I must admit, there was a point during last night's game where I was texting with WVU Nite about whether or not Neal Brown would be left at the airport in Texas. I'm pretty sure very few in the fan base would have been super upset had that happened.
1. JT Daniels is a tough guy - JT Daniels has been knocked around quite a bit in his 5 games as the WVU QB. Last night he was sacked three times and hit several more. Every time he's been knocked down, he's jumped right back up for the next play. It's clear why this man was one of the top QB recruits coming out of high school. He's tough, talented, and a great leader. I dread to think about where we'd be if Jarret Doege was still the QB.
2. Dante Stills - I'm not sure how many times the officials missed Texas' offensive line holding, and in some cases tackling, Dante Stills. Dante was credited with only two tackles on the official score sheet. I can think of at least two or three plays in the first half where he was past the Texas line and someone wrapped him up from behind and tackled him to keep him from getting to the ball carrier. While he may not show up big with stats in every game, he's very visible on film. Some NFL team will be lucky to have him next year.
1. First down efficiency - WVU ran 30 plays on first down last night. Our average yardage gained was 3.6 yards. 19 of those plays went for 3 yards or less. There was definitely some conservative play calls, especially early in the game when we could have set the tone of the game, that contributed to a lackluster showing on first down. Everyone knows Texas has great athletes on defense. They were a last second field goal from knocking off Alabama two weeks ago. They bottled up the mighty Crimson Tide offense for 3+ quarters. We needed to be aggressive on first down to stay ahead of the chains. Instead, we put ourselves in 2nd & 3rd & long situations all night, allowing Texas to bring the heat on Daniels. Last night's offense looked much more like the ones we've seen coordinated by Neal Brown as opposed to a Graham Harrell offense.
2. The drops - Just when we thought our receivers were starting to figure things out, we have a game like we did last night. On the second drive of the game, Daniels hit Mike O'Laughlin on a 3rd & 2 play that would have moved the chains. O'Laughlin was hit by a Texas defender and dropped the ball. On the very next play, Bryce Ford-Wheaton dropped another pass that would have converted. At that point, we were already on the Texas side of the field thanks to one of the few stops our defense made. A conversion on that series likely leads to at least a field goal. These, unfortunately, were not the only drops we had to deal with in the game.
1. CJ Donaldson's injury - in what has been an all too familiar site this week, CJ Donaldson was carted off the field after a head/neck injury. By all accounts, CJ was doing well at the hospital. Unfortunately, this loss removes a huge weapon from the WVU offense. Hopefully, CJ will be back on his feet, regardless of when he's back on the field, soon.
2. Penalties - While we only had 4 accepted penalties against us last night, they seemed to come at the worst times. Before we had even snapped the ball for our first offensive play, we had a false start call. With Texas already up 21 - 0, the Longhorn offense was backed up to their own 3 with a 2nd & 20 play. A face mask penalty gave Texas new life. Two plays later, a holding penalty put the Longhorns were sitting at 1st & 20. An extremely late hit along the sideline gave Texas another first down. The drive ended with the Longhorns' fourth touchdown on the night. These penalties have become a common problem for the Mountaineers. One of the big things we heard about Neal Brown when he was hired was that his teams were disciplined and rarely beat themselves. Unfortunately, that has not translated from Troy to WVU.
3. The secondary - At this point, I don't think it's hyperbole to say this is one of the most wretched defenses we've ever seen at WVU. Texas ran a lot of play action passes last night. Play after play, our defensive backs were caught looking into the backfield while the Longhorn receivers ran right past them. I can't count how many times the Texas receivers were 5 - 10 yards behind our defensive backs.
At this point, I'm not sure I can see anything better than a 4-8 finish for the Mountaineers this year, and I'm starting to wonder if that will happen. I'm pretty sure Neal Brown can read the writing on the wall that he'll be done in Morgantown at the end of the year. The only question now is whether Shane Lyons will be asking Neal for recommendations on moving companies.