MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — There is no championship on the line. There’s not even a chance to get invited to a bowl game sponsored by America’s favorite brand of cracker as measured by 2017 sales totals.
For host TCU (5-6, 3-5 Big 12), a bowl game remains in play in Friday’s season finale. So what is it that 4-7 West Virginia will be playing for?
“Last time putting on the Mountaineer uniform. The last time playing with my brothers on this team,” said senior cornerback Keith Washington. “And at the same time, you want to set an example for the younger guys coming up.”
Junior receiver T.J. Simmons echoed the importance of finishing on a strong note regardless of circumstances.
“Just doing it for the 22 seniors, those guys that won’t be with us next year,” Simmons said. “We’re trying to let them leave off on a big note in their final game as a Mountaineer.”
It’s been awhile since anyone in the program has prepared for a season finale with no chance of advancing to a bowl game.
The Mountaineers are in this position for the first time since 2013, which is also arguably the only time in recent history West Virginia headed into a finale for which some would apply the derisive “meaningless” angle. In the days when WVU played Pitt to end the season, there was no question that bragging rights were on the line even if there were no postseason implications. TCU doesn’t quite have the same capacity for getting one’s blood to boil.
Neal Brown hasn’t been in this situation since 2015, his first year at Troy. What was true then is also true now — Brown has a young team and he’s placing a strong value on starting their offseason on a positive note.
“We’re trying to get better,” Brown said. “Most of our team’s back for multiple years. We’re trying to make steady improvement and finish the year right. I believe our guys will show up and play hard. The only issue I’ve had with our team was how we played early in the Texas Tech game.
“I don’t know why this week would be any different. There’s two things from a motivational factor: sending our seniors out in a positive manner, and then having a building block into the offseason, which is really important for us.”
Brown’s Troy team crushed Louisiana-Lafayette 41-17 at Cajun Field in the 2015 finale.
Reviewing the reviews
Brown says he has not yet heard back from Big 12 director of officials Greg Burks regarding a pair of back-to-back calls that did not go West Virginia’s way in Saturday’s 20-13 loss to Oklahoma State.
Sam James was ruled down on an apparent touchdown catch in the second quarter despite visual evidence indicating he was not down. On the very next play, quarterback Jarret Doege attempted to punch in a quarterback sneak. Brown thought Doege crossed the goal line, but the play was never reviewed.
Brown made it very clear that he felt the on-field officiating crew did a good job of calling the game. He just doesn’t think they got the help they needed from the replay booth.
“To me, it’s a glass plane. If the ball breaks the plane, it’s a touchdown,” Brown said. “I don’t have any issue with the crew. I just don’t know what replay’s role is. That’s the question for me. I thought both of those plays, replay clearly showed a touchdown.
“Sam has a touchdown. And on the first quarterback sneak, Jarret is pulled out of the pile with the ball across the goal line. That’s the way I saw it. Now I haven’t gotten any explanation from the league on that, and I’m sure they have a good one.
“I don’t have an issue with the crew. The game’s really hard to officiate. Cooper Castleberry was the ref, and he does a good job managing the game and communicating. But I don’t know with replay how that factors in.”
False start mea culpa
Both non-touchdown calls were exacerbated by West Virginia’s inability to score a touchdown on the possession. The death blow came when Mike Brown was called for a false start prior to a third-and-goal inside the 1.
But as co-offensive coordinator Matt Moore explained Monday, Brown was not the one who messed up. Brown was supposed to be involved in a pre-snap shift on the play, but had already set with his hand on the ground by the time the play was signaled in.
“It was designed for the guard to move over,” Moore said. “One guard saw it and the other one didn’t. Mike had already put his hand down and picked his hand up when we told him to move.
“It wasn’t his fault. The sideline didn’t get the signal in fast enough to get a guard over.”