MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Saturday evening, West Virginia’s coach became Double-Down Neal Brown.
Following the Mountaineers’ 42-31 loss to Texas, Brown was quick to defend quarterback Austin Kendall following a four-interception performance that was absolutely dreadful upon first glance.
“You all are going to want to talk about those interceptions, but that’s the best game he’s played without watching it on tape,” Brown said. “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.”
And if anyone was thinking the Mountaineers might have a quarterback controversy looming, Brown was quick to quash it by again coming to Kendall’s defense.
“He played well, that’s what I’m trying to tell you,” said Brown, voice rising. “We had three interceptions where two of them our guys had a chance and one of them our guy ran the wrong route.
“He had how many yards against the No. 11 team in the country? 367. He had a pretty good day. I may be singing a different tune on Tuesday after I watch the film. But I have a pretty good eye for things down on the field. I thought he played his best game. I realize he threw four picks. But at the same time, we had a chance to make plays on three of them and didn’t make them.
“Quarterbacks get too much credit when things go well and too much blame when things don’t go well. We were in the game offensively because of Austin Kendall. I’m not down on that kid one bit.”
Brown was overstating his case just a tad.
Even though Kendall’s second interception required a remarkable effort from Texas cornerback D’Shawn Jamison on a 50-50 ball to Sam James, it is Kendall’s fault that the pass wasn’t more like 90-10 in favor of James. If Kendall led James another five yards downfield rather than lollipopping one up for grabs, it potentially turns into a big gain.
The third interception required another amazing play, this time from Longhorns nickelback B.J. Foster. Kendall’s throw was a bit high, but still catchable for Sean Ryan. Eight times out of 10, it’s either a catch or falls to the ground as an incompletion when it’s jarred loose by the defender’s hit. Instead, Foster acrobatically turned it into the third option.
By the time Kendall threw his fourth pick, it was just another log on the fire for an already frustrated crowd.
On the surface, it looked like the kind of interception that could only happen in a Jay Cutler fever dream — but the replay shows why it looked so bad. Jamison, the cornerback, recognized that receiver George Campbell was supposed to run a comeback route before Campbell did, and therefore got to the ball several steps ahead of Campbell.
Campbell was only in the game because rising star Sam James had to leave with an injury — a true case of bad luck for everyone in this story but Jamison.
Despite the fact Kendall bears a little more blame than Brown is letting on, a defiant show of confidence in the quarterback is the right move.
We’ve seen what Jack Allison can do, and it would probably involve just as many interceptions without as many passing yards. Trey Lowe remains a subject of fascination for many fans, as always seems to be the case when a dual-threat is backing up a pocket passer. But if the coaches thought Lowe was ready, surely he would have at least played in some sort of red-zone package by now. Not even that has happened.
To other fans, the ace in the hole is Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege. But Doege had surgery over the summer and is just working his way back into playing shape. I expect that we will see him sometime in November as the Mountaineers try to preserve his redshirt while letting him play, but now is not the time for that.
Would you rather use a full season of Doege now in pursuit of a Cheez-It Bowl berth, or save him for 2021 when the Mountaineers might have a roster capable of competing for something a bit more important?
The answer to that is a no-brainer.
Kendall certainly can’t have another four-interception showing no matter who is to blame. But for where the program is at right now, there’s no choice but to stay with him.