KANSAS CITY — I can’t be the only who has spent most of this West Virginia University football season scratching his head.
There was so much new and unknown about this team prior to the season, it was nearly impossible to get a good feel for much of anything. That said, there was one thing seemingly everyone had an opinion about — the starting quarterback.
That’s not unique to this WVU team or all that unusual. Austin Kendall came in as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma the assumed starter, and that is kind of how it played out. Trey Lowe and Jack Allison pushed Kendall for the job through the spring, summer and into fall camp.
Jarret Doege transferred in to West Virginia over the summer and got a late waiver from the NCAA for immediate eligibility. First-year head coach Neal Brown said all along the plan was to redshirt Doege this season so he can be available for 2020 and 2021. As the Mountaineers struggled through most of the 2019 season, it was hard not to wonder what the former Bowling Green Falcon could bring to the table for this WVU team if given the chance. Kendall was never terrible for West Virginia, but he was far from great and sometimes just plain not good.
Brown’s line was that quarterback wasn’t the problem for WVU, and I don’t think he was wrong in that statement. Kendall wasn’t losing games for the Mountaineers on his own, but he also wasn’t doing much to put WVU in position to win many games. With the four-game redshirt window open, Brown finally got Doege in a game during last week’s loss to Texas Tech in Morgantown.
He was good, but it came against the Red Raider backups after TTU had thumped West Virginia in the first three quarters. Then on Saturday just before kickoff at Kansas State it came out that Doege, not Kendall, would start for West Virginia against the Wildcats.
By now you’ve likely seen, heard or read about how the Mountaineers knocked off Kansas State to end a five-game losing streak and that Doege was pretty darn good in the game — completing two-thirds of his pass attempts and throwing three touchdowns, including the game-winner in the fourth quarter on a play that looked doomed before he made something happen and found Bryce Wheaton for a 50-yard touchdown in a third-and-long situation.
Throw out your analytics on this one and trust your eyes. Doege needs to remain the starting quarterback for WVU and should have a leg up on keeping the job going into next season. That’s not a knock on Kendall, but again I have to say trust your eyes.
Was Kendall the only problem this WVU team had prior to this weekend? Not even close. But if you have watched football for any length of time and paid attention, you’ve seen how a quarterback can make or break a team. If a team doesn’t trust its quarterback to be able to win a game, it shows. When a team trusts that its quarterback can make something positive happen for it, it also show. And it showed all over Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
The argument could be made that Doege should have been starting all along, or at least once he got rid of the rust after the NCAA’s 11th hour waiver approval. Brown wanted to keep the redshirt on Doege, so that was never going to happen. Also, let’s walk back those expectations a little bit. Doege was what WVU needed in the present, but would he be this beloved by Mountaineer fans the day after WVU’s 10th game if he spent a September afternoon running for his life from the Missouri defense? Would he still be this beloved the day after WVU’s 10th game if he played well but West Virginia still went 0-4 in October? I don’t think so.
This is still a very flawed West Virginia football team, but Doege getting to play when he did gave this program a shot of enthusiasm it desperately needed. The Mountaineers are a long shot to get bowl eligible, but with two games remaining they aren’t out of it yet.
Is it possible what happened Saturday was a one-game phenomenon and WVU stinks the next two weeks with Doege as the quarterback? It sure is, but nothing is set in stone yet with Doege at quarterback. For all the good Kendall did — and there were times he did some good for WVU — you, me, all the fans in the stadium, all the players on the sideline and Neal Brown all saw enough to know what you were going to get from Kendall — and it wasn’t going to be an opportunity to reach a bowl game in Brown’s first season.