During Big 12 Conference football media days last week in Arlington, Texas, West Virginia coach Neal Brown crowned quarterback Jarret Doege as the most improved player on offense in the spring.
He then referred to explosiveness on offense as the area that perhaps needed the most improvement heading into the 2021 season.
The two statements would seem to go hand in hand with Doege being as important a part of generating more big-play offense as any other Mountaineer.
Statistically, the numbers seem to back up Brown’s concerns. The Mountaineers finished fifth in the Big 12 in offensive plays of over 10 yards (148), but as the yardage increases, WVU continues to fall down the rankings. West Virginia ranked sixth in plays of 30 yards or more and tied for eighth with Kansas in plays of 40 yards or more, with only four all season.
“If you look at the teams that have played offense at an elite level, and there’s several of those over the course of the last 10, 12 years, they’re not grinding out drives,” Brown said. “They’re explosive plays. To have explosive plays, you’ve got to be able to break tackles, you’ve got to be elite in run-after-the-catch or you’ve got to hit shots down the field.
“We’ve got to make a step, and a significant step is having more explosive plays.”
Obviously, the responsibility of taking the top off the defense doesn’t fall to Doege alone. A plague of season-long, seemingly roster-wide dropped passes also stunted big plays before they ever got off the ground.
But in being the distributor of the football, Doege understands that offensive efficiency and explosiveness starts with the quarterback, and in the pursuit of improvement, which Brown praised, he has focused on multiple areas of his game.
“The main focus has been moving in the pocket, realizing when to run, realizing when to take a sack ... just situational football,” Doege said. “I’ve gotten a lot better just moving in the pocket. Maybe one little small movement and making that throw helps a lot, and just throwing on the run, keeping my body in awkward situations and just making throws.
“I’ve been doing tons of different drills, just having maybe a bag right there in my face and making a throw with someone standing right there in my face, or just making that small movement. Just to get away from the bag and getting a couple of inches to where I can make a throw.”
Those things would fall in line with what Brown said were the biggest areas of need for Doege.
“Two things with Jarret in the spring is pocket awareness and pocket movement, and the second thing was accuracy on the deep ball,” Brown said. “We missed too many shots downfield. We had people open a lot of times that we didn’t connect. We had some drops that were a factor in that, but we’ve got to be more explosive.”
Doege certainly wasn’t bad in 2020. Far from it. He finished second in the Big 12 behind only Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler with 258.7 passing yards per game. That’s more than Iowa State’s Brock Purdy (229.2) and more than Texas’ Sam Ehlinger (256.6).
Doege was intercepted just four times, tied for the least among the league’s top 11 passers from 2020, and his 63.9 completion percentage ranked fourth in the conference.
Yet there’s plenty for the Mountaineer offense in general, and Doege personally, to prove, and that’s just fine with the QB. Doege said he’s been battling since he was in high school.
“That’s one of my whys — I play for my family and then I play to prove a lot of people wrong,” Doege said. “One offer out of high school and a lot of people said I couldn’t play at this level, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted, to prove to people that I can play at the highest competition.”
Likely, Doege has already done that. But to thrive at the highest competition, he and the offense must take a step forward.
And in working on himself, Doege and Brown hope the foundation is being laid one day at a time.
“For the first time, we have experience on that side of the ball, especially up front,” Brown said. “For us to make a step in our league — we went from the bottom in ’19 toward the middle in ’20 — for us to make the next step to the top tier, we’ve got to be more productive on that side of the ball.”
“I think we had a really great spring,” Doege concluded. “There really wasn’t a bad practice. Maybe just an average practice, but I think that’s when you’re getting somewhere is when you have an average practice over a bad practice.
“We’re getting a lot better and there’s huge confidence in our offense right now.”