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What I Think After Oklahoma Drubs The Mountaineers

It was a beatdown that was over before it began

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Last night was....well last night was last night to be frank. The Oklahoma Sooners looked like the Sooners who have run the Big 12 for the last dozen years and generally speaking have been very good for a long, long time. If you are frustrated, angry, resentful, mad, or irritated because the Sooners beat the Mountaineers last night, I would say you have some perspective issues that you need to work out, however, if you are [insert adjective here] because your Mountaineers lost by nearly 40 to the Sooners when you thought the Mountaineers were supposed to be better and this would be a back and forth game that would be close - then you’ve come to the right place. Let’s talk about it.

Garrett Greene

Greene is, by all accounts, the best quarterback Neal Brown has put on the field in his five years as the head coach of the Mountaineers and Greene offers the dual versatility necessary to give the Mountaineers an edge or help even the playing field against teams. The fear with Greene was what happened last night, what would the signal caller do when his team fell behind by several scores and he was forced to use his arm to bring the team back - would he be able to complete the necessary throws and passes that would be there and would he be able to stay on schedule when he absolutely had to? Last night that answer was no and it was fairly emphatic in its response.

That does not make Greene a bad quarterback or mean he shouldn’t be the quarterback next year, but it does potentially give us an insight into what his ceiling may be. Since Big 12 play started, Greene’s completion percentage has hovered around 50-53% and he’s only had one game where he was closer to the magic number of 60%. There were passes on the field that Greene simply missed and there were decisions that he made that were incorrect. The game appeared to get faster on him and he began trying too hard to make throws and anyone who has played sports will tell you that the harder you try the worst you tend to do.

When Garrett is good, his skills present a unique challenge for teams as he is more than fast enough to turn a small crease between defenders into 15-20 yards and he has the arm strength to throw the ball down the field and hit a receiver 40-50 yards for a score. Not every team you are going to play has the defensive line to keep Greene contained while also dropping deep safeties to keep the deep throws contained. There are teams that do have those abilities and Greene doesn’t have the touch, feel, or accuracy to hit the throws when he needs to make a throw with a 70% strength throw and loft it over a linebacker or put it on the back shoulder of a receiver. Can he get there - that question is one the coaching staff hasn’t been able to answer. No quarterback has looked better after being trained by this staff. Will that change with Greene?

Zone Defense

After Houston, many people wondered what happened to the pressure that defined the team in their low-scoring win streak where they won games without scoring 30 points but the defense held people down. Last night was the second lowest graded coverage grade PFF has given the Mountaineers this season (Penn State graded out at 41.8, last night graded out at 49.4), but it was obvious that the Mountaineers weren’t bringing a ton of pressure and were more often playing off-coverage where the defender did not press the receiver or put their hands on the receiver within the legal limits early in their routes.

Pro Football Focus has given the Mountaineers a coverage grade below 60 four times this year: Penn State, Duquesne, Houston, and Oklahoma. If you had to guess which games had the worst showing for the secondary, I’d believe you if you had guessed those four games. Is it any surprise that three of those games are losses?

Squandering Chances

Yesterday presented some of the necessary chaos that West Virginia needed to potentially make the Big 12 Championship Game for the first time since they joined the Big 12 in 2012. Oklahoma State lost to UCF in a bad way yesterday, which opened the door for the Mountaineers, who if they were able to win out, would have created some sort of three-way tie and at least put themselves into the conversation of the title game. They appeared to stand a better chance if Texas were in their group of tied teams rather than Oklahoma State, with the Cowboys victory over the Mountaineers playing a larger factor than the fact that the Longhorns and Mountaineers had not met, but still the chances were there. An unexpected loss by the Kansas Jayhawks also helped as it meant that the Jayhawks would finish lower than the Mountaineers if West Virginia could win out.

