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What I Think After A Heartbreaking Backyard Brawl

The Mountaineers crumbled when it mattered most

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 West Virginia at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I decided to take a day before I chose to write this article because I wasn’t to make sure that I wasn’t overreacting to a single loss. I wanted to read what others were saying, see what I thought about those things, and rewatch multiple plays and angles to make sure everything wasn’t an overreaction. There are lots of similarities in this game, both to past games that gave us hope but also past games that cause us despair. Let’s delve into these thoughts and work through all of this.

JT Daniels

It shouldn’t be a shocking statement to say JT Daniels is the most talented quarterback since Will Grier. The arm talent is there. The ability to fit the ball into tight spaces and willingness to take chances and succeed is there. I was immediately struck how Daniels stood in the pocket and took several hard shots but delivered the ball. Moreso for me, was listening to Daniels after the game where his leadership shone through. He comes across both as mature but also as understanding and comforting. He comes across as a leader. Football teams, maybe more so than any other sport, needs leaders because its about 11 people playing as one. Daniels is going to get all 11 offensive players to play as one. Listen to his post game and enjoy it. Especially his take on playing in the Brawl and the uniqueness of college sports.

Neal Brown, Graham Harrel & the Offense

I’m trying to not overreact but I still don’t quite know what our offense is and I am curious who is calling the shots. Harrel definitely wants to go fast and press the pedal, but Neal’s conservative nature still wants to protect the defense. It worked at the time. In the third quarter, West Virginia had three possessions that ended in a punt, including a 3-play, 0:46 second drive. Pitt responded to those drives by scoring back to back touchdowns to go from down 10-17 to up 24-17.

The offense responded by taking the air out of the ball and going 9 plays for a touchdown, fueled mostly by the run. It was actually very impressive and very needed because the defense, which had been gassed, got a refresher and forced back to back punts.

Where I’m concerned is the ability to turn off the throttle and turn it back on. Very few teams can go ultra fast and and be efficient and then slow it down and be efficient. More so, is there going to be a time when Harrel, sensing the defense is ripe for a deep shot, wants to go fast and Neal, wanting to protect his defense, won’t let him?

I think its an interesting power-dynamic and I’m curious who gets the final veto power and when those powers can be used. I do worry that we are going to lose a lead or let a game get closer than it should be because we start getting conservative because we want to protect the defense.

The Defense

Speaking of the defense, I’ve been pretty vocal about how I don’t think the defense is as good as everyone seems to believe. That isn’t to say that they aren’t good, but more so that they are like a big rock or wall you have to get around, but once you get around it, you can move again.

The defense “forced” one turnover, but I’m not sure they actually forced it as much as Pitt just lost control of the ball as they slipped between two defenders.

The defense did generate a good amount of pressure and tackles for loss, sacking Kedon Slovis 5 times and recording 8 tackles for loss, but not when it mattered. Not when the Mountaineers had Slovis and the Pitt offense backed up. More so, the decision to punt on 4th and 1 (which we will talk about) the defense allowed Pitt to drive 92 yards. If you are a great defense, if you are a defense that is goign to be a game changer, if you are a defense full of fifth year seniors and totaling 5 sacks and 8 tackles for loss, that has to be your moment. That has to be the time when you force a 3-and-out and force Pitt to punt the ball back to you with 4 minutes left and you are at you’re 45. That has to be a time when the coach can rely on you. None of that happened. Poor tackling, poor line play, poor angles all resulted in Pitt driving 92-yards and tying the game.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton

Poor young man. The tip into an interception (that ultimately lost the game), shouldn’t be hung on Bryce because its a fluke play. We should be remembering the 9 catches for almost 100 yards for Wheaton, because it was the first time he’s looked like a stud #1 receiver. Those 97 yards he caught are the third highest in his career. He’s only had 2 100-yard games and the 9 catches is a career high.

I still have lots of concerns about our wide receivers. I just don’t think they are very good. AT least not 2022 very good. I hope that Wheaton can become the guy that we just throw the ball too. 3rd and 5 and need a first down, Bryce get open. Hey we need to flip the field here, Bryce go deep. We need someone to become THE MAN. Someone who just demands that teams put their best corner on and if you don’t its a touchdown. If you do, its still a catch because our guy is that good. And we can build everything in the passing game around the fact that you must defend this guy or else.

4th and One Decision

Ok, I’ve delayed long enough, let’s talk about the decision to punt on 4th and 1. First off, I disagreed with it then and the more I’ve dwelled on it, the more I disagree with it. With 6 minutes and 17 seconds left in the game, West Virginia is on the Pitt 48. Tony Mathis ran for 7 yards on 2nd down to make it 3rd and 3. CJ Donaldson ran for 2 yards to make it 4th and 1. You’ve picked up 9 yards in two plays on runs. The Mountaineer are currently up 31-24.

At the time I said go for it. I continue to say go for it for this reason. If you make it, you are going to bleed another two minutes off the clock, pushing the clock down to 4 minutes or so. If you can gain at least another first down, you have the opportunity to kick a field goal and move to 34-24. I think that puts the game away.

More so, for me, going for it on 4th and 1 represented a way for this team to “get over the hump” or “kick down the door”. Programs are faced with opportunities just like we in life are faced with opportunities. There are times you must kick down the door of opportunity in order to take the next step. You have to get out of your comfort zone. You have to do what is tough.

Nationally televised game. On the road. Against a ranked opponent. You are the underdog. All of those things are stacked against you and playing conservatively and playing safe are not going to win games in those types of environments. You have to be willing to take chances. Like it or not, Dana saying “You wanna win the game? Then let’s go f$@#$ing win the game” is the type of strategy that wins you games you aren’t expected to win as an underdog. This was a moment to seize control, and we didn’t.


I wrote a while back that I wondered if this year would bring about the same hope that 2017 did.

If 2022 is Neal Brown’s 2017, the future looks bright in Morgantown. The pieces have been collected and now is the time for the Mountaineers to start breaking through the clouds and into the sun.

Almost everyone pointed out how this game felt almost exactly like the 2017 Virginia Tech game and if that’s the case, there is a lot to be excited about. In 2017, the Mountaineers followed that 31-24 defeat to the Hokies by bodying East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas, scoring 50+ points each game: 56-20, 59-16, 56-34. They lost a close game to #8 TCU 31-24, but then beat Texas Tech 46-35 and Baylor 38-36. A loss to #11 Oklahoma State (the teams third loss to a ranked team, their only losses) followed by beating #15 Iowa State and Kansas State.

That team was 7-3, had beaten two ranked teams and lost to three, but all three were close losses. If Neal Brown’s team is sitting at 7-3 after the Oklahoma game, I think we will all feel much better about this team. If this team rattles off 150 points in their next three games, we should be excited.

Let’s hope this is Neal’s 2017 because if it is, the future will be bright in Morgantown.