Sure, this is a question any team in any sport can ask themselves in a given season. But for West Virginia football in Year 2 under Neal Brown, a play here or a play there, and the Mountaineers would have two games left and be in the thick of the Big 12 Championship race.
West Virginia is now 5-3 after manhandling TCU 24-6 on Saturday in Morgantown. Jarret Doege had his most efficient performance of the season, completing 19 of 26 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Leddie Brown piled up 156 rushing yards on 26 carries. The defense also held its own, keeping TCU under 300 total yards, while also helping WVU win the turnover battle 2-0.
WVU is 4-3 in the Big 12, while the leaders are Iowa State (5-1) and Oklahoma State (4-1) followed by Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas all at 4-2 in conference play.
But in a season of hundreds of plays, two stick out for West Virginia that could have changed their fortunes. First, there’s last week against Texas. Neal Brown chose not to kick a field goal early in the fourth quarter with WVU trailing 17-13. The turnover on downs meant that when the Mountaineers also had the ball in the Texas red zone late in the game, they had to go for it again, instead of kicking a field goal which would’ve put them in the lead had they taken the three points earlier in the quarter. The match up was basically a Big 12 Championship elimination game, and it was Texas coming out on top.
Then, two weeks prior against Texas Tech, the Mountaineers went to Lubbock taking on a struggling Red Raiders team that was starting a new QB in Henry Colombi. To Tech’s credit, it held star RB Leddie Brown in check with under 80 rushing yards, but still WVU was in a position to win the game in the fourth quarter. WVU started a drive on its 42 yard line and on the second play of the drive, Doege found Sam James on a screen play and James was stripped by Jacob Morgenstern, which was recovered by Tech’s Zach McPhearson, who took it 42 yards for a touchdown and a 34-27 lead that would turn out to be the final score.
Had these two plays turned out differently, it’s the West Virginia Mountaineers who might have been sitting at 6-1 in the Big 12 with a half-game lead for first place.
Sure, there’s no “ifs” and “buts” in sports. The outcomes are what they are, luck be damned. However, the West Virginia Mountaineers have clearly made serious improvements from the team that lost five in a row last season, four by double digits, and dropped six of seven.
And the way Neal Brown is rebuilding this program is sustainable for the long haul. It’s not just the flashy offensive skill position players. It’s a nasty defense, with solid offense based around the running game, and special teams talent as well.
While this season is not going to end with a trip to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX for a chance at a Big 12 Title, nothing Neal Brown and this program does in the coming years should be a surprise to any Big 12 fan paying attention. Watch out.
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