Titans’ outbreak with the Ravens coming off their bye.
Titans: Visit Cincinnati in their first road game since Sept. 27.
__
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
West Virginia Sports

No. 22 Marshall schedules Nov. 7 game with Massachusetts

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — No. 22 Marshall has scheduled a Nov. 7 home football game against Massachusetts, athletic director Mike Hamrick said Monday.
Unbeaten Marshall (4-0, 2-0 Conference USA) had three other games called off this season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“With so much uncertainty this season, we’re just trying to give our fan base as many opportunities as possible to see the Thundering Herd,” Hamrick said.
UMass, an FBS independent, lost its season opener 41-0 Saturday at Georgia Southern.
The Minutemen announced the cancellation of their 2020 football season on Aug. 11 due to concerns surrounding the pandemic but later reversed course. On Sept. 21 the school said it would play a limited number of games to be announced as they are scheduled.
Marshall beat UMass 49-20 in their only other previous meeting in 2001 when the Minutemen competed in the Championship Subdivision Atlantic 10.

Categories
National Sports West Virginia Sports

Spillane’s shot: Steelers LB primed to replace injured Bush

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Robert Spillane doesn’t have Devin Bush’s pedigree. He doesn’t have Bush’s speed or game experience either.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Spillane or the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers believe he can’t fill in capably while Bush recovers from the torn ACL in his left knee he sustained in last Sunday’s win over Cleveland, an injury that ended the 2019 first-round pick’s season after just five games.
From the moment Spillane ran onto the field in the second quarter against the Browns while Bush slowly made his way to the sideline and ultimately to injured reserve, the message Spillane received from his teammates was simple: don’t worry about trying to be Bush-light.
“They told me ‘Rob, you belong out here. This is what you’re meant to do. So go out here and show everybody what we know you can do,'” Spillane said. “And that felt really good to hear from them.”
The player who’d been on the field for nine defensive snaps total during his brief three-year career before Sunday finished with six tackles in 30 snaps during a 38-7 dismantling of the Browns.
Heady territory for someone who wasn’t invited to the NFL scouting combine in the spring of 2018 after graduating from Western Michigan and fought his way onto the roster in Tennessee through an open tryout before doing the same in Pittsburgh in February 2019.
Spillane carved out a niche as a special teams ace and showed enough in practice that coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert opted against scouring the waiver wire looking for inside linebacker depth in the offseason after veteran Mark Barron was cut.
Their faith will now be tested with Bush scheduled to undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair his ACL, leaving Spillane as the top option to run out with the starters on Sunday when the unbeaten Steelers (5-0) travel to Tennessee (5-0).
It’s a fitting full-circle moment for Spillane. He was sitting at home in the Chicago suburbs in 2018 when the Titans reached out to offer him a look. He made the team and briefly graduated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster before being let go. He underwent a similar dance in Pittsburgh after earning a spot on the practice squad out of training camp in 2019. He was cut in late September and hung around for a couple of weeks hoping for a second chance. One arrived when he was re-signed to the practice squad in early October. A month later he was on the active roster. Now, he’ll get the first crack at lining up alongside veteran Vince Williams.
“In this business, you’ve got to be ready when your opportunity is called upon,” Spillane said. “I stayed in shape, working out and doing my thing, cardio and believing in myself.”
Consider it a requirement to stay in the family business. Spillane’s grandfather, Johnny Lattner, won the Heisman Trophy in 1953 while at Notre Dame before being taken in the first round by the Steelers in the 1954 draft. A severe knee injury ended his NFL career after just one season. Lattner, who died in 2016 at 83, followed his grandson’s development closely. The irony that they took very different paths to the same destination isn’t lost on Spillane.
“I just know he would be very proud of me,” Spillane said. “He’s always seen the work I put in … I know he’s looking down and he’s proud of the man I’ve become, not only as a football player but a man as well.”
While Tomlin stressed the Steelers will mix and match their linebacker combination at times, with Ulysses Gilbert and converted safety Marcus Allen among possible options to see spot duty, for now the majority of the snaps in Bush’s spot will go to Spillane. While the gap in their respective resumes is large — Bush was taken with the 10th overall pick in 2019 while Spillane didn’t even earn an invite to the combine — Tomlin pointed out the gap in experience isn’t nearly as large.
Yes, Bush hadn’t missed a snap this year. Still, he is just in his second season and spent just 4 1/2 games wearing the green dot given to the defensive signal-caller. Tomlin declined to say whether Spillane will carry those duties going forward, he made it very clear Spillane won’t be given any slack just because he isn’t Bush.
“Through game-planning we will look at options in terms of dividing the labor, but Robert will be the primary man responsible for replacing Devin,” Tomlin said. “We’re excited about watching him play and play to the standard of our expectations.”
NOTES: RG David DeCastro (abdomen) and WR Diontae Johnson (back), both of whom sat out against the Browns, will practice on Wednesday. … FB Derek Watt (hamstring), CB Mike Hilton (shoulder) will be limited early in the week.
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
Ohio Sports West Virginia Sports