All of that goodwill that helped put the Mountaineers potentially in a spot where a title game appearance was at least on the table was squandered with the 59-20 road loss to the Sooners. More so, the goodwill of beating UCF and BYU, not only winning those games but running away with those games to the point I wrote “doing what P5 teams should do to G5 teams” was also lost when the Mountaineers could not muster up the energy to be on the same field as the Sooners.

This Schedule

Its taken me a while to figure out how to properly convey just why this season, despite the potential to finish with 8 regular season wins for just the 38th time in school history, feels like a downer and feels like its just not the answer. I believe I figured out the answer and I hope I can convey that here.

Every so often West Virginia is handed a schedule that is not very tough and when those opportunities have arisen, coaches have used that weaker schedule as a jumping off point to win many games. The strength of schedule, according to Sports-Reference is 3.47 for this year [so far]. Their SOS metric is convoluted and based in part on rankings of teams in the preseason but let’s discuss this. Currently, the SOS of 3.47 would rank this year as the 24th toughest the Mountaineers have ever faced. No team with a tougher schedule has won more than 9 games - 1975, 1981, 1982 and 1983 are the only times the Mountaineers won 9 games with a schedule as tough or tougher than what the current 2023 team has faced. If West Virginia wins out and wins a bowl game they would become just the fifth team to win at least 9 games with a tough schedule.

Unfortunately, that SOS number is going to go down based on Cincinnati and Baylor, both whom currently sit at 3-7. I expect it to finish closer to the 2016 SOS level, which was a 2.03 according to SR and this is where our trouble and frustrations begin.

If the schedule finishes with a 2.00 SOS ranking according to SR, the school would have finished the 37th best schedule in its history and at least three teams in the schools history, 2006, 2007 and 2016, would have finished with at least 10+ wins and this starts our conversation.

For the past 40 years, when a West Virginia coach has dealt with an easier schedule, they have ratcheted up the wins and created a jumping off point for the school. A point where the school could use the increased wins to start improving its status. Those easier schedules created the ceiling for each of those coaches. For Don Nehlen his ceiling was the national championship based upon how college football was setup at the time. For Rich Rodriguez, it was talk of the national championship with the BCS title game in sights but the ceiling was the BCS Bowls he played in and won. For Bill Stewart it was 9 wins and a bowl loss usually. For Dana Holgorsen it was a BCS bowl win or a Big 12 third place finish. For Neal Brown, we’re taking the easiest schedule he’s been given and trying to convince fans that 8 wins is good enough. It just isn’t.

This isn’t just about the number of wins though, because yes at the start of the year many fans said they thought this was a year that we could win 8 games. For me, it also comes down to how much the narrative has shifted since Brown took over. From 2011-2018, the screams online, from fans, from media personalities and others was that Dana Holgorsen wasn’t good enough because Oliver Luck fired Bill Stewart for not having West Virginia in the national conversation for a national title. Luck’s words were “I didn’t believe we had an opportunity to win a national championship with the direction of the program,” Luck said. “At the end of the day, results matter. And we weren’t getting the results.”

Fans often used that line against the new head coach, stating that he was hired to win national titles because his predecessor was fired for not winning them and since he wasn’t winning them, he wasn’t doing his job. Yet, the past 5 years, no one has ever uttered anything about national titles and suddenly we’re supposed to be satisfied with barely being bowl eligible and/or securing eight wins in the easiest schedule in years and not being competitive against the three teams who were good. It doesn’t feel right that the goalposts have moved as much as they have for a coach who hasn’t won enough.

The loss last night all but guarantees that the Mountaineers are going to be unranked for the fifth straight season. The loss last night nearly guarantees the Mountaineers will finish zero wins against teams that finished above .500 on the season - BYU can potentially if they beat both OU and OSU to end the year. The loss last night means that WVU will finish another year without a win against a team that finished the year ranked.

From one of our discord users - Since 2019 West Virginia has:

8 wins over bowl-eligible teams, 5 wins over teams that finished with a winning record, 3 wins over teams who finished more than 1 game over. 500 and 0 wins over teams that finished the year ranked.