West Virginia’s season opened in heartbreak on Thursday, but there were plenty of positive performances by Mountaineers all over the gridiron.
Gold and Blue Nation will showcase the Elite Rooting Elite Player of the Week on this week’s edition of Mountaineer GameDay, which will be partly decided with the help of our viewers through a fan vote. Make sure to pick your best player of the week on the right.
Here are this week’s nominees:
QB JT Daniels
- Key stats: 24-34 passing, 214 passing yards, 2 touchdowns, one interception
Daniels got off to a strong start as a Mountaineer, completing six of his first eight passes and adding a touchdown. He remained steady throughout the contest and flashed his strong arm talent, recording four passes for 20 yards or more.
The redshirt junior also showed growing chemistry with Bryce Ford-Wheaton, with whom he connected twice for scores in the corner of the end zone.
Daniels also helped lead the Mountaineers down the field in the final moments of the game, coming up just inches short of a last-minute comeback.
RB CJ Donaldson
- Key stats: 7 rushes for 125 yards and a touchdown, plus a blocked punt
The freshman tailback had plenty of buzz during fall camp, but his first performance in the Old Gold and Blue surpassed that hype.
Donaldson burst out on his first carry, flipping the field in the second quarter with a 44-yard rush to convert a third down. It didn’t take him long in the second half to give WVU the lead, either. On Pitt’s opening drive, he slipped through the Panthers’ punt protection to block a punt in the opposing red zone. Donaldson punched the ball in on the next snap to give WVU its second lead of the game.
Four of his seven carries went for double-digit yards as he led the game in rushing. By the final whistle, he averaged 17.9 yards per carry.
WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton
- Key stats: 16 targets, nine catches, 97 yards, 2 touchdowns; 1 tackle
While Ford-Wheaton’s night ended in tragedy, there is no denying his importance to WVU’s strong offensive display. His connection with Daniels was apparent early as they pushed down the field for 22 yards on the first play of the game.
Ford-Wheaton ended the game as WVU’s receiving leader, scoring both of WVU’s receiving touchdowns in the effort. He also got in on the Mountaineers’ special teams work, adding a tackle on a punt.
DT Dante Stills
- Key stats: Six total tackles, two solo stops, 1.5 sacks, two tackles-for-loss, one forced fumble, one QB hurry
West Virginia’s own gave the Pitt offensive line fits all night in what Neal Brown called the best game of his career.
Pitt quarterback Kedon Slovis got to know Stills well as the Fairmont product got in on two sacks and added a hurry, all of which came in the second half.
With his performance on Thursday, Stills moves to third on WVU’s all-time list for career tackles-for-loss with 44 and sixth in career sacks with 19.