Pitt-iful: Browns try to end 16-game losing streak at Heinz

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
The Browns have been pitiful in Pittsburgh — for half a century.
Whether playing in old Three Rivers Stadium or at Heinz Field, with its tricky winds and rowdy, towel-twirling fans, most of Cleveland’s trips down the Turnpike and across the Pennsylvania state line over the past five decades have not ended well.
The Browns are 6-41 in visits to the Steel City since 1970.
That haunted history of failure isn’t scaring Baker Mayfield.
“We are not worried about the past,” said the Browns quarterback, who is dealing with bruised ribs. “We are worried about right now.”
Off to their best start in 26 years, the Browns (4-1) carry a 16-game losing streak into Pittsburgh for Sunday’s matchup against the unbeaten Steelers (4-0), who will be seeing sensational defensive end Myles Garrett in person for the first time since he clobbered quarterback Mason Rudolph over the head with a swung helmet last November.
Garrett’s appearance only adds spice to a rivalry not needing any extra salt. Although it’s been lopsided for a while, there’s plenty of history and bad blood between the cities and their fans.
The Browns are one of the NFL’s surprise teams this season. The Steelers are, well, the Steelers. They’re 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
Although he’s an absurd 23-2-1 in his career against Cleveland, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knows better than to overlook the Browns.
“A lot of those guys — I looked at their roster today, they only have two guys that have 10 years of experience in the league,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not like these guys have been playing us for years and years and years and worrying about how many times the Steelers have won.
“That’s not what it’s about. It’s a new season, new teams, and they’re a really good football team.”
This will be the first taste of Browns-Steelers for tight end Austin Hooper after coming to Cleveland from Atlanta, where he experienced another of the NFL’s nastier rivalries.
“Falcons-Saints,” he said. “That would be a good one. You get all the fans in New Orleans fresh off Bourbon Street in there.”
Of course, there will be only 5,500 fans — and not the usual 68,000 — on hand on Sunday because of COVID-19 restrictions, and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski wasn’t sure if that would benefit Garrett and his teammates.
“It is hard for me to say,” he said. “I do know this: in our building, I heard all 12,000 of them.”
The Browns’ long losing skid at Heinz extends back to 2003, when quarterback Tim Couch had one of his finest moments in an orange helmet while leading Cleveland to a 33-13 win.
It’s been putrid in Pittsburgh since as the Browns have dropped 16 straight and gone 2-18 overall in their archrival’s hostile home since returning as an expansion team in 1999. Surprisingly, one of that awful Cleveland team’s two wins that season was a last-second, 16-15 victory at Pittsburgh.
They’ve had plenty of close calls, with three of Cleveland’s past five losses at Heinz coming by four points or fewer.
There could be plenty of reasons why the Browns have struggled in Pittsburgh, but Pro Bowl guard Joel Bitonio said there’s a basic bottom line.
“No. 1 is that they are a good team,” Bitonio said. “They have good players, they have a great defense, Big Ben and company on offense. And it is just a different atmosphere. You go down there and the fans do a good job of getting loud. It is kind of on the river right there, you get the wind coming in.
“I think kickers kind of think about that kind of stuff. But from a player’s perspective, it is just another game. I think the No. 1 thing for home-field advantage is, is your team good? And then they have a pretty good team over there.”
Before their horrors at Heinz began 17 years ago, the Browns had a 16-game losing streak from 1970 to 1986 at Pittsburgh. Once they finally ended a slide many Cleveland fans viewed as a jinx, the Browns won three in a row at Three Rivers, capped by a 51-0 blowout in the 1989 season opener.
A win this week could do wonders for these Browns.
“Obviously, division games are always meaningful for us, but they are undefeated and we are 4-1,” Mayfield said. “It is an extremely important game, but that is because it is the next one. We have to handle it that way, and we are on the road in somebody else’s house.”
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
Ohio Sports West Virginia Sports

