Morgantown, West Virginia – Generally, West Virginia fans find a way to be optimistic about beating opponents, despite the challenges that the team faces.
Unfortunately, West Virginia’s bowl matchup in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against the Minnesota Gophers, it’s difficult to find many reasons to be confident in the Mountaineers’ chances.
To begin, Minnesota has the 4th best defense in all of college football this season, allowing only 284.8 yards per game. Only Wisconsin, Georgia and Oklahoma State have allowed less yards. In comparison, West Virginia had the 78th ranked offense in the nation, averaging 385.1 yards per game.
While the Mountaineers found some success offensively against poor defensive teams that offered little pressure, they struggled mightily against quality defenses, and Minnesota has one of the very best.
No Leddie Brown
Redshirt sophomore Tony Mathis, who rushed 59 times for 256 yards (4.34 yards per carry) this season, looked the part of a legit Power 5 starting running back in flashes, but he’s not Leddie Brown, one of the greatest running backs in West Virginia football history.
Brown’s decision to opt out of the bowl game instantly hurt West Virginia’s chances of winning. Brown accounted for 1,065 yards and 13 touchdowns and was one of the only consistent players on the West Virginia offense this season.
While Mathis could fill Brown’s role effectively, it’s a real unknown.
Jarret Doege put up reasonably good passing numbers this season, but his ability to win games has been an issue throughout his collegiate career. Last season in the Liberty Bowl, Neal Brown was forced to remove Doege in the second half due to a lack of production.
If Brown didn’t turn to Austin Kendall, the Mountaineers would have almost certainly lost that game to Army.
Doege’s lack of pocket presence and inability to handle pressure is a glaring issue and will likely be exposed in a major way by Minnesota’s stellar defense.
West Virginia could play their best game of the season and compete against Minnesota, but without Leddie Brown, with Jarret Doege and against one of the best defenses in the country, the Guaranteed Rate Bowl will be an uphill battle for the Mountaineers.