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Takeaways: WVU Bowl Win Shows Signs of 2024 Potential



WVU Football quarterback Garrett Greene prepares to take a snap against UNC in the Duke's Mayo Bowl at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 27, 2023. (Mitchell Northam / WV Sports Now)
Mitchell Northam/WVSN

Neal Brown started 2023 on the hot seat and ended it on the mayo seat, cementing a successful season for WVU with a 30-10 win in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Wednesday night.

The mayo bath and bowl victory end the year on a winning note and with a 9-4 (6-3) overall record. And while Brown himself even brought up some of the missed opportunities that prevented the season from being even better, a nine-win year and a bowl championship provide the Mountaineers a legitimate chance at achieving a spot in the final top 25.

With all of that said and my previous thoughts when putting the entire season in context that still apply, what did the win over North Carolina say about WVU?

Still Room to Build Chemistry on Offense

Once Garrett Greene returned from injury early in the season, the WVU offense started to pick up steam. Fans were treated to a level of explosiveness they hadn’t seen in years. And that potential for a big play at any moment was on display in the opening seconds of the bowl game. Greene connected with Traylon Ray for 75 yards and a touchdown.

Watch: Garrett Greene to Traylon Ray Ignites WVU Fans to Open Duke’s Mayo Bowl

However, that play ended up being a bit of a tease. It took until the second half for the Mountaineer offense to score its second touchdown and being putting the game out of reach. It was actually Beanie Bishop’s punt return that allowed WVU to hold the lead at half time.

Greene would only be able to find Ray twice more the rest of the game, overthrowing the freshman sensation on a couple other deep ball attempts. Hudson Clement led WVU receivers in receptions, but what would have been his longest catch of the day was erased due to a penalty.

Greene was a deserving game MVP and did account for 292 yards through the air and on the ground, but the offense never fully clicked like it did in other games throughout the season.

Fortunately for WVU, the key members of the offense in Greene, Jahiem White, who only ran for 50 yards but did score in Charlotte, Ray, CJ Donaldson, Kole Taylor, Rodney Gallagher and most of the offensive line will all be back. And unlike in past years, there won’t be a need for a quarterback competition. The job is Greene’s and he will have plenty of time to build even more chemistry with his existing weapons and others who will be added to the mix.

Imagine this West Virginia offense once it fully starts to gel…

This Group of Mountaineers Played Hard for Neal Brown

The players knew they had to win and deliver this season or their head coach would be fired. The pressure on Brown after a rough 2022 was no secret. And instead of folding under that pressure, the Mountaineers showed they were fueled by the doubters and they wanted to see their coach stick around.

This was most evident after the Duke’s Mayo Bowl when Greene, Bishop and veteran linebacker Lee Kpogba all brought up being picked to finish last before the season. The number 14 for that prediction of being worthy of 14th place was all the motivation this team needed.

For their work, Brown had his best season since arriving in Morgantown and is excited to be sticking around to keep building on the progress made this year.

The Pass Rush Was in Full Force

The WVU defense is at its best when it’s getting to the opposing quarterback, and saying the West Virginia was able to generate a pass rush would be an understatement. With seven sacks on North Carolina quarterback Conner Harrell, the Mountaineers made it a tough night for the Tar Heels.

That heavy pass rush also helped lead to turnovers, forcing Harrell to rush a couple throws that were intercepted. The way the WVU defense played in Charlotte was reminiscent of the strong effort in the Backyard Brawl win over Pitt.

Has WVU Done Enough to Earn Top 25 Finish?

Brown followed West Virginia’s victory over North Carolina by making his thoughts loud and clear about where his team stands compared to the rest of the country. He said he feels WVU deserves to be nationally ranked in the final major polls.

Brown even said he will be casting a vote for the Mountaineers himself. And he did not stop there. Brown, who spent most of the off-season hearing about how he would be fired, even believes West Virginia should be part of the pre-season rankings for the 2024 season as well.

Neal Brown Believes Mountaineers Deserve National Ranking After 9-Win Season

WVU’s argument for a 2023 end of season ranking stems from finishing with nine wins, including a convincing bowl victory over a Tar Heels team that won eight games out of the ACC. In addition to nine overall wins, the Mountaineers won six games against Big 12 competition. He did also take a moment to ponder what could’ve been too.

Brown asked where WVU would be if they were able to hang on against Oklahoma State and Houston. But even though WVU did not win those games, which would have resulted in 11 total wins, he’s still making the case the nine-win season that did happen should at least result in a spot as one of the top 25 teams.

And while it’s tough to predict what will happen next season or pre-season rankings in December of 2023, the fact West Virginia has been able to already retain the key core members of the team lends credence to Brown’s commends about WVU earning a place in any ranking that projects 2024.

If voters agree with Brown, WVU will find itself ranked for the first time at any point since Brown arrived in Morgantown in 2019. Brown did argue for a ranking after West Virginia’s hot start to the season and was denied at that time.

Click here to watch the WVSN postgame show live on the field at Bank of America Stadium after the game.

WVU Postgame Show: West Virginia Caps Off 2023 Season with Bowl Victory

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