It’s hard for WVU fans to fully digest the loss to Houston. And that’s both about who was on the sidelines for the Cougars, and even more so, due to how the game ended.
While all of that is understandable and a tough pill to swallow, it’s time to try unpack what unfolded on the field Thursday night. A back and forth game that looked like the Mountaineers were about to blow in the second half all of sudden appeared to be one they were about to steal…until the final play happened.
All that matters is the loss, but what can be taken away from West Virginia dropping a game a to a struggling conference opponent that may impact the rest of the season?
The Defense Brought Flashbacks to 2022
These two things can both be true at the same time. The defense is why WVU won four of its first five games and even had any argument at all to be nationally ranked and the defense is a big reason West Virginia suffered its worst loss of the season.
As much as allowing the kickoff return ended up being something the team never truly recovered from, or how much Jaylen Anderson bobbling what should’ve been a touchdown and swung seven points the other way stung, the defense lost the game.
The secondary, even banged up, had to step up. They didn’t. And whenever faced with any one-on-one coverage out in space, they either lost the battle or committed a bad penalty.
But worse than that, the missed tackles that killed the Mountaineers all last season, and seemed to be an issue that was corrected this season, crept up again. WVU had been winning due to being fundamentally sound and not making any play worse than it had to be, but lost to the Cougars because they then did none of that well in the second half.
Garrett Greene’s Night Ruined by Mental Mistake
Garrett Greene was far from perfect, but his mental blunder at the end ruined what was otherwise his best overall performance as West Virginia’s starting quarterback. Greene finished the game with 391 yards passing and 47 more added on the ground. Those numbers usually lead to a solid offensive game and a win, right? Not on this night.
But as I said, he was not perfect even before the end. Greene did only complete 52.6% of his passes and overthrew some key passes, most notably one to CJ Donaldson, that if he caught, he may still be running. Missing what could have a touchdown or big play hurt, but Greene also lost a touchdown pass when he connected with Jaylen Anderson and then he bobbled the ball so much it was picked off. He even administered a monster block that resulted in a score. Overall, he wasn’t perfect but played well enough to lead a team to a victory on the road.
Unfortunately for Greene, all most people will remember is that he celebrated too much after throwing what should have been the improbable game winner to Hudson Clement. Greene took his helmet off, resulting in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That allowed the Cougars to have better field position and take a shot at the Hail Mary that won the game in the final seconds.
Brown talked about how disappointed he is in Greene for that mental mistake despite a solid game. Greene own it and took the blame. But there’s still no excuse for it either.
What Happened on Special Teams?
There’s one more aspect of a football team besides the offense and defense. There’s special teams, and when it’s good, it can really help a team win. But when special teams is bad, it can ruin games too. Special teams was bad for the Mountaineers on Thursday night.
Of course, the kickoff return for a score can be directly connected to the Houston win just off the math alone, but it was so much more than just that. It felt as if Stacy Sneed was going to run back and explode during every punt or kickoff return. Conversely, Preston Fox and company was unable to generate much in regards to setting up the WVU offense.
Giving up a touchdown return is about the most disappointing thing that could happen to WVU because special teams has been way better this year for West Virginia.
— Mike J. Asti (@MikeAsti11) October 12, 2023
Oliver Straw averaged only 37 yards per punt, which well his usual standard. Straw’s season average is still 42.8 even factoring in the poor showing in Houston and he has a 58-yard bomb to his name. He had his first real bad game in his two seasons at WVU.
Michael Hayes may have been perfect kicking field goals and extra points, but didn’t bring his normal velocity and distance to kickoffs. There’s an argument to be made that Jeff Koonz’s unit lost the game just as much as the defense did.
The game unfolded the exact way that could lead to a win for Dana Holgorsen and Houston. The Cougars are still an average team at best. If these two teams played ten times, it’s likely WVU wins most of them. But none of that means anything since Houston won the game on the field when it was played.
On the bright spot, WVU is still 4-2 (2-1), and that record is still far better than most predicted it would be at this point. But when you start out hot, barely crawling to two more wins for a bowl game won’t feel like anything to celebrate. The hot start and clutch wins covered up clear issues, but have provided the Mountaineers some cushion.
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