The Mountaineers are back in the win column. Let’s take a look at how they got there.
The Mountaineers picked up their first win in over a month on Saturday in Fort Worth. Other than the opening kickoff, Neal Brown’s team looked disciplined and sharp after the week off. Entering Saturday, Neal Brown had a 1-5 record at WVU when coming off byes and extended weeks in the regular season. Fortunately, this bye week seemed to do the Mountaineers good as they kicked off the second half of their season with a road win, something WVU hasn’t accomplished since the last time they went to Fort Worth in 2019. Let’s look at the numbers!
It was really refreshing to watch a clean game by the Mountaineers after what we’ve watched this last month. For the first time this season, West Virginia won the turnover battle and they did so in a big way. The defense forced three second half turnovers that the offense cashed in for nine points (their first points off a turnover this season excluding the LIU game). The offense limited back-breaking penalties, did a great job of staying on schedule on early downs, and converted on 3rd and 4th downs at a fairly high clip.
Not only did the offense limit mistakes, they also moved and scored the ball as well as any game this season. The Mountaineers scored on all of their “real” drives in the first half (not counting running the half out) which was especially impressive considering that the first three drives all started inside their own ten yard line. Due to this, the WVU offense boasted their highest available yard percentage of the season by far.
West Virginia had a very steady and productive day on the ground with 41 rushes going for 229 yards (5.6 yards per rush) including the electric 67 yard dash by Garrett Greene. Pro Football Focus gave Garrett Greene the highest offensive grade for the Mountaineers, though he only played 5 snaps total (one pass, two runs, two handoffs). It’s hard not to wonder why Greene didn’t get more snaps after having such an explosive impact. My only thought is that with Doege on the field, the defense had to respect the long ball and couldn’t over crowd the box. The Mountaineer offense felt multi-dimenionsal for the first time in a long time so I won’t question the decision making too much.
In a huge contrast to the Baylor game, the offensive line owned the day on Saturday. Doege had great success on downfield throws (3/4 on passes more than 20 yards downfield) because he had time to throw. Every quarterback is going to do better when they have a clean pocket, but for Doege it is everything. When he has a clean pocket, his PFF grade 80.8 on the season; when under pressure, his grade drops to a dismal 41.9. For comparison, a more mobile quarterback like Max Duggan sees a clean pocket grade of 75.8 drop to only 68.7 when under pressure. Doege is a statue in the pocket but he can throw the rock when his line protects him. I won’t pretend that TCU’s defense is an elite unit, but West Virginia figured out how to exploit them early and often and it hopefully can carry some of that momentum going forward.
The offense played great, but the defense won this game. This team continues to go as far as the defense will carry them: West Virgina has won all three games where the defense received a PFF grade over 70 and has lost all games where the defense graded out under 70. The three turnovers in the second half were huge as well as several crucial stops on third and fourth down. Excluding the kickoff return, the defense only allowed 10 points all game against an incredibly potent TCU offense. Prior to this game, TCU hadn’t scored less than 27 points in any game this season. Special shoutout to Charles Woods who balled out of control with an 85.5 PFF grade and two takeaways.
The Mountaineers have five games remaining on the schedule. The next two weeks they face what might be the two best teams in the league in Iowa State and Oklahoma State. If you the Mountaineers want to go bowling this year, they still would have to knock off two of ISU, OSU, KSU, and Texas and assume they can handle a potentially frisky Kansas squad. According to SP+, ESPN FPI, and Beta Rank, WVU has a respective expected 2.5, 2.5, and 1.8 wins remaining on their schedule.