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Bragg: WVU Was at its Worst Last Week, but K-State Win was Neal Brown’s Best Yet

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WVU football coach Neal Brown watches during West Virginia's win against Kansas State. (photo via WVU/William Wotring - The Dominion Post)

One week ago the West Virginia University football was licking its wounds following WVU’s worst loss of Neal Brown’s tenure to lowly Texas Tech. Seven days later the Mountaineers are celebrating the best win of the Brown’s time in Morgantown.

The loss in Lubbock showed a sloppy West Virginia team prone to mistakes and costly penalties, and there is no escaping the fact that it was a bad, bad week for Brown and the Mountaineers. As bad as it was, however, WVU displayed an ability to bounce back and leave the Lubbock loss in Lubbock. Once West Virginia got rolling Saturday against Kansas State, it was the best example to date of what Brown’s vision for the Mountaineers can be when it clicks.

It’s not always going to click, at least not yet. When it does, you get results like the one against K-State.

Perhaps too much was made of WVU’s top-ranked defense heading into the Texas Tech game, but that group took its medicine and shut down the Wildcats all afternoon Saturday in Morgantown.

Nicktroy Fortune grabbed his first interception in a West Virginia uniform. Sean Mahone continued to play like one of the best defensive backs in the Big 12, if not the country. Former Bridgeport High star Dylan Tonkery, a linebacker, also logged his first collegiate interception and returned it for a touchdown. Akheem Mesidor, Darius and Dante Stills all shined on the defensive line. For a group that’s reputation took a serious hit by allowed 34 points to an undermanned and uncreative Texas Tech team, Saturday against Kansas State was that group showing what it’s capable of when firing on all cylinders.

If you were to just read the statistics sheet it would appear quarterback Jarret Doege was pretty good in the return to his hometown to take on his boyhood favorite team Texas Tech, but it was a classic “trust what your eyes are telling you” performance from a quarterback. Doege was not in command on the offense, and WVU struggled to keep drives alive — which, of course, cost the Mountaineers. The receivers did not do Doege many favors either with more than a few drops against the Red Raiders.

Saturday against K-State, Doege appeared much more in control of the WVU offense. He continued his infatuation with finding receiver Winston Wright — who has kind of quietly turned into West Virginia’s most consistent player at that position. Other receivers — guys like Byrce Ford-Wheaton, T.J. Simmons, Sam James, Ali Jennings — appeared to get back on track Saturday against the Wildcats as well.

Leddie Brown has been West Virginia’s best offensive player this season and I don’t think there is much, if any debate about that. Against Texas Tech, however the standout running back was slowed down to well below his season average. Like his teammates, Leddie bounced back on track against K-State and once again played like one of the best running backs in the Big 12.

Was West Virginia perfect? Far from it. The Mountaineers did, however, prove they can identify areas of weakness and go to work. Neal Brown and the coaching staff deserve a fair amount of credit for that and not just for what they did in practice. When WVU got off to a poor start by settling for a field goal in the red zone as well as missing an early field goal attempts, it could have spelled disaster. This was against Kansas State, after all, and the Wildcats have long been known as a program that will make you pay for those kinds of lapses.

Not West Virginia on Saturday. Neal Brown and his staff rallied the troops, and before long the rout was on. This was WVU at its best under Brown’s watch.

It won’t be like that every week, but Saturday’s game against Kansas State was certainly a sign this team has a ceiling much higher that many thought after what happened the previous week in Lubbock.

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Tom has spent the last decade as a sports journalist based in West Virginia, most recently as the WVU beat writer for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and with previous stops at the Charleston Daily Mail, the (Fairmont) Times West Virginian and the Daily Independent in Ashland, Kentucky. He was born and raised in Cross Lanes, West Virginia -- where he currently resides -- and is a 2010 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Marshall University.

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