MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Neal Brown revisited the decisive moments of last Thursday’s 17-14 loss to No. 11 Baylor during Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
West Virginia had a golden opportunity to take the lead or tie the Bears after George Campbell recovered a muffed punt in Baylor territory late in the fourth quarter. After back-to-back Leddie Brown runs provided the Mountaineers with a favorable third-and-2 situation from Baylor’s 26, Neal Brown decided to go for it all.
The coach elected to throw the ball deep, but Austin Kendall’s pass was into double coverage and came closer to getting intercepted than completed.
“My thought process is we tried to hit a home run,” Neal Brown said. “Baylor usually plays three deep safeties and against short yardage you get man coverage. Normally we would run that play with T.J. Simmons in the game but he was out. It was a screen-and-go. We’d thrown the screen twice in the game to Ali Jennings. They sat on it, neither screen was productive. We had what we wanted and didn’t execute it well.”
Looking at the film, it would appear Baylor had something to do with that disruption as well.
The play’s design feigned a screen to Sam James, who was tightly covered. The deep ball went instead to receiver Isaiah Esdale, who was in the game thanks to an injury to Simmons on top of the absence of Sean Ryan. Esdale was unable to get separation from the corner, and both players drifted into a safety who was waiting on the play.
It was quite a gamble to put so much on a backup receiver’s plate, particular on an all-or-nothing play design. Because the Mountaineers had their tight end and running back blocking on the play, even Kendall’s check-down was double-covered. There was one option, and it had to be executed to perfection.
Brown defended sticking to the call even though Simmons wasn’t on the field.
“We have a mantra here, ‘next man up,’ and you have to call the game as next man up. You can’t just tell them, you have to show them,” Brown said. “We called the play we would if T.J. was in there. We just didn’t execute it very well.”
Brown’s next big decision was deciding to kick a field goal rather than going for the first down. As it turns out, ball placement had everything to do with Brown’s trust in Casey Legg tying the game from 43 yards out on his first career field goal try.
“That was on a hash mark where he’s been consistent [in practice],” Brown said. “If we had been on the right hash, we might have gone for it because we have a couple better plays off the right hash. From the left, he’s really consistent, with the time remaining in the game, I felt really good about going into overtime with the way our defense was playing.”
A delay of game ended up gumming the works of those best-laid plans, of course. Legg’s 43-yarder was wiped out by the penalty, and Baylor blocked his 48-yard attempt seconds later.
Despite the loss, Brown remains immensely proud of how the Mountaineers played, noting that they were literally down to the last man on the roster at safety by the end of the game.
“We didn’t have another safety on the bench. There wasn’t another one to put in the game,” Brown said of the effect of Josh Norwood’s ejection coupled with Noah Guzman’s injury. “We didn’t bring another one. We were down to maybe one running back. It was a unique game in that fact. We had to scramble on special teams because several core guys got hurt.
“Defensively and special teams-wise, we played really, really hard. When we got things turned at Troy, that’s how we were doing it in all three phases. We strained and played really physical football. Offensively, not so much. But defense and special teams, we played at a really high level.”
Stills brothers have a big fan
Baylor entered the game having allowed 13 sacks this season, placing them exactly in the middle of the pack in the Big 12. After facing the Mountaineers, the Bears are ninth in the league with 21 sacks allowed.
Darius and Dante Stills were a big part of that sudden influx of sacks. Darius burst through the middle for three sacks, while Dante added another pair from the end.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule was effusive in his praise after the game.
“I want to make sure I say this,” Rhule said after his team’s win. “[Darius] Stills is one of the best players we’ve played against. He’s everything I thought he would be. And his brother? Lights out.”
Rhule went deeper into his praise for West Virginia’s defensive line on Monday.
“They’re elite players,” Rhule said. “The Stills brothers and 91, Reuben Jones, are extremely explosive and fast. And they aren’t just getting into the backfield. Those guys are making tackles 6,7,8 yards downfield.”
Rhule said he is not typically one to single out opposing players for praise. Darius’ 10-tackle performance was too much for him to ignore.
“I don’t usually say things like that, but it was just so impressive,” Rhule said. “They did those things on the national stage. I have the utmost respect for them.”