Neal Brown finally picked up a program-defining win on Saturday. Let’s take a look at how the Mountaineers got there.
The Mountaineers limped into bye week as a beat-up, underachieving 2-4 football team. Coming off a long-awaited road win in Fort Worth and a home upset of a ranked Iowa State team, the Mountaineers find themselves on an entirely different trajectory. Many of the issues that plagued WVU in the first half of the season have been cleaned up and the Mountaineers are playing with a new swagger about them. What impressed me the most about Saturday’s game was how well the Mountaineers absorbed the big blows that the Cyclones threw and kept fighting. There were two early explosive touchdowns, a wildly unlucky tipped interception, and a questionable offensive PI call that led to a next-play pick-six; after each of these, the Mountaineers could have rolled over and decided that it just wasn’t their day. Each time though, the Mountaineers got off the mat and, punched back, and ultimately pulled out a very satisfying victory over a squad that embarrassed them last year. Let’s look at the numbers.
Where did this Mountaineer offense come from? In back-to-back weeks the Mountaineers have put up their highest scoring performance of the season (excluding LIU). I’m sure that Neal Brown and company didn’t want this game to be a shootout, but the offense absolutely delivered with nearly 500 total yards. Having a great offensive day means nothing if you can’t extend drives and cash them in for points. The Mountaineers were excellent when it mattered the most on Saturday. The offense converted 10 of their 16 attempts on 3rd and 4th downs and finished drives with touchdowns when given the opportunity. In the Mountaineers six “scoring opportunities”, possessions that made it inside the opponent’s 40 yard line, they scored a total of 38 points (5 touchdowns and a field goal). In contrast, Iowa State had four scoring opportunities that netted them only 10 points and was held to a measly 2/12 on 3rd down conversions. The Mountaineers played better on the biggest plays of the game and that’s the reason they walked away victorious.
What has been so different in the offense since the bye week? The offensive line has turned the narrative around. Per PFF, the offensive line had their best pass blocking game of the season versus Iowa State, topping their previous best which was last week. The run blocking grades were exceptional as well, leading to 4.2 yards per carry. TJ Banks played an insane game at the tight end position in relief of the injured Mike O’Laughlin; Banks was actually the highest graded player per PFF, posting huge production catching the ball and blocking.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t specifically highlight Jarrett Doege’s performance. Doege has received far more than his share of criticism this year. The guy has had to hear chants from the home fans in favor of benching him. Doege has come out of the bye week hell bent on turning this season around. Of his 41 games in college football, Saturday was the highest graded game he’s ever had versus an FBS opponent and the sixth best passing rating in all of college football in Week 9. Earlier in this season the offense felt inept at attacking a defense vertically. Since the bye week, Doege is 8/12 on passes thrown further than 20 yards downfield. Doege threw the ball 46 times on Saturday, and yes, he did throw a pretty egregious interception that sucked the air out of the stadium. But most importantly, Doege responded to that interception by leading three consecutive touchdown drives over 75 yards. This guy is playing with huge confidence right now and really showing us that he is a solid quarterback when given time in the pocket.
The Mountaineers found a way to scrape out a victory on Saturday, but it wasn’t without a healthy dose of adversity. West Virginia conceded two long touchdowns in the first three drives, lost the turnover battle once, and lost the field position game. The pooch and squib kickoff strategy didn’t work as well as it did last week and the Cyclones benefited from it by starting their drives at an average of the 32 yard line following WVU kickoffs.
With four games remaining on the schedule, West Virginia’s season outlook has changed significantly. According to SP+, WVU now has a 75.6% chance of eclipsing the six win mark and making a bowl and a 7% chance of winning out to finish 8-4.
Now for some fun numbers:
Doege is only 573 yards away from passing Pat White for 5th all time in WVU passing yards. And just for fun, let’s assume Doege plays five more games this year (four regular season and a bowl) and he comes back and plays 13 next season. Using his average yards/game this season to extrapolate over 18 more games, Doege would finished his WVU career 2nd all-time in WVU passing yards. If you count his Bowling Green yards, he would land at 10th in NCAA history in passing yards. That demonstrates the power of a player who started as a freshman and benefited from a 4 game redshirt season and a 10 game eligibility frozen season.
Also, sorry Kansas:
This weekend WVU won their 42nd Big 12 game, passing Kansas who has 41 Big 12 wins. Kansas has played in the Big 12 since 1996.
— Joel (@WVStatsGuy) October 31, 2021