COMMENTARY

MANHATTAN, Kan. — It was time.

Under normal circumstances, Austin Kendall would probably be making his 10th straight start as West Virginia’s quarterback. But with the Mountaineers mired in a five-game losing streak, Neal Brown couldn’t wait any longer. Jarret Doege was no longer a quarterback. He was a spark plug for a team that could no longer get the engine to turn.

“You’ve heard me say this, and it’s the truth — our struggles offensively weren’t because of Austin,” Brown said. “He may not have played as well as he can, but he hasn’t played poorly. He wasn’t the reason we were losing. And he actually played a pretty good football game last week against Texas Tech.

“I just felt like we’d lost five in a row. We needed a change-up. Jarret practiced well. So we made the decision.”

Doege played as he practiced, finishing his debut 20 of 30 for 234 yards and three touchdowns.

Fans who have been clamoring for a quarterback change are undoubtedly asking “What took you so long?” The Mountaineers still need to win out to reach a bowl game, and perhaps starting Doege sooner would have made that path a bit easier.

Those fans need to keep 2021 in mind.

By playing Doege in four games this season and preserving his redshirt, there is a chance the Mountaineers will be loaded for bear two years from now. In theory, he’d be going into his second season as WVU’s starter and be surrounded by a bevy of veteran receivers who grow with him in the offense — Sam James, Bryce Wheaton, Sean Ryan, Ali Jennings, Winston Wright, Mike O’Laughlin and more.

Most importantly, Doege has been fully on board with the idea of redshirting from the get-go.

“I’ve been getting in the weight room and Coach Mike [Joseph] has been changing my body to become a better quarterback,” Doege said. “At Bowling Green, they didn’t have the cafe with the nutrition they can give us. Nutrition-wise you can really change change your body to get bigger, faster and stronger.”

In order to get to that theoretically bright future, first the Mountaineers needed to see what Doege could do in the present.

The early returns are promising. The biggest difference Doege showed from Kendall was his ability to move around in and out of the pocket to keep plays alive. On no play was that more obvious than his game-winning 50-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Wheaton, which happened only because the safeties were convinced Doege was about to tuck it and run.

Doege is no running threat, but he’s probably a hell of a dodgeball player.

Surprisingly, Brown says that area stood out as a weakness on Doege’s tape from his two years as a starter at Bowling Green.

“He’s significantly better at extending plays,” Brown said. “He didn’t do a great job of that at Bowling Green.”

Obviously, Doege has learned a few things in his short time as a Mountaineer.

“I think it’s instincts,” Doege said. “Getting out of the pocket and finding a guy, it just turns into instincts when you make a play like that.”

That comes as no surprise to Doege’s roommate, wide receiver George Campbell. Both late arrivals to the program, they were paired together much the same way as freshmen are.

The two clearly have a connection, with Campbell adding to his ever-increasing touchdown total with a pair of scoring catches against the Wildcats. There’s more to it than that, though. As a senior, Campbell sees Doege as someone who will continue making an impact for the Mountaineers after their time living together is through.

“He’s one of those guys, I kid you not, I walk into the house and he’s sitting there watching film. He’s one of those guys that’s committed,” Campbell said. “A lot of people you’d think maybe that’s not going to be the situation because he’s your backup. Even in the summer, before he was starting, he’d sit there all night watching film.

“He’s one of those guys who is truly committed to this team. That’s what makes everything so special to me. It makes me so proud of him. He spends so much time making sure everything is right on his end.”