Dominant defense ends low season on high note

The game will be remembered for quarterback Jarrett Doege’s beautiful 35-yard rainbow pass that dropped perfectly into receiver Isaiah Esdale’s hands for the game-winning touchdown leading West Virginia to a 20-17 victory at TCU in the season-finale for both.

But while the Doege-to-Esdale connection was the “game winner,” it wasn’t what decided the game Friday night. That honor goes to a tough, physical and stingy Mountaineers (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) defense that kept the Horned Frogs (5-7, 3-6) in check all evening.

The WVU defense allowed just 10 points (TCU scored its final touchdown via a Jalen Reagor 70-yard punt return in the third quarter) and forced two critical turnovers in the victory.

Those numbers are impressive enough on their own. The WVU defensive effort is even more extraordinary when you consider the bail-out job required by the Mountaineers offense.

Doege made the play he needed when he needed it most. But this was, easily, the worst game of his three-start WVU tenure. Doege finished 20-for-35 for 158 yards with two touchdowns and three very bad interceptions. Fan optimism for Doege’s potential in his two-years of remaining eligibility should remain. But it’s probably time to pump the brakes on his Heisman campaign and forecasting his NFL draft stock.

Doege’s three turnovers and the punt team allowing a 70-yard touchdown return meant the defense had to play an almost perfect game to give the Mountaineers a chance. And that’s exactly what it did.

The Horned Frogs offense didn’t score after halftime. TCU quarterback Max Duggan had a worse night than Doege, finishing 15-for-36 for 144 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

WVU’s defense was almost as stingy against the run. TCU finished with 153 yards on the ground, but 64 of those came on one carry by receiver Taye Barber. Otherwise, the Mountaineers were as stiff against the ground as through the air.

With a losing season clinched and a bowl game not possible, the greatest consequence of Friday night’s matchup with TCU was as an early preview of 2020

If so, expect next year’s Mountaineers to very defensive.