The West Virginia Mountaineers came into Saturday’s game against the Baylor Bears trying to recover from a tough loss against Oklahoma State in a very winnable game. After that game, Head Coach Neal Brown reminded fans that the Mountaineers remain a young team. He added that the Mountaineers found ways to lose their game against the Cowboys. Saturday, after a few gutsy calls late in the game, especially on a 4th-and-1 in the first overtime, however, the Mountaineers rebounded well in a win Brown characterized as gritty. Coming off of an 11-3 season, Baylor returned numerous playmakers on both sides of the ball. But the Mountaineers held them to 21 points and only 27 rushing yards. The defense, obviously, performed well, and the offense, according to Brown, “didn’t lose the game.” Thus, while not the prettiest win (as Brown admits), the Mountaineers earned a gutsy win over Baylor.
Mountaineers Earn Gutsy Win Over Baylor
Failures Against Cowboys
The win really begins with an analysis of the Mountaineers’ loss last week to the Cowboys. In that game, the Mountaineers made what boils down to four game-changing mistakes. They committed too many penalties (12 penalties for 106 yards, to be exact). Jarret Doege held the ball too long in the pocket on a play and fumbled the ball leading to a scoop-and-score for Oklahoma State. And the defense found themselves out of place, leaving a single gap unfilled, on a long rushing touchdown by the Cowboys. Finally, the field goal unit muffed a snap taking three points off the board. Even with those issues, however, the Mountaineers found themselves within easy striking distance with nine minutes left in the game. Unfortunately, the found ways to lose that game. Brown harped on that in his post-game remarks after both the loss and this week’s win.
Successes Against Bears
After this week, however, Brown reminded fans and media that the defense played gritty football and held a potent Baylor offense to 21 points. And he added emphatically that the offense found ways “not to lose the game.” Brown provided quite the apt summary, and the details weave well within that framework.
The defense held a potent Baylor offense that finished 27th in the nation a year ago and returned two of its top three running backs, three of its top five receivers, and its signal caller–Charlie Brewer–to 14 points and and 231 yards (27 rushing yards) in regulation. They piled up six sacks, eleven tackles for loss, and two takeaways. The offense, on the other hands, scored only 14 points itself during regulation. After a strong opening drive, the offense found itself bogged down by some of the same mistakes it faced against the Cowboys. Drives stalled on false start penalties. Doege turned the ball over three times. And they have trouble stringing together enough positive plays to transfer the defensive momentum into points on the board.
Despite those issues, the defense held firm time and time again. The offense, behind 134 rushing yards and a 211-yard game from Doege, put up 14 points, which was enough to force the Bears into overtime.
Things looked bleak in the first overtime. On a third-and-long, Doege connected with Sam James who fought for a first down but found himself inches short. West Virginia found itself facing a 4th-and-inches situation. After getting a read on the Bears defensive set, Brown called a timeout. Brown could have easily head-faked and sent out his field goal unit. But, as he remarked after the game, “field goals don’t win in overtime.” So he kept the offense on the field. But instead of using a power run, Brown dialed up a quick strike to Mike O’Laughlin who earned more than enough yards for the first down. The catch preserved the drive and allowed West Virginia to put seven points on the board. Baylor’s first overtime possession looked far more efficient. In one play, the Bears dialed up a 25-yard touchdown reception to force double overtime.
On the next drive, the Bears went back to the well looking for a quick strike into the end zone. Sophomore safety Tykee Smith, however, had a different idea. He picked off Brewer’s pass and allowed the Mountaineers the opportunity to win the game with either a field goal or a touchdown. Ultimately, after another eight-yard catch by O’Laughlin and an offside penalty against Baylor, Leddie Brown ripped off three straight runs. On the final run, Brown rumbled for a three-yard touchdown, sealing the gusty win over Baylor.
Focus Moving Forward
The fans and coaches agree that the Mountaineers must still improve. Brown admitted the team is still not where he wants them to be. Indeed, he added that the team is still in “building mode,” and he confessed that they looked like it several times against Baylor. The offense certainly needs to limit mistakes. Special teams units also made two costly mistakes for two straight weeks. Last week, the field goal unit muffed a snap. This week, the punt return unit muffed a fair catch. Those mistakes can’t happen.
And while the Mountaineers look more aggressive on both offense and defense this season, that aggression has led to costly penalties. Those penalties include repeated false starts. They also include lapses in judgment like the frustrating block after the whistle by Bryce Ford-Wheaton.
And they include timing and discipline issues. For example, the Mountaineers defense, holding a 14-7 lead late in the fourth forced a Brewer incompletion on 3rd-and-10. But the referees assessed Tony Fields with an unnecessary roughness penalty, saving the drive and leading the Bears to knot the game at 14. In the past two games, West Virginia gifted two very talented teams a combined 208 yards through penalties. Simply, the Mountaineers must find ways to countenance aggression with patience to avoid the freebies.
Finally, the offense must find ways to improve its timing and focus. From the false starts to several critical drops in pressure situations, those things erase points in a hurry. And Doege needs to stay calm and take more ownership of his offense. Now in his fourth year, he possesses experience and maturity. But, at times, he lacked awareness and tried to do too much. Just a few improvements here can add a few scoring drives each game.
Still, No Apologies
The game certainly wasn’t pretty. The offense was sloppy. The defense surrendered a couple first downs on needless penalties. But the Mountaineers survived and found ways to win this game. Indeed, they lost a very similar-looking game to Baylor last season by three points. But the Mountaineers earned a gritty blue-collar win, and, in his closing post-game remarks, Coach Brown said what fans should all be thinking. A win is a win, and “we’ll take it” without apologies.