Column: Strong finish lifts Texas past West Virginia
MORGANTOWN — I have said it countless times: I am a huge Neal Brown fan.
I appreciate coaches who win while doing things the right way. I have no doubts Brown will build a successful program at WVU in Don Nehlen style — that being winning at a high level, doing so with class, abiding by the rules and caring about your players.
Unfortunately, the winning part of that equation will not happen this year. But given appropriate time, Brown will get it done in Morgantown.
You cannot win consistently with pups in a conference loaded with pit bulls.
Dana Holgorsen left Morgantown for a reason. He did not want to rebuild. So he took his Mountaineers on a Florida bowl trip and never returned.
Brown was a great hire as he worked wonders at tiny Troy. However, he inherited an extremely young and inexperienced Mountaineers squad.
That is why WVU was picked for eighth in the 10-team Big 12.
The Mountaineers’ youth, inexperience and talent disparity surfaced in the second half against Texas on Saturday, resulting in a 42-31 Longhorn win.
WVU played the nation’s 11th-ranked team solid for three quarters, trailing just 21-17 entering the climactic final period. Texas, however, dominated the final quarter, wearing down the outmanned Blue & Gold with three rushing touchdowns.
The Mountaineers made matters look closer than they actually were, scoring a TD with 48 seconds remaining.
WVU was its own worst enemy. Austin Kendall threw four interceptions while Evan Staley missed two field goal attempts.
Despite those four picks, Kendall drew praise from his head coach.
“You all are going to want to talk about these four interceptions, but that’s the best game he has played without watching it on tape,” Brown said in his post-game press conference.“The first interception he threw was his fault — he read the wrong guy. The next three — two of them were in the receivers hands and the third one we had the wrong route. I thought he did some really good things.”
The Oklahoma transfer completed 31 of 46 passes for 367 yards and three TDs.
“Third downs killed us in the first half,” Brown said. “We played great football on first and second down, and that’s one of the best offenses in the country. It’s the reason why (Texas QB Sam) Ehlinger is an all-conference quarterback, and it’s why he’s in the Heisman Trophy conversation. He’s a big-time player, but we couldn’t get off the field and that hurt us.”
Ehlinger passed for 211 yards and two TDs. He also ran for two scores.
Unfortunately, things get no easier for WVU. October serves up a meat-grinder of a schedule for the 3-2 Mountaineers.
WVU welcomes potent Iowa State this Saturday. That is followed by road trips to Oklahoma and Baylor. Both are undefeated.
“I’m disappointed we lost, obviously, but not disappointed in how we played. I think we’re making some strides,” Brown said. “We have to play smarter, we have to do a better job coaching and our details have got to get better.”
Offensive line mainstay Colton McKivitz again turned in his usual solid performance. The Union Local grad hopes the loss proves a learning experience for the Mountaineers.
“We are not doing a bad job of scoring but we need to eliminates miscues. Touchdowns are going to win big games like (Saturday), not field goals,” the four-year starter noted. “Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes. In the Big 12 you have to score touchdowns.
“The Texas defense was as advertised. They were big, physical and played hard. I thought we played pretty physical, also. Our offensive line is improving. I know that for a fact. We just made some key mistakes that really cost us. (Saturday) was a tough game to lose but you cannot let this game affect next week.”
BUBBA’S EER BITS
∫ Saturday’s game lasted nearly four hours. I can live with the TV timeouts but the targeting and others reviews are much too numerous.
∫ McKivitz was featured on the cover of the game program. He also served as one of the four Mountaineers captains.
∫ Brown praised the crowd of 62,069 for creating a raucous atmosphere.
∫ Ehlinger is a game-changer. He should not, however, be included in Heisman Trophy discussion.
∫ Several scouts from NFL teams were in attendance, including the Steelers, Giants and Eagles.
∫ This Saturday’s game against 3-2 Iowa State is set for a 4 p.m. kick at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Bubba Kapral can be reached at email@example.com