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What We Learned After Texas



Photo by David Hague

Players and coaches hate the term moral victory. To them, football is black and white. Either you win or you lose. But if there is any credence to the #TrustTheClimb mantra, then the 42-31 loss to Texas proved to be the kind of moral victory fans hope will take the program to greater heights, starting next week and beyond.

It took everything and a bit of luck last year for West Virginia to beat Texas, so the odds were ever in the eleventh-ranked Longhorns’ favor, even with a raucous crowd rallying the Mountaineers to play to the best of their abilities. Even yet, one could make the argument that West Virginia outplayed Texas, just the Mountaineers gave the Longhorns the game.

Texas took what West Virginia gave it and took advantage. That’s what good teams do–don’t beat themselves.

Albeit, it’s because of some standout performances and coaching decisions that have led to what we learned this week from WVU:

The defense is further along the climb than the offense

Darius Stills put himself on the national radar with his three tackle-for-loss day in which he dueled with Texas’s Zach Schackelford, a top NFL prospect at the center position. He and his brother Dante continue to show they are the best interior defensive linemen West Virginia’s had since Chris Nield was engulfing blockers in 2010. If West Virginia had this kind of d-line in 2017-18, it would’ve been much more of a complete team.

VanDarius Cowan entered Saturday’s game and all in the same play, blew up Texas’s Keaontay Ingram and sacked Sam Ehlinger. In the secondary, Keith Washington continues to build an NFL worthy résumé because of his ball skills. He recorded his third interception on the season Saturday. Making his first of what will be many career starts, Tykee Smith not only had an impressive pass break-up in the end zone, but he covered well and provided solid run support.

Fans should love the progression this defense is making to this point since the Missouri game.

Austin Kendall didn’t play as well as Neal Brown wants fans to believe, but not as poorly as upset fans think

There were probably quite a few fans yesterday who uttered the phrase “he just isn’t Will Grier,” after Austin Kendall’s second interception turned into his third, and his third turned into his fourth. He surely didn’t show out like Grier did in his first big game in a Mountaineer uniform against Virginia Tech, but what was admirable from Kendall was that he went down swinging, especially after fans started to leave because they thought the game was in-hand when it was 35-17 with almost the entire fourth quarter to play. If you either left or turned the game off in disgust, you missed Kendall passing for an additional 155 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 15 yards and making the final score respectable at 42-31.

Neal Brown defended his quarterback and deflected the blame across the board in order to keep this team together, considering West Virginia’s three toughest opponents loom over the course of the next three weeks. Focus and camaraderie will have to be there. It’s on to the next one. With 367 yards and three touchdowns to his credit in this game, there have been much worse performances by Mountaineer quarterbacks, even considering Kendall’s four picks.

But still, Kendall threw into coverage way too often, especially in bad spots that led to easy-to-score, short yardage situations for the Longhorns. It’s still too early to make any sort of conclusions about Kendall, who did some nice things in this game, or yell for a new signal caller, but everyone can only hope that Kendall can learn from this game and play better next week.

Josh Growden’s punting is a weapon

Through five games, Growden’s already proving he’s the best punter West Virginia’s had since Pat McAfee. His ability to pin opponents inside the 10 changes the game, and especially in this game, gives West Virginia’s defense a boost of confidence, even when the offense isn’t providing much support. Expect to see more situations this season in which Brown decides to let Growden boot it, rather than go for a risky third or fourth down play. Fans would never see that from Dana Holgorsen.

Martell Pettaway and Tevin Bush are falling down the depth chart 

Outside of an 11-yard carry, it was a pretty quiet day for Pettaway, who fans may have thought turned a corner, after his two touchdown game against Kansas. It’s pretty clear Brown values Kennedy McKoy and Leddie Brown’s versatility in the receiving game, and to be blunt, they’re just running better than Pettaway is. Tevin Bush also didn’t play for second-consecutive game, giving way to young guys to take his position. They’re not having the seasons many thought they would have to this point.

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