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It’s Not Time to Bail on Austin Kendall

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Photo by David Hogue

https://twitter.com/GAllanTaylor/status/1180631132142002176Losing is never fun. Losing is especially loathsome when it occurs in a manner similar to what West Virginia experienced on Saturday in front of a piped-up home crowd. No. 11 Texas was favored by nearly two touchdowns and was touted as the far superior team in just about every vein substantive metric. That the Mountaineers not only proved resilient, but had multiple opportunities to steal the game away only adds additional venom to the sting of the game that fell just out of reach.

It’s fair to say that West Virginia’s loss to Texas was largely the result of self-sabotage. That’s the cross you bear when you throw four interceptions and those turnovers, ultimately costly, are being laid at quarterback Austin Kendall’s feet. Fair or not, that’s what happens when you man the top spot in a conference that lives and dies under center and every errant throw or misread is magnified tenfold when you’re up against a presumably far-superior opponent. All in all, West Virginia had its shots and missed.

Social media and the internets in general have not been kind to Austin Kendall in the days since Texas journeyed back down to Austin. Fans, not from the optimistic subset of Mountaineer nation, have called for his job in less than eloquent fashion. “Worst quarterback to ever play for WVU” is an epitaph I’ve read on social media more than once. It’s simple enough to lay blame entirely at the feet of the guy throwing the football. After all, route concepts, timing, reads, securing the catch are merely incidentals: it’s on the quarterback because reasons and nothing else matters. At least one person disagrees with this sentiment and he happens to coach the Mountaineers football team:

And that might be where we need to hit pause and think about this for a moment. To reiterate, losing isn’t fun and often times it’s the book move to draw quick, linear conclusions as to why things unfold the way they do. The casual football fan sees a guy in a white shirt catch a ball meant for the guy in a yellow shirt and it’s easy work to assume the person under center failed completely to do his job.

But try and gauge your perspective for a moment. Think about where this team is compared to where they were predicted to be at this point in the season. West Virginia sits at 3-2 with two non-conference wins and a road win in conference play. The loss to Missouri was fetid and it was a team effort through and through to lose that game. Only weeks later, however, West Virginia went toe-to-toe with a team ranked 11th nationally who many feel can challenge Oklahoma for a Big 12 title. The defense is surprisingly bullish and the offense is flashing some real ability, just not consistently. In the middle of all of this is Kendall, thrice passed over for the starting job at Oklahoma and left to watch Heisman after Heisman hit the shelves in Norman. For the first time in his years-long collegiate career, he’s the man in charge and he’s in a vastly different place than his longtime home down on the plains. He’s learning in real time and he’s piloting an offense comprised largely of young and inexperienced players who are still getting their bearings.

Then you also think back to what’s happened in recent years when new quarterbacks were thrust into the fold. Fittingly, it’s been almost entirely left up to transfers to take the reins of West Virginia’s offense and, with the exception of Will Grier in 2017, the first year results haven’t been banner material. Clint Trickett took over an anemic offensive unit in 2013 and tallied seven INT’s and seven TD’s while throwing for 1,605 yards at a 52.8% completion rate. Also, and please don’t forget, that was an improvement¬†on what Paul Millard and Ford Childress did before he got the nod. Trickett had West Virginia rolling in 2014 before a final concussion ended his career bringing Skyler Howard into the fold, who finished the year with 829 yards and 8 TD’s, helping the Mountaineers limp to a 7-6 record. Grier dismantled defenses in less than two full years at the helm in Morgantown, was a fan-favorite and oozed excitement. Grier’s legacy is perhaps, unfairly, a towering set of expectations lofted unto Kendall’s shoulders. There’s been great quarterback play over the years at West Virginia and no matter how much forewarning Neal Brown does about the slings and arrows of progress and building something new, we’ve [collectively] arrived at the point where pack mentality is rearing its ugly head and claiming its first victim.

So, let’s try a different approach. It goes a little something like this: be better. I’ve talked about this before on here and it seems prudent to do so again but we need to both trust AND appreciate the climb. There’s glory in the struggle, to see what Neal Brown and co. are doing and to catch glimpses of the upswing that waits just around the corner. West Virginia was predicted to win between four and five games this year and bowl eligibility was considered the absolute ceiling for a team with no discernible identity. Given how this team has played and the strides its made since it’s opener against James Madison, bowling doesn’t seem like such a stretch anymore. I’ll even go as far to say that with the exception of visiting Norman to play Oklahoma, who looks like a customized team on NCAA Football playing on easy mode, every game left on West Virginia’s schedule is absolutely winnable. Moreover, barring injury or a sudden falling out with the coaching staff, Austin Kendall is going to remain in the saddle.

So get behind him. Get behind this offense that seems like it’s just starting to really figure things out. He’s a tough kid. Spending two days in the hospital receiving treatment on an infection on his throwing hand leading up to the Texas game should clearly telegraph his intent. Based on how he handled himself at Oklahoma, particularly with how callous Lincoln Riley came across during his exit, should tell you something about his character. And while the supposed diehard fans who flex their Twitter fingers and fire off a series of non sequiturs about Kendall’s inability to play quarterback have already given him up for dead just five games into a rebuilding year, his teammates and his coaches stand resolute. They’re behind him. They’re behind what Neal Brown, Chad Scott and Matt Moore are trying to orchestrate.

Trust is one of the harder sentiments to grasp. It sounds pretty east but when it comes down to actually executing it, for a lot of people, it proves difficult. This is the hard part, folks. The season can swing gradually upward and Neal Brown might bankrupt a lot of Vegas odds by winning five out of the next seven. Maybe West Virginia will slide and the injury bug will bite in the process. You have to trust that the scales will tip towards the good, not the bad. Slandering Austin Kendall after a tough loss Saturday won’t help. Bad energy tends to compound. Don’t give into mania. This team is, at worst, right where they were projected to be and at best, and quite possibly, ahead of the curve. If you’re willing to cancel Austin Kendall now, you’re not buying what Neal Brown is selling. If you’re not built for the climb, then kindly exit the train at the next stop.

Have some faith. No one is asking you to prop up Austin Kendall as the best quarterback in the conference. Austin Kendall’s spot atop the offense is a microcosm of what Neal Brown is building at West Virginia and if you’re so hung up on his four picks against Texas and are going so far as to say that he’s “terrible” or “the worst”, you’re missing out on the bigger picture. It’s not about where this program is but where it’s going. Kendall, Sam James, Sean Ryan, Ali Jennings, Winston Wright, Leddie Brown and a vast majority of the roster are still just figuring this all out. Being a troll doesn’t take much talent. If that’s the path you’re on, good luck, god bless and good riddance. Good things are happening despite the mistakes. Faith invested now amidst the struggle will be rewarded tenfold when Country Roads is blasting. It’d be a shame to miss out on that.

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