There’s no loss quite as stinging as a loss born out of a very winnable game. On Saturday, West Virginia gave eleventh-ranked Texas all it could handle and, despite numerous turnovers and missed field goal attempts, the Mountaineers were still in the game right up until the end of regulation. While moral victories are a distant second from logging an actual check mark in the win column, there was a lot of good that came out of Saturday’s bout. Defensively, West Virginia stood strong and made multiple big plays and, despite what the box score would indicate, did a great job of limiting Heisman candidate Sam Ehlinger’s effectiveness through the air.
Offensively, West Virginia netted 464 yards and four touchdowns, more than enough to push Texas down the stretch. Mistakes are costly, however. No matter how you slice it, yielding four interceptions to a depleted Texas secondary is tantamount to self-sabotage. Additionally, the ground game might have regressed and the lack of even a single called run in the first quarter is still a bit quizzical, to put it mildly. While the Mountaineers ultimately fell short of what would have been a monumental upset, there were some bright spots that proved just how far Neal Brown’s offense has come in recent weeks.
Let’s hand out some helmet stickers for a hard-fought outing against the Longhorns.
Austin Kendall, QB- Hear me out on this one.
Yes, the Oklahoma transfer threw four interceptions. Not a single one of those helped and killed momentum at critical junctures. Upon closer examination, though, there’s more to the story than Kendall just misfiring and missing his targets. Between Sam James having the ball pulled out of his hands, deflections and missed routes, the blame should be shared and the film will show that. Beyond the turnovers, Kendall posted a pretty impressive line of 371 yards and three TD’s and a 67% completion rate. Perhaps his best play of the day was a goal line play where he faked out not only the camera man but every man, woman and child tuning in en route to walking across the goal line. It was, in a word, slick.
Beyond what he did on the field Saturday, his off-field goings on demand an even higher level of respect when it was recently disclosed that he was hospitalized for two days leading up to the game with an infected cut on his throwing hand. Any questions about Kendall’s toughness should be laid to rest and to have put out like he did against a quality opponent should have people rallying behind him. Yes, the bandwagon caucus is voicing their displeasure and there are plenty of people calling for Kendall’s job. I’m not one of them and I think that Austin Kendall showed some serious poise on Saturday and flashed a high level of ability that he’s only beginning to tap into. If no. 12 can build off his high points from Saturday and eliminate some blind spots in his game, West Virginia could be in a good spot moving into the second half of the season.
TJ Simmons, WR- It’s been a bit of a waiting game for the junior and former Crimson Tide receiver to put together a complete game and on Saturday, in front of a raucous Mountaineer field crowd, he finally delivered. Seven receptions, 135 yards and a score is the type of line one would expect from the de facto leader of the Mountaineers receiving corps and resident energy guy. Simmons made several tough catches, jump-started by getting mowed over early in the game when B.J. Foster hit him well after the whistle. It was the type of play that makes a player angry and it can be argued that an angry T.J. Simmons is the best T.J. Simmons. Simply put, this is the type of game Simmons needs to have on a weekly basis if West Virginia wants to achieve bowl eligibility. Are those high expectations? Yes. Nonetheless, they’re fair when you consider that Simmons is in his second full year with the program and possesses the type of bon-a-fides that could make him one of the better play makers in the Big 12.
With freshman Sam James looking like a legitimate star in the making, Simmons finally looked like a threat out wide and could be a key factor in pushing West Virginia’s passing game to the next level.
Sam James, WR- This young man is just getting started.
The Georgia native had a coming out party a couple weeks back at home against NC State and picked right back up where he left off on Saturday. On their opening drive, West Virginia snapped the ball around midfield and Austin Kendall lofted a beauty of a ball 50 yards downfield to a streaking James who flattened out and hauled in a nigh-unbelievable catch for six. It was the type of play you’d expect from an All-American upperclassmen, not a freshman still fine-tuning his skill set. It was equal parts focus and shameless athleticism. At this point in the season, there aren’t enough touches for James. He’s West Virginia’s hottest play-making hand and should be the focal point of offensive game-planning moving forward. While he’s still raw and navigating the minutiae of the receiver position, his speed and natural instincts are all too apparent. While #trusttheclimb is still the mantra du jour for West Virginia in 2019, one can’t help but envision how utterly dangerous James will be with another year under his belt. With fellow wide out T.J. Simmons just hitting his stride, the Mountaineers might just be developing something of a potent passing attack to (hopefully) create some noise in the thick of its Big 12 slate.
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