Coaches and sports fans have one thing in common, they take it game by game.
Individually speaking, the TCU loss is not a bad one for West Virginia, and that could be said independent of the struggles of this season. Despite that reality, WVU fans can’t separate it from the entire year, and the Mountaineer have no one but themselves to blame for that.
West Virginia made a team that entered the game ranked number 7 in the country sweat in the final minutes. Now obviously this is nothing to storm the field over because the WVU program itself has been in that top 10 spot in the past, but the 2022 team falling short after hanging with the class of the conference is nothing to be mad about on its own. However, the overwhelming reaction from fans after the game was disappointment. That was mixed with people who picked apart aspects of the game as reasons why WVU blew it, or even plenty who felt robbed due to controversy over a pass interference that was not called. Why was this the case? The answer is simple, and it’s understandable at this point to an extent.
The expectations heading into the season were all over the place. Some, mostly the national media, were predicting WVU to only win four games. Those projections angered fans, who were throwing around eight-plus wins, largely based on the addition of transfer quarterback JT Daniels. I predicted six wins, and I set that as a bar I thought head coach Neal Brown had to reach. While those who expected this team to win eight or more games were overestimating the roster and overlooking glaring issues, it’s no guarantee this team even reaches six for bowl eligibility. And it’s absolutely fair to offer criticism of this team when a couple of the losses are thanks to getting completely dominated.
“I refuse to accept that’s who we are,” said Brown in reference to WVU’s 48-10 loss to Texas Tech the week before the close loss to TCU. “We will be better, he added.
And Brown was right. The Mountaineers, even this year’s team should be better than to get completely annihilated by an opponent enduring a similar season. But that’s what annoys fans the most. If WVU can play well against TCU, and if WVU can beat Baylor, a team that has been ranked this season and just won the Big 12, then a logical mind would assume that same team should at least appear more competitive in other games. It is true every matchup is different and plenty about what’s happened in the Big 12 has not made sense this year, but Brown knew his team could be better, and they were.
Brown opened up his postgame press conference Saturday afternoon talking about being proud of his team for responding so well against quality competition. But one solid effort in response to a miserable performable is not going to make anyone forget about how miserable the previous game actually was.
Like it or not, people are going to have a tough time separating one solid effort in a loss from a season full of so much disappointment. Calling the 2022 season a confusing back-and-forth battle of emotions would be a bit of an understatement. A hard-fought Backyard Brawl that left the masses, which actually included Pitt fans and media, was followed up with a home loss to Kansas in overtime. Yes, Kansas is better than WVU got the best of Jalon Daniels, but squandering a game you had a 14-point lead and were 13.5 point favorites is going to leave a sour taste. Wins over Towson and Virginia Tech are nice, but are going to lose their luster when considering one is an FCS team and the other is a program struggling far more than WVU. The Baylor win was big, and lended some to regain some trust in a possible climb, but it does sit firmly in the middle of two embarrassing losses to Texas and Texas Tech. All of that needs explained because all of that counts, regardless of how the team responds.
To put it bluntly, if at team is just bad all the time, the evaluation is just as clear as if a team is good all of the time. But the 2022 West Virginia Mountaineers have been such a roller coaster ride that fans are left with their stomach’s turned upside down every other week. And there’s nothing more frustrating than when it feels as if a team plays down or up based on the competition.