I have taken a day to collect my thoughts and figure out what and how I wanted to write this column this week, since the game we watched on Thursday featured a bevy of different strokes and at times looked like West Virginia was going to do what it always did to become a normal Big 12 shootout to ending in one of the craziest manners that we’ve seen in a long time. I’ve got some thoughts, so let’s jump right in.
The Hurt Is Good
To say that the anger you currently feel, losing to the former head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers, the one who spurned a Power 5 head coaching job for a Group of 5 job in Texas, is good might be headscratching. It took me a minute to understand why so many fans were mad at an outcome that had occurred 27 times in the past 4+ years and when the season started was expected to occur more often than it wasn’t and then it clicked for me - you are mad because you finally allowed yourself to believe in this team and this loss was unexpected and you were invested.
So why in the world would that be good? No one wants to feel pain and anguish and torment and no one wants to have their weekend ruined on Thursday at 10:30 PM by an outcome you can’t control, but yet, the paint and anger is good. Its good because you were invested! When was the last time you were invested that deeply, that emotionally in the Mountaineers? Was it last year against Pittsburgh? Was it 2021? Was it 2020? When was the last time you were that invested and that emotionally involved in the Mountaineers?
For me, its any of our rivalrly games from Pitt this year, to Pitt last year, to VT the years prior to Maryland in 2021. Those are the games where I’ve been seat of my pants, we need to win this game. Thursday, for lots of fans, was the first time they had allowed themselves to truly believe in this team, feel like “we got this one already” and be emotionally invested. The game turned out to be entertaining and you got to see a whole lot of good. The Mountaineers, down 11 with just minutes to go, scored a touchdown to make it 35-30 and then went for two to make it a three-point game. A juggling catch in the endzone and suddenly the Mountaineers were right back in the thick of things. Suddenly, Greene is leading his team down the field and hits a former walk-on, native West Virginia receiver Hudson Clement for a pass as he breaks a tackle and runs into the endzone for what appears to be the game-winning touchdown. The highs of that moment were some of the highest the collective fanbase has been in years! And then in twelve seconds that came crashing down.
Still, I say, the hurt and anger is good. It shows you can believe in this team again. It showed you what it used to feel like. It showed you what Mountaineers football used to be. How fun it can be. It showed you what you should expect for your fandom.
Many people want to point at the offensive explosion that occurred on Thursday and use that to justify many different viewpoints, from the good that can be achieved by the offense, to the legitimacy of Brown and his schemes, to the coaching staff, to many other items about the game and generally speaking they like to point out how good the offense was on Thursday. And you can’t say it wasn’t, not when the offense put up 546 yards of offense, including 391 yards through the air and another 155 yards on the ground. Quarterback Garrett Greene accounted for four total touchdowns, 391 air yards, another 47 rushing yards, averaged 10.3 yards per attempt passing and 3.9 yards per carry rushing. He finished with a 80.1 QBR and the 391 yards through the air were 150 more than his previous career high, set against Duquesne in week two. BUT.....
Houston has one of, if not the, worst defenses in the Big 12 and the nation. They came into the game allowing teams to complete 60 percent of their passes (we did not) for an average of 267 yards per game (we demolished this) but only 10 touchdowns (we had 2). Teams averaged 8.1 yards per attempt against Houston. So the Houston pass defense was and still is bad.
Houston’s run defense also wasn’t very good, ranked 98th in the country, allowed 162 yards per game (we only gained 155), and allowing 4.3 yards per carry (we only gained 3.5).
Defensively, West Virginia entered the game with one of the strongest defenses in the Big 12, having held their past four opponents, all wins, to 17, 6, 13, and 21 points, snuffing out the run and generally being aggressive on the pass, blitzing to make the opposing quarterback uncomfortable and forcing him to make quick decisions with defenders in his face. BUT....
Houston scored 41 points, including scoring five touchdowns on their final seven possessions, the quarterback completing his final 15 passes of the game for 214 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran in another touchdown. The defense, which - shoutout to Jordan for dropping his nugget - had blitzed 43 of 88 dropbacks the past two weeks against Texas Tech and TCU, only blitzed 9 times on 31 dropbacks Thursday. If it seemed like Houston had all day to throw, they did.