Claypool’s climb: Steelers rookie WR drawing raves

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger predicted Chase Claypool’s breakout.
Now the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is gearing the rookie wide receiver for what comes next.
Score four touchdowns in a game, as Claypool did in a 38-29 win over Philadelphia last Sunday, and you’re no longer a secret. Do it from four different positions in four different formations and you forfeit any notion of being overlooked by opponents.
So while Roethlisberger encouraged Claypool to drink in the moment after becoming just the third rookie in NFL history to score three touchdowns receiving and one rushing in the same game, Roethlisberger also made sure to remind Claypool the path to the end zone will get much tougher from here.
“The thing I told him after the game is he isn’t going to be able to sneak up on anybody,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “So how is he going to rise to the occasion now that people are going to be watching him?”
Claypool’s answer is a testament to his western Canadian upbringing and the blue-collar work ethic he’s brought to the Steelers since being selected in the second round of the draft.
“Confidence definitely builds with games like that,” Claypool said. “(But) I’m not trying to act any different because of a performance.”
So while his phone blew up with messages in the immediate aftermath, the 22-year-old’s routine has not. He spent some of the brief downtime the grind of the regular season provides playing video games with his friends.
“We don’t talk football which is nice,” Claypool said. “Keeps me grounded.”
Good thing, because if the 6-foot-4, 238-pounder from Abbotsford, British Columbia, keeps making it look so easy to score, stardom is coming.
The player his teammates have dubbed “Mapletron” — an ode to similarly built former Detroit Lions standout Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Claypool’s Canadian roots — won the Steelers over in the run-up to the draft with his physical gifts. Still, it might be his mental acuity that’s helped him carve out a role so quickly.
In a way, the lack of a “normal” preseason because of the COVID-19 pandemic might have sped up Claypool’s education. No need to waste time trying to grasp the basics of the playbook for meaningless preseason games. Instead, Claypool and the other rookies were able to dive right into the details.
“The urgency increases when you’re getting ready for a regular-season game,” Claypool said. “I knew I had to have the playbook down before the first game, so that forced me to study more.”
Typically the Steelers like to break in their rookie wide receivers relatively slowly. Former All-Pro Antonio Brown was buried on the depth chart early in his career. Martavis Bryant sat on the bench during his first six games in 2014. James Washington is still trying to find consistent playing time a month into his third season. For as precocious as JuJu Smith-Schuster was in 2017 when he entered the league as the NFL’s youngest player, he wasn’t targeted 11 times in a game — as Claypool was against the Eagles — until early on in 2018.
“Sometimes, reps get sparse, and you can’t always get some of the young guys as many reps as you would like to get, especially without the offseason,” offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. “(Claypool) has done a fabulous job of keeping his body right. He’s in great condition so it allows his mind not to wander. He’s been executing. Guys at practice, young guys at practice put the time in, generally good things happen, and you’re seeing the result of that.”
Consider the variety in which Claypool reached the end zone against Philadelphia. He raced in on an end around from 2 yards in the first quarter. In the second quarter, he lined up split out wide to the left and ran away from everyone for a 32-yard score.
In the third, he stood behind three teammates at the 5-yard line, caught a flip from Roethlisberger and picked his way through traffic. In the fourth, he was in the slot and didn’t miss a beat when Roethlisberger audibled to a route Claypool hadn’t run out of that formation. He sprinted past an overmatched linebacker and into the open to give the Steelers the cushion they’d need to improve to 4-0 for the first time in 41 years.
Coach Mike Tomlin downplayed Claypool’s impact, attributing his success as much to a matchup the team liked as anything else. It’s not an unusual tact for Tomlin, who rarely singles out individual performances no matter how eye-popping. That’s fine by Claypool, who plans to remain a willing participant on special teams or in any other area that keeps the Steelers in what figures to be a competitive AFC North race.
He expects the surging Browns (4-1) to keep tabs on him when Cleveland visits Heinz Field on Sunday. That’s fine by Claypool, who figures the more attention the Browns pay to him, the better it is for the other playmakers at Roethlisberger’s disposal.
“There might be a safety creeping over my side and corner might follow,” Claypool said. “That opens things up for other people as well. I’m not too worried about it.”
NOTES: G David DeCastro (abdomen), C Maurkice Pouncey (foot), TE Eric Ebron (hand), WR Dionate Johnson (hand) and Smith-Schuster (knee) did not practice on Wednesday. … LB T.J. Watt (shoulder) was limited. … FB Derek Watt (hamstring) and LB Marcus Allen (foot), who both sat out last week, were full participants.
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
West Virginia Sports

