QB Chugunov Sees First Extended Action

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Based on the direction Will Grier‘s finger was pointing when he walked off the field in the first quarter of Saturday’s 28-14 loss to Texas, it’s probably safe to assume that Chris Chugunov will be getting the quarterback reps when the Mountaineers face 10-1 Oklahoma in Norman this Saturday.

Chugunov’s first meaningful game action in two seasons at West Virginia University yesterday against the Longhorns was clearly a mixed bag – some good, some not so good.

“Injuries are a part of college football,” West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen said afterward. “When that happens, guys need to step up; they need to go in there and play. I think for the most part Chugs did that. He made some critical mistakes, but everyone around him needs to elevate their game as well. I did not see that happen.”

The Mountaineers (7-4) played things close to the vest in the second quarter to help Chugunov get acquainted with his surroundings. He led the offense to one first down on his second possession, and hit Gary Jennings Jr. for 11 yards on the opening play of his third series for another first down.

But most of the play calls were Justin Crawford runs or safe passes near the line of scrimmage to steer clear of those two high Longhorn safeties.

In the second half, West Virginia tried some more downfield passing.

Chugunov’s best series came early in the fourth quarter soon after Texas took a 21-7 lead. Following two ineffective plays that made it third and 9 at the 25, the sophomore completed a pass over the middle to David Sills V for 13 yards to the WVU 38.

As he was releasing the ball, he took a brutal shot to the face from oncoming Longhorn linebacker Breckyn Hager, who was thrown out of the game for targeting. Another 15 yards was marched off on the play, moving the football to the Texas 47.

On the next play, Chugunov completed a 30-yard pass down the middle of the field that Ka’Raun White made a great adjustment on to haul in at the Longhorn 17.

Two runs netted six yards before five of that was erased on a false start. Another 4-yard run gave the Mountaineers a fourth and 5 at the 12. Here, Chugunov held his ground in the pocket, went through his reads, and fired a perfect strike to White for a 12-yard touchdown.

The drive consumed 76 yards in eight plays and was clearly the highlight of the afternoon.

But on West Virginia’s next possession, he felt the full wrath of the Longhorn defense with the football sitting near his own goal line.

Two plays after completing a tipped pass to Gary Jennings Jr. for 16 yards, Chugunov was sacked for a 5-yard loss by Gary Johnson. He lost the football as he fell to the ground and the Longhorns recovered it at the WVU 6, leading to the game-clinching score.

He fumbled again when he was sacked for a 13-yard loss by Antwuan Davis, but tackle Colton McKivitz was there to recover the ball at the 32.

“We are terrible on third down, and we are not very efficient in the run game,” Holgorsen pointed out. “Our completion percentage isn’t very good. That team (Texas) lost their quarterback about four games ago and went out and won three games. Is it unfortunate? Yeah. Is Will a good player? Yeah. He made a couple of mistakes early that were not very efficient either. It’s on me. I have to fix it.”

Holgorsen said the playbook was pretty much intact with Chugunov in the game.

“He’s been around here for three years,” Holgorsen said. “He wasn’t wide-eyed. I thought he went in there and played. Like I said, he doesn’t have a whole lot of experience. When that type of situation happens, you need everyone around him to elevate their game, and they didn’t. Who? Why? What? Name it. Receivers are not getting open and the O-line was not blocking. It wasn’t good.”

Chugunov completed 14-of-26 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown and managed to lead a struggling Mountaineer offense into the end zone for the first time since the second quarter of last week’s Kansas State game.

But West Virginia also generated a season-low 295 yards, was unsuccessful on 12 of its 16 third-down opportunities, and struggled to establish any consistency with its run game.

“We’re in a bad spot on offense,” Holgorsen said. “It’s my responsibility to get it right. There’s been some things that I overlooked. That’s not going to happen anymore. We’re going to work hard here to fix it in the next week. We have another big game next week at OU and then we have a bowl game. We have a lot of opportunity ahead of us to be able to continue to improve.”

This Saturday, Chugunov will at least have a full week of work under his belt instead of a moment’s notice to get ready.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is he will be facing the fourth-ranked football team in the country on its home field, looking to solidify its spot in this year’s College Football Playoff.

But crazier things have happened. Didn’t Iowa State go into Norman earlier this year with a backup quarterback and pull off a big upset?

That’s why they play the games.


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