Morgantown, West Virginia – Neal Brown made a decision that almost no other coach in college football would have made. With six minutes left in the game and all the momentum on West Virginia’s side, Brown elected to punt the ball and give Pitt a chance to win.
Every analytic that you can find suggests that Brown made the wrong decision. West Virginia had an 89% chance of winning at that moment. The historical conversion rate of 4th and inches is well over 80%, according to a study done by Yale Undergraduate Sports Analytics Group. West Virginia’s CJ Donaldson had not been stopped once during the game. If Brown didn’t want to put the ball in hands of a freshman, he simply could have called a quarterback sneak, which had a near-guaranteed chance of converting a first down.
But Brown, who has shown that he plays to not lose rather than actually win games during his time at West Virginia, gave the ball back to Pitt and gave Pitt a chance.
Pitt, of course, marched down field and the rest is history.
Brown, who should be held accountable for costing the Mountaineers an enormous victory, was resolute in his post game press conference.
“With a little over six minutes to go in the game, it was 4th and about a foot. We were up seven points. So you can pin them and we did that. They had to go 98 yards. If you go for it there and you don’t get it, then they’ve got a short field and they had three timeouts. So the best answer I can give you is that if I had to do it again, I would make the same decision.”
No other coach in America would have punted at that moment in the game. Not even Pitt’s ultra-conservative head coach Pat Narduzzi who said “I would’ve gone for it” when asked about the 4th and inches play call.
Neal Brown has a loser’s mentality. He doesn’t play to win games. He plays to not lose. And in big, important games like the Backyard Brawl, that almost always loses you games.
It certainly did last night.