WVU head coach Neal Brown wanted his team to start faster.
It scored on the first drive of the game.
Brown discussed the importance of points off turnovers after failing to record them last week.
The Mountaineers scored 21 points off turnovers Saturday.
WVU (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) made drastic improvements in each phase of its game Saturday on the way to a 41-28 win over UCF (3-5, 0-5 Big 12) in Orlando Saturday afternoon.
“I sat here last Saturday after a disappointing loss and said [that] the one stat that really sticks out is points-off-turnover differential,” Brown said. “That’s something that we had worked a ton…We scored 21 points [off turnovers], and that was the story of the game.”
WVU’s early-game success wasn’t limited to its first drive, either. The Mountaineers scored on each of their first three drives Saturday afternoon.
WVU scored its first opening-drive touchdown since the TCU game in October of 2022 when junior quarterback Garrett Greene found pay dirt on a six-yard rush to finish a nine-play, 75-yard drive on the first sequence of the game.
After UCF responded with a score of its own, WVU reached a goal-to-go situation before settling for a 24-yard field goal by Michael Hayes.
The Knights appeared to be manufacturing another scoring drive of their own before UCF wide receiver Javon Bishop Jr. dropped a possible deep touchdown pass from quarterback John Rhys Plumlee that deflected off his foot into the hands of WVU cornerback Beanie Bishop Jr. for an interception.
Last week, WVU did not score any points off two turnovers against Oklahoma State. The Mountaineers scored a touchdown immediately after its first takeaway Saturday afternoon.
Greene led another scoring drive that was stamped with an eight-yard touchdown rush from Jahiem White to take a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
White and sophomore running back CJ Donaldson each had 40 yards rushing through after three successful scoring drives for the Mountaineers to start the game. Donaldson (117 yards, one touchdown) and White (85 yards, one touchdown) led WVU in rushing Saturday.
Nearly six minutes later, Plumlee matched Greene with a rushing touchdown of his own to narrow the lead to 17-14 in WVU’s favor.
Greene marched WVU into UCF territory late in the second quarter, but he left the game temporarily after suffering a lower-leg injury on a second-down run. On the very next play, backup quarterback Nicco Marchiol delivered a pass that was flipped to running back Jaylen Anderson on a hook-and-lateral, but Anderson fumbled for WVU’s first turnover of the day.
Seconds later, Plumlee threw his second interception of the day when WVU safety Marcis Floyd picked off the UCF quarterback’s first-down pass.
Each of the first eight drives in Saturday’s game ended in a score or a takeaway, but WVU punted and UCF collected some meaningless bulk yards on its final drive as the clock hit 0:00 to end the first half. The Mountaineers led 17-14 at the break.
UCF took the ball to start the second half. The Knights moved the ball 43 yards into WVU territory before Plumlee threw his third interception of the game when his receiver fell and Bishop snagged the pass for his second takeaway of the game.
Eight plays later, Greene kept an option-play for his second rushing touchdown of the day on a seven-yard score for a 24-14 lead. At that point, WVU led UCF 14-0 in points off turnovers.
The Knights responded to cut the lead to one score once more.
Plumlee worked his best drive of the day on an eight-play, 75-yard sequence. He found wide receiver Javon Baker on a seven-yard back-shoulder throw against Bishop for the touchdown to cut the lead to 24-21.
UCF had a chance to tie or take the lead late in the third quarter after forcing WVU’s second punt of the day. After collecting a quick first down, UCF turned the ball over for the fourth time when WVU defensive lineman Eddie Vesterinen recovered a fumble after a strip-sack of Plumlee by veteran WVU linebacker Lee Kpogba.
Greene improved WVU’s points-off-turnovers tally to 21 points on his third rushing touchdown four plays after the fumble for a 31-21 lead in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter.
The Mountaineers forced UCF’s first three-and-out of the day on the subsequent drive, and Donaldson delivered the dagger with his sixth rushing touchdown in as many games on a six-yard carry for the game-sealing 38-21 lead.
The Mountaineers scored on all seven red zone appearances Saturday.
Three of UCF’s final four drives included a fumble, a punt or a turnover on downs, and WVU added another field goal to reach the final score of 41-28.
“We’ve got a resilient group,” Brown said. “If you’ve been paying attention to us all year, we’ve been a group – even when bad things happen – we’ve always responded.”