Kansas hopes to have coach Les Miles back at West Virginia

By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer
Four games into the college season, West Virginia will finally welcome thousands of people to a home football game. Kansas plans to have coach Les Miles there, too.
Miles announced last week that he tested positive for COVID-19 and has quarantined at his home. In a video Sunday, Miles said his health was good and “I can’t wait to get back to our players and our coaches as soon as it is safe to do so.”
On Wednesday, Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said Miles was expected to be at Saturday’s game “as long as things stay on track.”
Kansas defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said Miles is popular among his players, “so it has kind of motivated them to make sure that while he’s away, that they stay the course and continue to prepare for West Virginia.”
The Mountaineers (2-1, 1-1 Big 12) are allowing up to 15,000 fans, or 25% of the stadium capacity, when they welcome the Jayhawks (0-3, 0-2).
In two previous home games, only the families of players and coaches were allowed to attend.
“I’m excited about welcoming back our fans,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “We’ve missed them. We’ve missed our season ticket holders. We’ve missed our students and we’ve missed our alumni. I anticipate a great atmosphere.”
West Virginia has won six straight in the series.
Some other things to know about the Jayhawks and Mountaineers:
OFFENSES NEED HELP
Both teams are looking to get more out of their offenses. Kansas ranks last among the 76 FBS teams that have played with 8.2 passing yards per completion. West Virginia is 59th at 10.6 yards.
Brown said he’s looking for either broken tackles on runs or more explosive pass plays. Jarret Doege threw 42 passes in a double-overtime win over Baylor but had just 211 yards.
Offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said if long passes fall incomplete, West Virginia needs to keep throwing them.
“Back from where I grew up, there’s an old adage: You can’t win the Kentucky Derby by screaming ‘whoa,'” Parker said. “We don’t want to sit there and say whoa. We want to say go, go go.”
YOUNG DEFENSE
Kansas has given significant playing time to several young players on defense. Eliot said Kansas has had missed opportunities with three dropped interceptions and three forced fumbles that weren’t recovered.
“We’re developing some depth at these positions, so hopefully we can get the play count down by each player and we can get some fresh guys out there that can play hard and play aggressive,” he said.
POOKA AND PARCHMENT
Brown is wary of two Kansas stars who have not quite gotten on track this season.
Running back Pooka Williams is coming off back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons. The 2018 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year has yet to surpass 100 yards in a game in 2020.
“I fully expect them to line him up all over the field,” Brown said. “He’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for.”
Andrew Parchment caught five passes for 132 yards and two scores in a 29-24 loss to the Mountaineers last year. The senior has 75 receiving yards this season, including a touchdown.
“The Parchment kid really hurt us last year,” Brown said.
STILLS BROTHERS
West Virginia defensive lineman Darius Stills, the preseason Big 12 defensive player of the year, is coming off a 2.5-sack performance against Baylor. His younger brother, Dante, has an 10-7 edge in tackles so far. The pair each had seven sacks a year ago.
“I try to do better, or just try and compete with him, because you know right now he’s playing at a really high level,” Dante Stills said. “I’ve got to try and match that. We don’t really compete in a battle. We compete in trying to get each other better.”
FIVE IN FIVE
West Virginia is the only Big 12 team scheduled to play in each of the next five weeks. The Mountaineers are entering the easiest stretch of the schedule. Their next game is at Texas Tech (1-2, 0-2) on Oct. 24.
___
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Categories
National Sports West Virginia Sports

