The last time West Virginia was in possession of the Black Diamond Trophy, I was just starting elementary school. Virginia Tech held the trophy for 6,195 days before WVU was finally able to upset then-No. 15 Virginia Tech, 27-21, at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
It was a huge win for WVU head coach Neal Brown, the biggest of his time at the helm of the program, but it looked like the Mountaineers were going to choke a 27-7 lead away in the final minutes after a stagnant offense in the second half and a boneheaded interception gave VT the chance to win it late.
A late goal-line stand from the WVU defense with the victory, but it was certainly anything but a reassuring win. Regardless, a win is a win, especially when it’s over a big rival like the Hokies.
It’s the way the Mountaineers went about the win was the tale of two halves for WVU and Doege in specific.
Doege looked pretty good through the first half of the VT game. Staying out of the way and letting star running back Leddie Brown open the game with an 80-yard touchdown scamper was a perfect start for WVU.
The Mountaineer defense was swarming early, consistently keeping the Hokies in long down and distances, and Doege even capitalized on a VT personal foul by throwing a nice 29-yard touchdown toss to junior wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, in which he threw a pass that allowed the talented wideout to make a play on the ball in the end zone.
The touchdown throw wasn’t even Doege’s longest throw of the half, the longest coming courtesy of a 30-yard strike to junior wide receiver Sam James on a play in which James found a pocket of space in the VT secondary and Doege made the simple yet effective play of getting him the ball. Senior wide receiver Isaiah Esdale turned a short dump-off into a 31-yard gain with a nice spin move to further boost Doege’s efficient day — technically Doege’s longest throw of the half.
From the VT 16-yard line, Doege made the simple play of dumping the ball off to James and he turned a short gain into a touchdown by evading defenders and dashing into the end zone.
The theme for Doege was keeping it simple and relying upon his talented cast of offensive teammates to make plays. And it worked. Doege was efficient, he made some nice throws and WVU entered the half with a 24-7 lead.
Then the second half happened.
The first drive of the half started off well, with Doege getting the ball in Brown’s hands for a 25-yard gain followed by an 18-yard toss to junior wide receiver Sean Ryan. He even converted a big 4th down play on a nice slant to senior tight end Mike O’Laughlin to extend the opening drive and pick up a field goal.
After that drive, Doege went 3-for-3 with five yards, added three rush yards and turned the ball over twice to end the game. In the biggest game of his career — and Neal Brown’s — and Doege didn’t show up when it mattered most.
VT’s defense caught Doege from behind on his fumble early in the fourth quarter, catching him unaware as VT defensive lineman TyJuan Garbutt pounced on Doege and knocked the ball free. It wasn’t the worst strip-sack, being caught on the blindside after shoddy protection from the offensive line, but Doege must be aware of pressure around him.
While the fumble was excusable, the interception should have cost WVU the game. On 3rd-and-12, Doege threw an ill-timed screen pass right into the hands of VT cornerback Jermaine Waller deep inside WVU territory. It was a horrible throw, a horrible play call and WVU was lucky to escape with the win as VT started a drive on the WVU 17-yard line with two minutes left in the game.
Doege was solid for much of the game. He did what needed to do and guided WVU to 27 points. Then he shut down. The offensive play calling was bland and uninspired, and Doege’s two turnovers almost hamstrung WVU’s huge upset.
Even worse offensive creativity from VT and a stellar performance from the WVU saved the Mountaineers.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Greene played a bit for WVU, coming in to provide an added dimension on offense that Doege cannot offer. However, with just one pass attempt, an incompletion, he’s still not ready to take over for Doege yet. Greene added 28 yards on four carries, showing off his legs, so it’s pretty clear he’ll continue to be used as a change of pace quarterback.
For WVU to succeed this season, Doege has to replicate his first half performance and do what is asked of him. In the biggest moments of the game, Doege cannot turn the ball over. He’s never been a big-game performer, and his performance Saturday only backed that up, but fortunately for him, he’s got another big chance to prove himself this week.