MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the course of a week, West Virginia was able to change its attitude from “here we go again” to “let’s go” after dealing with a catastrophic play.
The Mountaineers allowed touchdowns on the first five possessions of their 38-17 loss to Texas Tech, including an 81-yard pass that marked the moment where the wheels officially blew off in that game.
Four plays into the Kansas State game, West Virginia’s defense appeared to be living the nightmare all over again. The most consistent player in WVU’s secondary, cornerback Keith Washington, was burned for a 68-yard touchdown pass. Coming on the heels of a three-and-out for the West Virginia offense, it somehow felt even more damaging than it was on the scoreboard.
“With that three-and-out where we didn’t do our job, and then they come out and throw a bomb, you’re like ‘Here we go. Another rough game,’” said left tackle Colton McKivitz.
Things were precarious, at best, for a team already mired in a five-game losing streak. But then something very different happened from the Texas Tech fiasco.
It began with the player who made the mistake, Washington.
“We didn’t go and lose our mind like we did the week before,” said defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, noting that the player who gave up the 81-yard score the previous week did not handle it as well. “The [person who] gave it up went over and made things a big drama. Keith did a good job of handling it.”
Washington was calm because he knew there was a lot of football left to play, and that West Virginia’s gameplan of challenging the run-heavy Wildcats to throw the ball was going to pay off if there were no more mistakes.
“It was a communication error on my part,” Washington said. “But I play corner. I realize people are going to catch touchdowns. There are still a full four quarters left to play. I can’t put my head down. I just sucked it up and played the rest of the game.”
It was not just the defense that responded in a positive fashion. By the next time it hit the field, it was with a clean slate thanks to a response from the Mountaineer offense.
“Complimentary football is key,” noted senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue.
The drive was Jarret Doege’s first true test as West Virginia’s quarterback. A turnover or even another three-and-out might have put the Mountaineers on the path to another blowout, but he proved unflappable on the drive.
Doege stood out in particular in the red zone as West Virginia looked destined to settle for a field goal attempt.
Mike Brown was called for a false start, pushing a manageable second-and-2 into an annoying second-and-7. Doege wasn’t fazed, though, finding an open Sean Ryan for a first down – that is, until Ryan let the pass tumble to the ground for an incompletion.
On third down, Doege found George Campbell in the end zone against the top third-down defense in the Big 12.
“He got hit a couple times early, and just the way he responded on the sideline – we asked if he was good, and he was like ‘Yeah, I’ve got it,’” McKivitz said. “The way he responded to adversity, that extra fight he had and the playmaking ability he has is pretty good.”
With that crucial scoring drive, Washington said that he was able to put his mistake firmly in the rearview mirror, allowing himself and the rest of the defense to play the remainder of the game with full confidence.
“It made me feel better. We were back to 0-0, a fresh start,” Washington said. “Teammates are always going to have your back. If one of us goes down, the other side has to pick us back up.”
Saturday’s performance was West Virginia’s best example of living up to that premise in Neal Brown’s opening season.