Same old Browns? Cleveland can quiet critics in Pittsburgh

By WILL GRAVES AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The trappings of a rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns have lingered even as the results have grown remarkably one-sided.
Bad blood. Trash talk. Emotionally charged games. The only thing the long-running series has lacked for the better part of a quarter century returns Sunday when the unbeaten Steelers (4-0) host the surging Browns (4-1).
Actual stakes.
Pittsburgh is off to its best start in 41 years, but has gotten there by beating teams with a combined record of 3-15-1. The Browns haven’t been this good a month into the season since Bill Belichick was roaming the sidelines in something other than a hoodie with the sleeves cut off.
Yes, this is different. So different that Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett’s first visit to Pittsburgh since he ripped off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it at him last November is not a major part of the narrative but simply outside “noise” both sides intend to tune out.
“What transpired doesn’t really matter to me,” Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward said.
The same goes in Cleveland. There’s simply too much on the line.
A year ago, the preseason hype train surrounding the Browns disintegrated as Cleveland devolved into a hot mess that cost then head coach Freddie Kitchens his job. Kevin Stefanski’s arrival has brought a sense of stability and professionalism not to mention a punishing running game and an approach that relies more on accountability than swagger. The constant drama the Browns couldn’t seem to escape in 2019 — drama that reached its peak with Garrett’s now infamous helmet swing — is gone. Mostly.
“Myles is a great player, a great person and a great teammate,” Browns running back Kareem Hunt said. “You just learn a lot going through situations like that. You just have to come ready, forget about all that stuff and do whatever you can. This one is for Myles. This one is for Cleveland Browns fans. This one is for a lot of things.”
Respect being perhaps at the top of the list for a franchise that hasn’t reached the postseason in 18 years or won in Pittsburgh in 17.
“Once again, we are not worried about the past,” Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We are worried about right now. The next game is the most important one, and we have a very good division opponent we are going up against in their house.”
A house where the Steelers have treated Cleveland the way Lucy treats Charlie Brown, forever dangling the football in front of them before pulling it away at the last second. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has never lost to the Browns at Heinz Field and is off to a red-hot start in his return from right-elbow surgery that cost him most of 2019. Roethlisberger, an Ohio native, is 23-2-1 all-time against the team that bypassed him in the 2004 draft. Still, he’s wary while facing Garrett, whose six sacks lead the NFL.
“You can say what you want about past records and times played, but those are previous years,” said Roethlisberger, who has 10 touchdown passes against just one interception. “This is a new football team, new coaching staff, but they obviously have a new staff. We’re a new team. They’re a new team. They’re a good football team, really good.”
MAX PROTECTION
Mayfield was limited in practice this week while nursing tender ribs. For Cleveland to pull off the upset, the offensive line will need to keep Mayfield out of harm’s way and do it while facing the team that’s tied for the league lead in sacks with 20.
The group in front of Mayfield has been pretty steady so far. Mayfield, who has been effective on roll-out throws, has only been sacked seven times and the 22 pressures allowed are a league-low.
“I believe in our guys, first and foremost, no matter who we are facing,” he said. “Obviously, the challenge with the Steelers defense is that we are going to have ups and downs throughout the game. It is not going to be perfect, and we know that. That is what comes with these challenging games and when you play great teams.”
CHASE ON THE CASE
Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver Chase Claypool is coming off a record-setting performance against Philadelphia in which he became the first Steelers player to score four times in a game since 1968. Claypool’s rapid development gives Roethlisberger another target in an offense that has scored at least 26 points in its first four games for the first time in franchise history. It also means, however, that the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Canadian can no longer fly under the radar of opponents.
“The thing I told him after the game is he isn’t going to be able to sneak up on anybody,” Roethlisberger said. “So how is he going to rise to the occasion now that people are going to be watching him?”
PURPLE PEOPLE
Stefanski and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin share roots stretching to Minnesota.
They were both on the Vikings staff in 2006, Tomlin as the team’s defensive coordinator and Stefanski as an assistant to then-coach Brad Childress.
In fact, Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer, wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea and Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar also coached in Minnesota.
Stefanski has remained friends with Tomlin and admires the consistency of his teams in Pittsburgh.
“They are always prepared,” Stefanski said. “He does everything. They win football games any which way they need to. He is a very outstanding coach.”
___
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.
___
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Categories
West Virginia Sports

