WVU Throws One Away
The 2021 edition of West Virginia football is officially underway. Head Coach Neal Brown kicked off his third season in Morgantown with a tough loss to Maryland. After failing to capitalize on multiple opportunities to put the game out of reach in the third quarter, WVU throws one away late.
Defense Starts Shaky
Through the first quarter, the Maryland offense looked high-powered, and the defense found itself out of position. Taulia Tagovailoa made the team pay every time it dialed up pressure. Daryl Porter Jr. found himself out of position on a long bomb to Dontay Demus, and Maryland took a 17-7 lead with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
Fortunately, Winston Wright returned the ensuing kickoff for 98 yards. Leddie Brown punched it in on the next play. Like that, West Virginia closed the gap to 17-14 to end the quarter.
Mountaineers Balk at Opportunity
After a stop by the defense, West Virginia marched 68 yards in its first drive of the second quarter. Then Brown capped off the drive with a nine-yard touchdown run for his third of the half. WVU found itself holding a 21-17 lead five minutes into the quarter.
WVU’s defense stiffened. Maryland had just 18 total yards on its next three drives. All three drives ended with big plays in the backfield. VanDarius Cowan led the way with a sack. Jackie Matthews ended the next drive with a tackle for loss on a pass to the flat. Finally, Dante Stills ended the next Maryland drive with an open field sack that pushed Maryland just outside of its kicker’s range.
West Virginia, however, coughed up the ball on two straight drives. Jarrett Doege felt pressure and threw a sky ball for a Maryland interception. Then, Wright muffed a punt. Absent stellar play by the defense, the quick changes could have easily resulted in 14 points. But the turnovers themselves kept the ball out of Doege and Brown’s hands and probably left points off the board. Those points would prove vital later in the game.
Maryland found an extra three points to close the half, with the Mountaineers clinging to a one-point lead.
Defensive Third Quarter
Neither offense could move the ball in the third quarter. West Virginia fell victim to several self-inflicted wounds, including their third dropped pass of the game. The Mountaineers’ defense put the offense in a great position to break open a substantial lead by holding Maryland to three straight three-and-outs.
Unfortunately, Doege and company simply could not move the ball. As a result, West Virginia continued to cling to its 21-20 lead going into the final frame. As such, the Mountaineers continued to squander critical opportunities to put the game away.
Doege Throws It Away in the Fourth
Maryland started the fourth quarter sustaining a drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. With a field goal, Maryland took a two-point lead.
Wright electrified again with another massive kick return. Doege and Sam James seemed to have redeemed themselves their earlier mistakes with a long completion inside the 20. Momentum seemed to flip all the way over in West Virginia’s favor, but Doege threw a dangerous fade into double-coverage looking to force a reward into James’ hands.
Maryland took over at their own 25 with eight minutes left, with the Mountaineers losing the turnover battle by four, a far cry from the Terps team that surrendered nearly two turnovers per game more than they forced in 2020. That turnover led to a 60-yard bomb to Rakim Jarrett giving Maryland a 31-20 lead with six minutes left in the game.
Comeback Falls Short
On the ensuing drive, Doege left his two picks in the past and marched the Mountaineers down the field to set up a field goal with just under three minutes left.
With three timeouts remaining, Coach Brown trusted his defense to make some plays. Predictably, Maryland started with two straight runs, leading to a third-and-three with one timeout and two-and-a-half minutes left. Then, Maryland dialed up a designed run for Tagovailoa, who found four yards to the outside, effectively ending West Virginia’s hopes for a late comeback surge. A big run on the following play inserted the final dagger.
Mountaineers Need Help
It is hard to measure a season too much by a single game. But the Mountaineers definitely need help on a few fronts. Called the most improved player on the team in the off-season, Doege definitely did not translate that on the field. Three dropped passes to open the season do not inspire confidence that any of those issues have been fixed.
Four turnovers surrendered put the Mountaineers well behind the eight-ball, and they simply could not overcome. Finally, the fact that Brown was the only ball carrier in the game seems problematic given the particular focus of the team during the offseason. Perhaps this is why a game plan that by all measures should have been run-heavy looked far different on the field. That said, the Mountaineers cannot rely as heavily on the pass as they did today.
After what should be a “gimme-game” next weekend against Long Island University, the road certainly does not get easier for West Virginia. They better fix the issues quickly if they have any hopes to see a positive season this year.