All in all, yesterday wasn’t bad and taken for almost any single game, West Virginia has been competitive and good most of the year, except. Except that. Except that they lost to Pitt on a tipped Pick-Six. Then They lost to Kansas on another pick-six. They lost to Texas when they weren’t competitive but made it “competitive” by slowing the game way down. They lost to Texas Tech in a very non-competitive game. Then yesterday. They played toe-to-toe with TCU. They traded shots. In a normal year, if the team were better, we’d probably chalk it up to, had chances, some mistakes cost us but before a fourth-down offsides penalty that gave TCU a free play, this was a four-point game, but all of that ignores the larger narrative hanging around the West Virginia Mountaineers these days. The fact that the head coach is 20-23. The fact that the team is 3-5. The fact that the five star QB is either hurt or not good enough. The fact that the team might be regressing.
Neal Brown Sounds Defeated
One thing that has been very apparent in his four years as the head coach of the Mountaineers, is that Neal Brown is tuned in - tuned into the media, tuned into the fan interaction and tuned into what is said about, written about and posted about him and his team. He said so, as much, yesterday in his post-game press conference, telling the media members in attendance that “People can be upset with me, that’s fine”
Listen to his tone, listen to his word choice, listen to his mannerisms and facial expressions. He sounds like a man who knows the end is coming, or maybe has already come. I feel for Brown because its obvious he cares for the school, the team, the players and the reputation. He just isn’t getting it done and unfortunately we are going to have this conversation for the next few weeks until a decision is made.
I found whats past apathy
I wrote last year that the apathy was the worst part of the season but wondered silently what was past apathy. I found it. Numbness. Resignation. Acceptance? I watched the game with almost zero emotion. I felt like Randy Quaid’s character in Major League II when he’s completely pissed off and then just knows they suck.
(side note - its amazing how many times I reference these movies. When relevant...)
“See I told ya. Bring out the tarp, cover the field. I can’t watch this anymore, it’s over! Turn the light outs. Let’s get the bulldozers in here and turn this place into a parking lot” all while his friends, his diehards, his ride-or-dies, are staring at him like “what is wrong with you? What happened to you? Are you right?”
West Virginia scored with 90 seconds left in the half and instead of being happy and thinking “we also get the ball back in the second half, we could make this a game”, something I have felt and said for the past twenty years, I thought “way too much time on the clock, watch TCU score here”. And guess what they did. Score. In the second half, after a 12-play touchdown made the game 34-31 TCU and then West Virginia intercepts the ball to give the offense the ball back, I wasn’t excited. I was dreadful. “Is this the time when we throw a pick-six? Do we fumble? Can we even move the ball?”. We punted and that was essentially game.
The Defense Has and Hasn’t Been the Problem
The defense “only” allowed almost 500 yards, down from their near 600-yard performances the past two weeks against Baylor and Texas Tech. TCU scored 41 points and passed for 341, yet for all of that, TCU only scored 13 points in the second half - a half that started 28-21 in favor of the Horned Frogs. That is pretty darn good. The defense gave the Mountaineers chances. After a 3-and-out in the first drive of the second half, the defense generated a turnover on a fluky, I’m not sure it was called right but it went our way so I won’t question it punt muff, that the offense generated all of two yards.
Down 10, the offense generates a 12-play, 78 yard touchdown drive to make it 34-31 and then the defense PICKS THE BALL OFF. The offense goes backwards and has to punt.
This defense is bad and it isn’t getting better. After a first series punt, TCU went 3-plays, 67 yards, touchdown; 5-plays, 75 yards, touchdown; 1-play, 51 yards, touchdown and 7-plays, 73 yards, touchdown. At the end of the first half, TCU was averaging more than 1 point per play! (28 points on just 25 plays run). Yet in the second half they generated a punt, held TCU to two field goals and picked the ball off and recovered a fumble. I’ve said previously that this defense doesn’t have to be GREAT it just has to be good enough. Two punts, two field goals, an interception and fumble recovery is more than good enough.
Sitting at 3-5, the Mountaineers are still, technically not out of bowl contention but the math is getting harder. The Mountaineers must win 3 games before they lose two and this is what they have to deal with:
Road Trip to Ames, Iowa for a 3:30 kickoff
Home against Oklahoma Sooners
Home against currently #22 Kansas State Wildcats
Road Trip after Thanksgiving to current #9 Oklahoma State Cowboys
Iowa State is likely the most winnable of the bunch, despite what ESPN FPI says. FPI gives the Mountaineers the following likelyhood of a win:
Iowa State - 29.3%
Oklahoma - 43.9%
Kansas State - 34.2%
Oklahoma State - 25.1%
In 2019, Brown went 1-3 against these four. In 2020, he went 1-2 (did not play Oklahoma). In 2021, he went 1-3. In his career, he is 3-8 against these teams. He has never beaten Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. The odds are stacked against him. Where that second loss comes from is going to be crucial. 3-7 feels like it should end his tenure then. 5-7 would likely get him fired at the end of the season but could, maybe, possibly bring him back? Lose the next two and you’ve lost four in a row, five of your last six and are eliminated from a bowl game. That feels definitive. If they somehow win one of the next two and get to 4-6 but then lose to Kansas State, do you let him coach the last game just because?