College football graduate transfers making immediate impacts

By JOHN RABY AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Tony Fields had the desert in his blood growing up in Las Vegas and as a three-year starter at Arizona.
Heading to the tree-lined hills of West Virginia might seem like a whole ‘nother world. For Fields, it was an easy choice.
“I like nature, so coming out in West Virginia, it wasn’t a real problem for me because I like the trees, I like the atmosphere here,” Fields said. “It’s good to get away from the heat every now and then.”
Fields is putting the heat on opponents back East, making an immediate impact at middle linebacker since coming to West Virginia over the summer as a graduate transfer.
Fields leads the Big 12 with 29 tackles and also has an interception and a sack. The team’s second-leading tackler is a New Hampshire transfer, Alonzo Addae.
Both came to the Mountaineers by way of Addae’s cousin, West Virginia cornerbacks coach Jahmile Addae, who spent five seasons as an assistant at Arizona. Jahmile Addae originally recruited Fields to Arizona.
Fields was pivotal in a double-overtime win over Baylor last Saturday with 10 tackles when West Virginia leaned on its defense because the offense was having problems getting traction.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown refers to Fields as a “train stopper,” someone who can lead during times of adversity.
“He’s got a calmness about him,” Brown said. “He’s always cognizant of how young we are and what kind of example he’s setting. And I appreciate that.
“I told him we need you to come in and make plays. But we also need somebody that we can point to and say, hey, this is how you react. This is how you prepare. And he’s done that for us.”
As experienced as Fields is, he’s getting to see something new, as many transfers do. In this case, it’s the mid-Atlantic’s fall foliage and, eventually, frigid weather.
“Expecting the cold coming up soon, I don’t know about how I’m going to feel about that, though,” Fields said.
Other graduate transfers are already making impacts at their new schools:
K.J. COSTELLO, QB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
All the ex-Stanford transfer did in his first game with the Bulldogs was throw for an SEC-record 623 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-34 win over LSU. Costello cooled off last week against Arkansas, throwing for a touchdown with three interceptions, giving him five picks already on the season. His average of 468 passing yards per game leads the nation.
KHALIL HERBERT, RB, VIRGINIA TECH
The Kansas transfer has provided a big lift to a No. 19 Virginia Tech squad hit hard by a combination of the coronavirus and injuries. He ran for 208 yards last Saturday at Duke, including a 60-yard TD run with 2:20 left to make it a two-possession game. He also had an 83-yard kickoff return. Herbert leads the nation at 156 yards per game and is averaging 12 yards per carry.
D’ERIQ KING, QB, MIAMI
The Houston transfer is completing 67% of his pass attempts and has thrown six touchdown passes in three games without an interception for the seventh-ranked Hurricanes. Miami coach Manny Diaz has emphasized getting more explosive plays in the passing game, and King has delivered. He threw TD passes of 47 and 75 yard in a win over Louisville and scoring throws of 24 and 40 yards in a win over Florida State.
FELEIPE FRANKS, QB, ARKANSAS
The ex-Florida quarterback helped the Razorbacks end a 20-game losing streak in the SEC against Mississippi State last week.
BRENDEN SCHOOLER, WR, TEXAS
Schooler is a double transfer, having gone from Oregon to Arizona to the 22nd-ranked Longhorns. In two games, he has 10 receptions for 123 yards and two TDs. His brother, Colin, an Arizona grad transfer, is a starting linebacker at Texas Tech.
___
This version corrects that Herbert’s 60-yard run made it a two-possession game and was not the go-ahead score.
___
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25