At this point in the season, most expected the West Virginia Mountaineers to be 1-4. Picked to finish dead last in the Big 12, WVU took that personally, according to Head Coach Neal Brown. They certainly played like it, especially in the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs. With a 24-21 win, the gritty Mountaineers win their fourth in a row.
Gritty Mountaineers Win Their Fourth
We wrote in our personal notes on the game that the first half produced an odd statistical anomaly. TCU led 21-14 going into the locker room. The Horned Frogs amassed 309 yards on 47 plays. West Virginia ran just 33 plays for 188 yards. But they were winning the time of possession battle by two full minutes. They were still playing the game the way they wanted to play it. In some ways, it felt like a matter of time before the Mountaineers flipped the score and took control.
Indeed, the third quarter shifted that momentum completely, as West Virginia amassed 129 yards and surrendered just one, yes one, yard to a powerful TCU offense. By this point, they held nearly a nine-minute time of possession gap, and they had knotted the game at 21 each.
The fourth quarter truly became a battle of wills. West Virginia lost two players with what could be season-ending injuries in Aubrey Burks and Trey Lathan. They had several other players, including Sean Martin and Mike Lockhart shaken up in the quarter, too. Hershey McLaurin, who played his best football of the season, also had to leave the game early.
The Mountaineers, however, got a long field goal from Michael Hayes with nine-and-a-half minutes in the fourth to take a 24-21 lead that they never yielded.
Discipline Favors the Mountaineers
In his pre-season commentary, Brown repeated a theme. He said his team had to play with more discipline and make fewer mistakes. He said they had to control the lines of scrimmage and play penalty-free football. This was not the first time we heard that from him. Brown said similar things before the last two seasons. So far, though, his players appear to have finally bought in on the mantra.
Look, if you are going to play clock control, run-first football, your margin for error remains razor thin. Everybody knows it. Brown chose to build that type of program in West Virginia, seemingly inspired by Mountaineer legend Don Nehlen. He has been saying it since his very first Big 12 Media Days appearance. Early in the broadcast, we heard the ESPN2 announcers say that the Mountaineers were the only team in the Big 12 to total more rushing yards than passing yards. This mirrors precisely what he said. All the other teams, he observed, were shifting to a more defensive-oriented approach. He wanted to do that better. Brown wanted to run the ball with authority when everyone knew they were going to do it.
To do so, however, WVU has needed to show more discipline. Finally, it appears, that approach pays dividends.
WVU Wins the Trenches and the Game
Simply put, West Virginia won the critical trench battles. The Mountaineers ran for 201 yards (and they remain perfect in games played under Brown where they reached that plateau). They averaged over four-and-a-half yards per carry. They won those critical battles on the offensive line. The pass protection was not needed too much as Garrett Greene threw just 21 passes. But they held and surrendered zero sacks, despite elite-level coverage from the Horned Frogs’ secondary.
Defensively, the lines put on a display. Four sacks and numerous tackles for loss tell that story well. If that was not enough, just look at the two blocked field goals in the fourth quarter that prevented TCU from knotting the game in two attempts. The lines were not perfect. Through the first half, the defense had Chandler Morris wrapped up half a dozen times, but he escaped again and again. To begin the fourth quarter, West Virginia’s offense had the ball 2nd and goal on the three, and TCU stopped the run-heavy Mountaineers three straight times to turn the ball over on downs.
The secondary dropped at least three (maybe four) interceptions, at least two of which were clear pick-sixes. But West Virginia again played low-mistake football. They were called for just two penalties for ten yards against TCU’s seven for 63 yards. They did not win the yardage battle (TCU put up 421 to West Virginia’s 343). West Virginia did win the clock battle (33:27 to 26:33). With that, the gritty Mountaineers won their fourth straight and move to 4-1 on the season.