WACO, Texas — If Baylor graduates and famous house flippers Chip and Joanna Gaines were watching on Saturday, they saw their alma mater look impressive in a 45-20 win over West Virginia.
They also saw a restoration project that looked so dire even they wouldn’t want to take it on.
The West Virginia football program looked broken, and on so many levels it’s hard to even know where to start.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t even know who the Gaines were before my mom told me prior to heading to Waco. By the way, if you’re ever in the area, check out their Magnolia Market downtown. Cool place.
I also don’t know much about flipping houses, but if I had to guess, it would start with the foundation. The very core of what WVU coach Neal Brown has said he wants his football team to be is just not there.
Brown has expressed the desire for a team predicated on running the football and on defense.
Well, the Mountaineers can’t run the football. Period. End of sentence.
West Virginia entered Saturday as ranked 105th in the country (out of 130 teams) with 117.4 rushing yards per contest. That number will be reduced after a 38-carry, 90-yard showing on Saturday against the Bears. In fact, I’m fairly sure that former Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III ran for more yards on the video board during mid-commercial highlights than West Virginia has all season.
OK, fine. Griffin had plenty of highlights in his illustrious Heisman Trophy-winning career.
When it comes to the Mountaineers, there are far fewer running highlights from which to choose, and there have been fewer and fewer as the weeks have gone by.
Don’t strain yourself. I did the research, mostly during review stoppages (which, again, can we all agree take entirely too long?).
Anyway, here’s the deal: WVU starting running back Leddie Brown, who by all intents and purposes is the only running back the Mountaineers have when it comes to carrying the football, is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season. If not for an 80-yard touchdown run on the first series of a 27-21 win over Virginia Tech, that number falls to 3.8, and that play feels like about 3.8 million years ago right now.
In reality, it was three full games ago, and each of them have seemed to be another half-step back for that run attack. After Saturday’s loss, Leddie Brown has run the ball 95 times this season. Only seven of those have gone for 10 yards or more.
And in the last three games? Just two — a 20-yard run in the second half against Oklahoma and a 10-yarder in the third quarter on Saturday.
Relief is nowhere to be found. Justin Johnson’s eight carries for 13 yards on Saturday were the first rushes handled by a back other than Brown since Tony Mathis toted it twice for 5 yards against the Hokies.
I’m not laying this all at Leddie Brown’s feet. Lord knows running room has been harder to come by than shade at field level on a mid-90s Saturday deep in the heart of Texas.
But at some point a duck is a duck, and now, halfway through the season, this Mountaineer run game is quacking and the fans are sufferin’ succotash.
Now the worry is that the foundation rot that started with the Mountaineer running game and, as a result, offense as a whole, has spread to the other side of the ball, where WVU had largely held its own.
On Saturday, Baylor looked like it showed up to a re-enactment of the 70-63 game between the teams in Morgantown in 2012, stuffing the end zone three times in the first quarter thanks largely to wideouts streaking unhindered down the field. It’s not like the Bears entered Saturday tossing the rock around with extreme proclivity, yet quarterback Gerry Bohanon had his season-high in yards (273) by halftime.
Yes, WVU was playing without starting spear Scottie Young and backup safety Kerry Martin.
But WVU wasn’t getting beat by a couple of steps. These were all-out busts starting from the second play of the game, when Bohanon hit Tyquan Thornton on a simple slant pass that covered 75 yards for a touchdown.
The Mountaineer defense has largely gotten a pass this season, and at times it has been really good. Look at the first three quarters in a 16-13 loss against Oklahoma, the third quarter against Maryland and the first half against Virginia Tech as examples.
But the reality of the situation is this: Eight of the last nine quarters by the West Virginia defense have been bad at worst, below average at best. The Mountaineers have allowed scoring drives that ultimately decided the game three times this season in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
There are other problems. The Mountaineers don’t score touchdowns in the red zone. They’re routinely called for costly penalties at the worst times. They struggle to run block. Often, they struggle to pass block. On Saturday they didn’t tackle. They didn’t cover.
And for the third-straight game, they didn’t win. And the gap seems to be wider now than it’s been all season.
It’s certainly more than Chip and Joanna could solve in an hour-long episode of “Fixer Upper.” We’ll see if Neal Brown can do it in two weeks.
But for the Mountaineers to salvage some sort of a season over its final six games, it’s going to have to make some serious gains.
Without the Gaines.