MORGANTOWN, West Virginia — I would be the first to admit that Saturday’s preseason preconceptions of the matchup of West Virginia versus Texas Tech were wrong. I do not think that WVU got lucky or had some things go their way to give them some sort of edge in the contest. You cannot even talk about them using their backup quarterback – because we already are. I actually think that for the first time with Neal Brown, this is a really competitive team coming out of the school. Maybe everyone is playing with a chip on their shoulder because no one escapes the chatter circling the program about the coach – and by all accounts, he does really have a positive impact on the players, and they want to succeed for him. I think that is finally really showing in the results on the field.
Barring the first season under Neal Brown in 2019, where we opened the conference schedule against a not-yet-established Kansas program, this is the first time we have started the conference slate with a win in recent years. Regardless of where things go, we are currently .750 on the season with some opponents that were not the worst in the Big 12 or their respective conferences. For example, Pitt may have lost to North Carolina yesterday, but three minutes before halftime, the Panthers knocked in a field goal, and the score reduced to 4 – so it might not have been quite the manhandling that the final indicated. So, despite their 1-3 current record, the Panthers will have a couple of games to set the course right and return to 3-3 on the season.
But who cares about Pitt? We care about all the shade at the beginning of the season and even some negativity we let into our own lives about how this could implode. Now, you get to see celebrations like this with the coach and the team:
With a third of the regular season behind us, here is what I know about the program moving forward:
No One Gets to Say Who WVU Is (Not Even Us)
Every news publication representing the Mountaineers and all of college football has spent the past few months defining the program (even us, to an extent.) You must realize that once you get past this weekend, where the competition matters for inter-conference play, the cream rises to the top or the dirt settles to the bottom of the glass, depending on your perspective. The path from here is unclear, and not an easy one despite some miscues in the conference to this point. However, I believe that with the defensive stands and the rallying I have seen in the recent games, no team ahead of us can send us back to West Virginia without a fight. It is merely a matter of keeping these players motivated that despite your successes, no one believed in you when the season started – and they are waiting for you to stumble. Keep climbing.
Ranked is Possible
This is starting to become a rather wild year for college football. This would undoubtedly have been an exciting year to see the college playoff expansion program begin, but unfortunately, we have to wait until next season to see the 12-team format. With so much shuffling in the Top 25, no one is safe but a handful of dynasties at the tippy top. There is much room to find the cracks and appear on the poll if the team keeps winning. Let me tell you that if Neal Brown takes this team to a bowl game, breaks his funk with Texas Tech, breaks his streak of not winning more than two games at a time, AND gets WVU in the ranked conversation in the same season – he’s your coach in 2024. In my eyes, too, that’s measurable improvement and something to actually build on.
The Defense Believes
I would not have predicted that I would be eating the crow I have about the secondary. After the Penn State game, it felt like certain players were out of position or missing their assignments – but now we just see that Penn State is a formidable force in the Big Ten East trying to make a run at the playoffs. The secondary and pass defense has been exceptional in all the other contests. You cannot stop everything. They are competitive, playing a tighter zone, and not scared to make plays on the ball. We have had several interceptions and multiple near-interceptions just in the first few games. This is a serious improvement from recent years. Best of all, this improvement in coverage has not become an overloading of PI penalties or personal fouls.
Garrett Needs the Control
By several accounts, Garrett was available to play in the Texas Tech game if an emergency dictated that. This tells me that he is pretty close to being able to return after it. I expect him to suit up and start against TCU on the road. I think that Nicco did an admirable job against the Red Raiders and the Panthers, but I also think that if you want to stretch the field and find your conference footing on the road in Dallas, you need the team’s clear leader at the helm.
We Need a Couple of Dudes
Kole Taylor, Devin Carter, and Hudson Clement had some retention issues with the passes they were getting this weekend. Devin Carter was targeted six times with only one reception. Granted, some of that was Nicco, and some wasn’t. We must have at least two guys that can make space, catch consistently, and force defenses to commit resources to defend them to succeed in the total offensive scheme. So, who wants to be the guy they have to worry about?
I am very happy to say that I don’t look at the schedule now, picking out the games we will lose so I can give myself the peace of watching them without expectations. This is a scary place to be in because it has all the potential to lead to some heartbreak. But, I take it like this team is learning to mountain climb and not scaling it without the possibility of some stumbling ahead. Our climb will not always be straight up and down, but as long as we seek the peak, which shows on the field, I have my mouth shut about Neal Brown. Let’s go Mountaineers.
Photo Credit:Lubbock Avalanche-Journal