I’ve been thinking about what to say in this column since yesterday because part of me is conflicted, part of me is elated and part of me is confused. Yesterday was easily the best game of the Neal Brown era and its not close. The second game would be the NC State game in 2019 but that game featured an idiotic kneel down on an extra point when the score was 44-28 with 3 minutes left because we were somehow worried a blocked kick (44-30) onside recovery to touchdown with 2 point conversion (44-38) and another onside recover with touchdown and extra point (45-44) would somehow happen inside 180 seconds.
Both games featured the offense running away from an opponent - against NC State, the teams were tied 21-21 at halftime and WVU outscored the Wolfpack 23-7 in the second half, and against UCF the Mountaineers were up 17-14 at half and outscored the Knights 24-14 in the second half.
I love Greene, I love the passion he plays with, I love the intensity he brings to the game, I love that his teammates love him. I love everything about him. He’s not a great passer and likely never will be. On the year he’s completing 53% of his passes. He simply misses passes and reads that good passers make. He makes up for it by scrambling, keeping plays alive and bringing an energy and fire that the team lacks. Greene is not going to break any passing records at West Virginia but he may go down as a top 5 beloved quarterback just for the fire and intensity he brings.
Donaldson was criticized often over the course of the past week, from his head coach, to his running backs coach, to members of the media, to fans and alumni alike, all had an opinion about CJ and how he had not been the player they expected following last year’s breakout. The talks that centered about CJ talked about his indecisiveness, his inability to make players miss, his lack of breakaway speed and his decisions at the line. It’s only one game but for one game Donaldson looked like the player that West Virginia had in 2022.
They say its better to be lucky than good and Bishop epitomized that on Saturday, securing two of West Virginia’s three interceptions thanks to fortunious bounces by UCF. In Beanie’s first interception, an interception labeled as “funky” for our PG viewers, though the broadcaster may have gotten away with one there, the ball kicked up in the air high from the UCF receiver after he fell down making an acrobatic catch, only to hang in the air long enough for Bishop to take it away. It is the kind of interception that has plagued and haunted the Mountaineers during Brown’s tenure.
The second interception was much like the first where two UCF receivers tripped each other, fell down and the pass by quarterback John Rhys Plumlee went directly to Bishop. Fans wondered what would happen if the defense could actually catch interceptions and well there is your answer.
Its going to feel strange for me to criticize the defense, especially when the defense is the reason we won the game, but I’m not anything if I’m not me and well let’s talk about this defense. It’s great that the defense had four turnovers, its great that they held UCF to 28 points, but let’s also talk about this if we may. The turnovers, at least the two by Bishop, were both rather fluky. How many times, as long as your not a WVU fan, does a player make a great catch only to have it kick up in the air and hang there while the defense catches it? How many times do two receivers trip over each other allowing the defensive back to catch an easy interception?
The other two turnovers were more determined by the defense - an arm punt by Plumlee who was hit by Ed Vesterien prior to his throw and a strip sack when Plumlee was blindsided on a blitz. Both of those are typical turnovers that the defense caused. The two Bishop interceptions were “funky”. Should we take away from the defense because they were gifted two interceptions, not at all, but we also shouldn’t expect the team to generate so many turnovers when half were fluky. More so, despite the turnovers, the game itself was still very close. Two interceptions in the first half and the game was only 17-14 Mountaineers. After Plumlee’s fourth interception, the score was only 24-21.
UCF, who came into the game ranked 6th in the nation in total offense, put up yards. Plumlee, at one point in the game had not thrown an incomplete pass, being 11/14 with three “incompletions” all being interceptions. All 14 passes were “caught”. The Knights outgained West Virginia by 13 yards, had two more first downs, had more yards per attempt on passing and gained 189 yards rushing with a 5.7 YPC average.
To be fair, UCF again was ranked #6 in the country in offense. West Virginia’s upcoming opponents are BYU (300 YPG), Oklahoma (498 YPG), Cincinnati (444 YPG), Baylor (388 YPG). West Virginia’s defense should be better, but can they be?
I know I wanna talk about the schedule, in part because of a Twitter user and in part because I think it plays into the overall decision for Neal Brown. First, a twitter user has been posting that the current schedule is one of the toughest schedules West Virginia has ever faced and because of that we should enjoy whatever comes out it. [Before I go to far, if you are this user, know I enjoy the conversations and this isn’t my way of one-upping, however it gives me the ability to parse my thoughts out without the character limits imposed by Twitter]. To that point he’s right that in general, when West Virginia has a tough schedule, they have not fared well. The toughest schedule based on this is the 1979 team that went 5-6. It has last year’s squad as the third hardest schedule the team has ever faced.
This year the current schedule is ranked 37th, just one place above the 2016 team that went 10-3. If you tell me that this schedule is in the top 40 hardest schedules we’ve ever faced, I might be inclined to believe you, since there are lots of years, especially before 1980 where the team faced some pretty weak schedules compared to what is required today. That said, looking specifically at this year, one thing that doesn’t seem to be brought up enough is just the overall talent disparity between the teams on the schedule and how that plays into the games.
No matter how you look at it, West Virginia is playing four Group of Five teams. Those teams are currently ranked 86th (Cincinnati), 70th (Houston), 62nd (UCF), and 44th (BYU). Overall, here is how the teams rank in West Virginia’s schedule: PSU (10th), Duquesne (n/a), Pitt (87th), Texas Tech (65th), TCU (55th), Houston (70th), Oklahoma State (40th), UCF (62nd), BYU (44th), Oklahoma (6th), Cincinnati (86th), Baylor (74th). That is an average (excluding Duq.) of 54. West Virginia is ranked 51st FWIW. That doesn’t seem like a hard schedule to me - for comparison looking at Texas’ schedule their average opponent is 46, Iowa State is 43. [Maybe I’m going to look at everyone’s schedule this week....good idea].
So my point is that its tough to say this schedule is hard when you see those types of numbers. I also don’t think that the strength of schedule takes into account that WVU, playing four Group of 5 teams should be better, especially when those teams are playing a real Power 5 schedule for the first time. The single biggest difference between Group of 5 and Power 5 is that you need to have your B+ game every week or you are going to get run over quickly.
I said on Twitter that 3-1 in these final four games is the least acceptable response from WVU. A loss to OU can be explained, ignored or justified. A loss to anyone else cannot.