What a game by both teams but what a game for the defense. It has been a long time since we’ve seen the Mountaineers get into a shootout and come out victorious. The Mountaineers were down both their best blocking tight end in Mike O’Laughlin and in their best running back, CJ Donaldson. No matter, the Mountaineers showed out and showed up on Thursday night.
Defense - HAVOC
If you’ve read anything of mine over the past few years, you know by now that I want to affect an offense by creating pressure. If you listened to me on the “Got Your Eers On” podcast, I said as much. I said the same when I spoke with Jordan on the “West by Pod” podcast. Pressure. Its the single best way to affect a team. And on Thursday night, we had pressure and we affected plays.
Defense between last night and the first 40 games of Neal Brown's career? The defense created HAVOC. 2 sacks, 5 TFLs, 2 PD, 3 QB Hurries plus 1 interception and 2 fumble recoveries. That's 15 havoc plays in 70 snaps on defense or 20%. That's how #WVU creates a good defense & wins— Jake Lantz (@NiteStare) October 14, 2022
15 HAVOC plays on 70 snaps, resulting in a 20% Havoc rate. That’s good. And guess what, it was the reason we won. Without the turnovers, the Mountaineers lose that game. Turnovers are both a luck play and a creation play, by that I mean you can cause a fumble but you can’t always determine where the ball bounces. Take Reese Smith’s muffed punt, the ball hit him in the pads and bounced away. In other games, that ball has bounced right into the hands of the other team but on Thursday night, the Mountaineers recovered. West Virginia intercepted two passes. They were also around the ball a whole lot more than they had been, which created other plays.
Let’s not forget about the offense here, because they were also very good, but I do think we might want to start worrying as well. In the first half, the offense scored on two possessions, and in the second half they only scored on 4. The good news is that the offense never punted in the second half and scored three touchdowns, but JT Daniels also nearly threw the game away with an interception.
More importantly though, was the play of the offensive line and its ability to create space for the running backs. Tony Mathis had 22 carries for 163 yards and its not like he broke off two 60 yard runs. Justin Johnson complimented him with 12 carries for 48 yards. Garret Greene got a carry. The threat of a run game, capable of moving the chains and keeping the Mountaineers in manageable down and distance plays meant the offense was able to attack and take chances and get back on schedule. Those run plays meant that JT Daniels had a threat when he went play-action. It meant that Baylor couldn’t play one side of the ball. It meant balance. The Mountaineers racked up 500 yards of offense and had three rushing touchdowns.
This defense, as a whole, is not good. They gave up nearly 600 yards of offense to Baylor and we’re going to face a few more teams who are more than capable of passing the ball. Next week, the Mountaineers take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders, who currently own the #1 passing offense in the country. There’s TCU still on the slate. Oklahoma State. Several really good passing offenses are still on the docket. The Mountaineers found one way to combat a bad passing defense, by creating pressure and havoc. They’ll need to continue that because it looks like this defense is a sieve.
Can This Continue?
The question I have coming out of this game is - is this a turnaround? Did Neal Brown and the Mountaineers finally figure it out or was this just a mirage? Last year, we thought the offense was fixed when they scored 38 points against Iowa State. The team still struggled against good teams but got lucky with a string of bad teams on their schedule. Last year, Brown stated they circled the Iowa State game on their calendars because of the way Iowa State embarrassed them in 2020. I wonder if the same thing happened this year, g iven the way that Baylor embarrassed them last year. While its good to “get back” at the team that showed you up, was too much energy put on one team? Are the problems that existed previously still around?
There is little doubt in my mind that Brown is feeling the heat. He’s twice now, after victories, stated that “the talk of our demise was exaggerated”. It’s really easy to puff your chest out when you win, but this team still has 3 losses, and Brown is still 20-21 at West Virginia. Talk of your demise is not exaggerated in the slightest. Brown’s comment after the game about “fans who weren’t here probably wish they were” can be taken as a shot at the fans and I wouldn’t be upset if that’s how you take it. He needs to find a way to make his point without calling the fans out. I bring those up because coaches who aren’t feeling the heat, don’t say those types of things, but when you’re job and livelyhood are on the line, you do say those things. You deflect. You point out others. It happens.
Can West Virginia sustain this new type of defense that might allow teams to throw and score but pick off a few more passes and get a few more turnovers and actually affect the game? Is the running game fixed without CJ Donaldson? Will the receivers, who we haven’t talked about, continue to make catches they are supposed to make and fight for the ball and steal passes they might have otherwise missed? If they can, then Brown will be right about their demise. If not, we’ll see what happens in November.