There’s an ever-increasing amount of numbers you can crunch to analyze a football game. These numbers can help tell detailed stories of where the game was won or lost, help coaches optimize decision making, and help evaluate plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet. I love diving into analytics, but the only numbers that really matter on Saturday are on the scoreboard. Al Davis said it best, “Just Win Baby.” I’ll take an ugly, inefficient, and sloppy win over a pretty loss every single week. In the biggest game of Neal Brown’s tenure at West Virginia, the Mountaineers found a way to win, and despite squandering a big lead and almost throwing the game away in the winding minutes, this win should be celebrated with no caveats. We just beat a top-15 regional rival in front of a sold-out home crowd and brought the Black Diamond trophy back home for the first time in over 6,000 days. Winning this game trumps the slopiness for me. Okay, that’s my preface, now let’s talk numbers.
Plain and simple, the Mountaineer defense won this game. Virginia Tech made it inside the 25-yard line seven times and scored only 21 points. Three times the Hokies were inside the 7-yard line, they failed to score at all. The defensive front really set the tone in this game with six team sacks and several more pressures. Virginia Tech had a hard time getting on schedule with only a 32.1% success rate on 1st down and averaged over 8 yards to go on their 16 3rd down attempts. The defense was massive on the crucial plays, especially in the red zone, but also allowed three back-breaking conversions on 3rd and long (9,17, and 24) in the second half.
If you looked at the field position game and turnover comparison, it’s pretty hard to believe that WVU pulled this out. The Mountaineers once again struggled in the turnover battle; Doege lost the ball on a blindside sack and threw a nearly unforgivable screen pass high, gifting Virginia Tech a huge opportunity to take the lead and potentially the game. West Virginia has to get the turnover problem fixed. On the season, WVU now has lost seven turnovers, while only collecting one on defense (I would argue it wasn’t even forced). Some believe that turnovers are more “random” than “skill” based, so maybe we’ll see a regression to the mean as the season goes on.
I’ll be honest, nothing about the WVU offense feels “explosive” this year to me. I was very surprised to see that WVU actually leads the Big 12 in plays of 20+ yards with 18. The Eers offensive certainly benefited from their big plays on Saturday, two of which resulted in scores. I still worry that Brown is a great game scripter but not a great in-game adjuster. The offense only had two explosive plays in the second half and was sputtering to a halt by the end of the game.
I liked that the offensive involved Greene this week (6 snaps), but I’ll be rooting for more usage as the season goes on. I still think the offense is too predictable with Doege and his interception late in the game definitely didn’t help his case. The run game was a much-needed bright spot this week. I could barely believe my eyes seeing Leddie scamper 80 yards on his first rush after watching our backs have zero explosive runs last week.
Long story short, the Mountaineers won this game because of some huge explosive plays early and the defense showing up on the most meaningful plays of the game. It’s hard to think the crowd didn’t play a massive role in this; I don’t think we win this game in Blacksburg. It was my first time back in Morgantown in two years (since Neal Brown’s very first game) and the gameday atmosphere didn’t disappoint one bit. 10/10 would lose my voice to help us beat VT again.