During a 5½-hour-long car ride home on Sunday, as well as most of all day on Labor Day Monday, I had time to think about just how I wanted to word this inevitable column — the one where I tried to offer my two cents on just what the hell happened to the WVU football team Saturday at Maryland.
Plenty of perspective has been offered statewide and beyond since the 30-24 win for the Terrapins, and as you might have guessed — or even contributed to — it’s hard to find much in the way of positivity on the WVU side.
Listen, much of it is warranted. Outside of a couple of kick returns and the defensive effort across the second and third quarters, there was plenty to pick apart. And if you’ve read any media, social or otherwise, you know the Mountaineers’ performance, or lack thereof, has been picked clean like a pre-pandemic pizza lunch buffet. (Graziano’s in South Charleston, please bring it back.)
But piling on is still a 15-yard penalty in this sport, and at this point it would just be overkill.
My worry, however, is that the WVU fan base may not see it this way. See, one thing I got to thinking about as the miles flew by on Interstates 68 and 79 is the fact that neither WVU head coach Neal Brown, his staff and most of these players have ever seen the best of this fan base.
Think about it. What is WVU’s biggest win at home in Brown’s two-plus seasons at the helm?
In terms of environment and what a home win can feel like, I believe all of last year’s big victories — Baylor, TCU and Kansas State particularly — have to be disqualified. Milan Puskar Stadium, like any other college football venue, isn’t the same without fans. Perhaps the best part of singing “Country Roads” is knowing that no one around you can tell just how terrible of a singer you really are because your own voice is inaudible. It’s like a single drop of lemon juice in a bowl of vanilla ice cream: Even as sour as it is, it probably won’t be noticed.
So, is the best moment for Brown, his staff and most players the 20-13 conquest of James Madison in 2019, the game that kick-started Brown’s tenure? Is it the 44-27 win over North Carolina State a couple of weeks later? Those are about the only two choices as far as I can see.
And let’s be real: James Madison is an FCS opponent, and while the Wolfpack is a Power Five foe, the Mountaineers had that game in hand early.
No, I’m not sure Brown has seen WVU fan base’s best. My worry is that before that happens in two weeks at home against Virginia Tech, he may see its worst. And I’m even more afraid that quarterback Jarret Doege will.
Rumblings on Twitter and elsewhere in the days that followed Saturday’s loss at Maryland rumored at a certain number of fans who were organizing in an attempt to boo Doege in the Mountaineers’ home opener on Saturday against Long Island.
Judging from the vitriol spewed all over my feeds and walls and left in my email, voicemail and messenger inboxes, I’m dreadfully quite certain that there will be at the least a smattering of jeers when the Mountaineer offense takes the field.
Look, there’s no doubt Doege wasn’t great against Maryland. Brown has said as much, reiterating the point during his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
“He’s got to eliminate the negative plays and he’s got to be able to move up in the pocket,” Brown said. “The things he’s got to get better at is that he can’t make the bad plays worse.”
But Brown also defended his quarterback.
“If you look back, he did some good things,” Brown said. “The first drive it was kind of bang-bang, he throws a great ball on the upfield shoulder to Leddie [Brown] and Leddie does the rest. You go down on the drive we ended up having to kick a field goal on, he was right on the money. On third downs, he was better. I think we had 14 end-of-series situations, and the ones we threw it we were pretty successful. He is better.”
Better than he was a year ago? That’s been the narrative all offseason, and while one game does not a season make, that improvement wasn’t glaringly obvious on Saturday.
Full transparency: I like Jarret Doege. I like the way he handles himself during interviews. There’s a quiet calmness to him — a yes-sir, no-sir humility. He’s unquestionably a team-first guy, and the pass-blocking struggles over the past couple of seasons have left no doubt about his toughness.
He shows all the attributes that make him a leader, but admittedly, that’s not enough. He has to show the performance to match the intangibles, and while he has at times in his career, it has at best been inconsistent. Saturday was not a shining moment for nearly any player wearing a Mountaineer uniform.
I don’t know how short Doege’s leash is, but I’m fairly confident Neal Brown is not to the end of it yet. And I am quite certain that while I firmly believe in a paying fan’s right to do whatever he or she wants — as long as it is at least somewhat family-friendly — an organized chorus of dissension won’t help or get backup quarterback Garrett Greene any closer to the playing field.
But Greene will play Saturday. I expect nearly every Mountaineer to play against a Long Island team that WVU should (and better) have completely outmatched.
For all of those players, it’s been awhile since they’ve played in front of a packed house. For many, Greene included, it’ll be the first time. And there’s no doubt, a full home crowd in Morgantown singing “Country Roads” is a sight and a sound to behold.
So, when it’s time, if you’re in the stadium, fill the air with your voices.
But that time is after the final whistle, not when your own team is on offense.