Dana Holgorsen and Houston showed you how teams are going to attack our defense, especially if we aren’t going to blitz. Dana discovered our audibles and our defensive rotation and went to it time after time after time after time. If there is one thing Dana is really good at - its noticing what teams do defensively and scheming up a way to exploit it. HE figured out how to isolate a receiver and did it constantly.
Garret Greene’s penalty
I feel bad for Greene. I like the kid. He’s a high energy, high emotion player. He’s been compared to a Golden Retriever in the most positive way imaginable. Just a player who is happy to be playing the game, has boundless energy and is going to make a few mistakes. Taking his helmet off, after completing what should have been the game-winning pass is a mistake, no matter how you look at it or slice it. Yet, Greene took sole responsibility and didn’t dodge the question
That’s 100% on me. For us to be a really good football team, like I know we are, the quarterback can’t make dumb-ass mistakes like that. I messed that one up. If they’re [Houston] are 15-yards back, that last play probably doesn’t happen. That’s on me
Garrett - I’ll be your wingman anyday.
Next Week is Critical
I noted last week that West Virginia was 3-1 on Thursday night games with Neal Brown as the head coach but was 0-4 the following week. Sitting at 4-2 is very good for the team given that many fans expected us to be 2-4 or 1-5 at this juncture and 4-2 puts West Virginia in the driver seat, in control of its own destiny for a bowl game and for the Big 12 title. At 2-1, the Mountaineers sit in a five-way tie for second place (in reality its a 3-way tie because Kansas lost to Texas and Texas Tech lost to West Virginia), but if the Mountaineers run the table, they are likely in the the Big 12 Championship game. They only need to go 2-4 in their final 6 games to get to bowl eligibility, only need to go 3-3 in their final six to reach 7 wins for the first time in Brown’s tenure at West Virginia. Those are both easily attainable, yet next week against the Cowboys, is a critical juncture.
It is often talked about how you can’t let a team beat you twice. You can’t let the loss linger. For the Mountaineers, they have time to dwell on this loss. They don’t play on Saturday and then get right back into prep for the next game, they have time to think and ponder and reminiscence on the game. What they did right and what they did wrong and how it let to the outcome on the field and what could have happened if they hadn’t do this or done that. All of that can and will enter their minds. Brown is 0-4 following Thursday night games and the games generally haven’t been close.
In 2019, following a 17-14 loss to Baylor, WVU lost at home to Texas Tech 38-17.
In 2020, following a 24-21 bowl win over Army in the Autozone Liberty Bowl, West Virginia lost to Maryland on the road to open the 2021 season 30-24.
In 2022, following a 38-31 loss to Pitt, West Virginia lost in overtime at home to Kansas 55-42.
In 2022, following a 33-10 win over Virginia Tech, West Virginia lost to Texas on the road 38-20.
In 2022, following a 43-40 win over Baylor, West Virginia lost on the road 48-10 to Texas Tech.
Can West Virginia avoid the Thursday night hangover? If they can, some goodwill will be restored for Brown. If they can’t and they fall to 4-3, the unrest you have seen over the past few years will grow louder.
I’ve seen it mentioned and talked about so just to remind everyone that I’ve already written about this once.
Neal Brown’s Buyouts By Year
The table is arranged with his salary and the “buyout” but let’s talk about his buyout. Neal Brown does not have a typical buyout. There is no amount that WVU can pay him to walk away that is a percentage of his contract. From today as you read this article, until January 1, 2025, Neal Brown is owed 100% of his contract. The amount he is owed is reduced by what is he paid.
An example - you are owed $120,000 per year, or $10,000 per month. At the six-month mark, you’ve been paid $60,000 and are terminated. The company must pay you the remaining $60,000 in equal payments of $10,000 per month for the next six months until you are paid the full $120,000 you are owed. Neal Brown’s contract is the same. He is currently owed 16M minus what the University has paid him for this year. If they fire him today he’s still getting that money. The “buyout” is simply monthly payments for the remainder of his contract - i.e. WVU can fire Neal and would still owe him $10,985.90 per day until December 31, 2026.
Now, once January 1, 2025 rolls around, the amount owed to Brown reduces to 85% of his original contract, meaning they would only owe him $7.3M. The difference between firing him December 31, 2024 and January 1, 2025 saves West Virginia $1,300,000. (8.6M - 7.3M).