Two weeks ago I wrote an article where I asked if I could convince you it would be ok. I don’t want to say I’m a prophet because honestly I wrote that article in part to promote my appearance on the Got Your Eers On podcast, partly because writing about doom and gloom for six weeks was draining me and partly because I try my hardest to take a balanced approach in life. If the fan base is down, I look for positives. If the fan base is up, I look for things to make sure we don’t get too high, too fast. Staying balanced. Much like Thanos in that regard. Still, one of the big things I wondered when I wrote that was if all of the bad mojo and unlucky breaks the Mountaineers had gotten could may start to go their way.
On Saturday, those breaks did go their way, at least some of them. Bryce Ford-Wheaton caught a pass in the back of the endzone and it was ruled a catch and score and replay was unable to determine if that was the case - sidenote, the team wearing navy blue cleats against a navy blue endzone scheme makes its really tough to tell if it is actually touching. Breece Hall “fumbled” the ball and it was recovered by the Mountaineers. I’m not sure he actually fumbled before he was down but he was ruled to have fumbled and it was not overturned. Brock Purdy scrambled for a first down and was marked half a yard short, causing Iowa State to have to run another play while the clock continued to run. The Iowa State offensive line flinched and false started when it absolutley could not. That’s part of the game.
Still, West Virginia also made its own breaks. The Mountaineers attacked Iowa State, in part because they never forgot what happened to them last year. Head coach Neal Brown admitted as much after the game when he said that he modeled the offseason program in and effort to beat Iowa State this year.
In fairness, we spent a lot of time on them. We changed our offseason program after they dominated us last year in that game in December. From the time we came back in late January and started our offseason program all the way through fall camp, we had that 42-6 score (around the facility) and talked about how we have to get bigger, stronger and more physical.
I have no problem with Brown focusing on Iowa State. The game left a bad taste in his mouth, especially after Matt Campbell chose to leave his starters in longer than seemed necessary in a game the Mountaineers were clearly out of early. So Brown wanted to make sure his team never forgot that. That is good, however, in a conference where every week there is a team capable of sending you home with your tail between your legs, focusing on one team can be detrimental. Often times in the Big East, after Miami and Virginia Tech left, West Virginia only needed to get up for 3 or 4 games a year. They were easily more talented than other teams and their out of conference slate often did not leave much to the imagination. It is easier to ask 18, 19, 20 year old college kids to focus for just this one week rather than 95% effort every week.
Now, the Iowa State week has passed. The game the team has had circled on its calendar for almost a year is gone. Will the adrenaline and focus drop off now that they are no longer facing an opponent that embarrassed them last year? Brown and his team can’t afford to waste the current goodwill he has earned this week. I’m not saying he has to win, though a win would be nice, but we can’t see a team that is unfocused, unprepared and undisciplined simply because the team in the cross hairs isn’t the big bad wolf.
The past two weeks have given way to a rejuvenated offensive line who are no longer rotating people in and out. The receivers have found a confidence and starting to make plays and make difficult plays. The quarterback, now trusting and believing in his line, is starting to make throws we haven’t seen him make before and more importantly he was able to overcome the adversity that comes with playing football, something he hasn’t done in the past.
We went to some deep balls. He played like that in fall camp. In games, he’s had three or four critical mistakes that we haven’t been able to overcome. Today, he really just had one mistake. We missed a couple throws, but when you throw it 50 times, you’re going to miss one high or low. He had a few of those, but he only had one critical mistake. Outside of that, his ability to respond is huge, too. He played extremely well. He’s still number one in the Big 12 in passing. - Neal Brown
I have said that the gameplan on Saturday was the first time the Mountaineers looked cohesive, like they had a plan, executed that plan and planned what to do when the other team would adjust, rather than the throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks philosophy we had previously. It seems fairly simple to say out loud - we think this will work and in order to stop it, they need to do this, so once they do that, we’ll adjust and go to this route. It almost is like how you see it play out in movies when characters begin talking about how the plan is going to be executed while the viewer sees the plan in action.
It was fun to watch but now comes the hard part. Now you have given Oklahoma State a chance to see what you want to do on film. They are sure to adjust and throw their own curveballs at you. West Virginia can’t afford to come out and go back to throwing spaghetti at the wall, hoping something will stick. They don’t need to win, but we need to continue to see progress.