The West Virginia Mountaineers were 6 for 17 on third down and 0 for 3 on fourth down. That is an efficiency percentage of 30%. For a season average that would rank as top ten worst in the country. In their three losses, they are 20 for 60 on critical downs. It seems like a pattern now. With a defense this stout, the offense absolutely needs to be efficient on third downs. You have to convert. We’ve said this time and time and time again but when you fail to stay ahead of the chains, this offense is not talented enough (that doesn’t feel right though) to overcome long down and distances. Being this inefficient on the critical downs puts the defense back on the field and wastes them.
Run Game / Offensive Line
When your offensive philosophy relies heavily on a one-back set, the offensive line has to be good. Brown did not inherit a good offensive line and he needed to change the premise that the line operated under. That takes time. Still, West Virginia does not often recruit at a level that allows it to be able to rely heavily on the run game and to push people around. Is that something Brown can recruit to and then adjust his offensive scheme to? That remains to be seen. At the same time, there almost always will be a talent disparity between Texas Longhorns, Oklahoma Sooners and the Mountaineers. That talent disparity was on full display Saturday. Leddie Brown was hobbled by an apparent hamstring/quad injury and was not himself. Alex Sinkfield is not Leddie Brown and he shouldn’t be asked to be Brown. They have different skillsets and banging square pegs into round holes is not effective. Still, only Brown and Sinkfield ran the ball. If your philosophy is to run the ball, shouldn’t there be another back you can plug in? I get that both A’Varius Sparrow and Tony Mathis are freshman, and maybe they just aren’t ready, but you’d hope that in the future, the Mountaineers aren’t hindered when one player is down.
The Non-Field Goals
Ok, let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. Unfortunately, this is an area where most of the second-guessing is going to happen this week and it is warranted. Let me be clear in that I understand the coach’s decision. He knew points were at a premium and moreso, he knew that in order for his team to win, he would need to get touchdowns. Unfortunately, going for, and failing, the first time on fourth down in the endzone instead of taking three points, forced the coach to go for it later on. He was chasing ghosts. This is common and has happened many times. In 2012, kicker Tyler Bitancurt missed an extra point to make the score 38-30 (instead of 38-31) and from then on, the Mountaineers were ghost chasers. They went for 2 (and failed) in an attempt to tie the game (when a made XP previously would have only needed a made XP to tie the game) and eventually the Mountaineers lost by one point.
In this case, Brown, in not electing to take the field goal, was down 17-13 in a position where he knew he may not get the ball back. He had to take the risk that if he didn’t score a touchdown here, he would not get the ball back. I ask you, do you feel better, if the Mountaineers kick a field goal to be down 17-16 and Texas still runs out the clock? I don’t and I think fans would be saying why didn’t you go for it? At the same time, had Brown kicked field goals at both instances, does Texas respond? We’ll never know but the defense was, by and large, playing lights out.
Being a West Virginia fan is rough. In the past 20 years, West Virginia has had a legit top 10 caliber defense. In both instances, those defenses have been saddled with an offense that just could not get out of its own way. In 2010 that was 95% on offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. Proof that in 2011, with a new offensive coach, the Mountaineers were much more efficient and effective. Still, in 2010, head coach Bill Stewart played to his defense’s strength, often times to the detriment of this offense. That is a discussion for another day. This year, in 2020, the defense is legit and the offense just isn’t talented enough to execute against the better competition.
The defense has not allowed more than 27 points per game in any contest. That is equal to TCU’s average offensive output (27 PPG) and they rank 78th in the nation. The median offensive output in the Big 12 is 29 PPG and West Virginia ranks better than that at 30 PPG. Still they have three losses. Against Texas, the defense had two bad plays. Brijan Johnson had a 54 yard run and Sam Ehlinger had a 33-yard touchdown pass. 87 yards on two plays. Outside of those two plays, the Texas offense averaged 3.5 YPC rushing and 5.0 YPC passing. Those two plays accounted for 24% of the Texas output on Saturday. Unfortunately for this defense, they have to be perfect against the better teams for the offense to have a chance and the defense wasn’t perfect. That hurts and is frustrating. Its more frustrating knowing it may be another 10 years before we have a defense this good again.
I’m not sure if I’m numb, if I’m in shock, or if I’m just in a COVID-fever where its been hard to pull my full focus on this team but I can see the progress being made but much like I-64 construction, going through it is brutal. The chances were there on Saturday. Winston Wright hauled in a touchdown pass but replay ruled it incomplete because the Texas turn supposedly helped him. I’ll say I didn’t see conclusive evidence and had the call on the field been no-catch, I could see replay being inconclusive to support a catch. I thought it was inconclusive to overturn it.
Mike O’Laughlin had a chance but was (not) interfered with. Yet, the Mountaineers, with the obvious talent disparity that exists between them and Texas were knocking on the doorsteps. The chances were there but the margins are razor-wire thin. In this season, they can’t afford not to be perfect.
These Five Games
I’ll end with this. Coming into this five game stretch, most fans felt we would go 3-2. I myself thought that was the most likely scenario. I would have said: you beat Kansas, you beat Texas Tech, you lose to Kansas State, you lose to Texas and you beat TCU. So far we beat Kansas (a game you should win), we lost to Texas Tech (a game you COULD win), you beat Kansas State (a game you COULD lose) and we lost to Texas (a game you SHOULD lose). So you lost a game you shouldn’t and you won a game you shouldn’t. You’re at the same point but do you feel as good? I like that the games are close but I’d like to them to not need to be close. I’d like to see us being better this far into this season.
Here is the kicker. TCU is very important to both how this season is perceived and how Neal Brown is perceived. If the ‘Eers beat TCU, they are going to finish at worst .500 in the regular season. If they lose to TCU, they very well could finish the year 4-6. Thanks to Texas Tech and now Texas, TCU now becomes a critical game.
I saw it. You saw it. Texas officials saw it. Throw a flag.