MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University quarterback Austin Kendall was not at his best last week in the Mountaineers’ 29-24 win at Kansas to open Big 12 Conference play. Yet he was far from bad and there were some aspects of the Oklahoma graduate transfer’s game that day that showed some promise.
Just ask first-year WVU coach Neal Brown.
“He has shown improvement, but can he play better? Yes,” Brown said. “I think that he has made marked improvement since the opening game against JMU and I think some of that is just shaking off rust where he hadn’t played in so long.”
Kendall, who still has another year of eligibility left after this season, completed 25 of 37 pass attempts against the Jayhawks for 202 yards with no touchdowns but also no interceptions — though there was one close call that was reversed after an officials’ review. For the season, Kendall ranks seventh in the Big 12 with an average of 217.8 passing yards per game and is at eighth among league players in total offense with 224.2 yards per game.
His best drive at KU was likely the one just before halftime. West Virginia got the ball on the KU 29 yard line with 49 seconds to play in the second quarter. Kendall calmly moved the Mountaineers down the field to set up an Evan Staley field goal that turned out to be pretty important in the four-point win against the Jayhawks.
“On Saturday it probably wasn’t his best, but I thought he did a good job of managing the game,” Brown said. “The drive before half was really well done by him. He managed the clock, he was efficient with his throws, he went to where the ball needed to go. I think he’s improving, but our next step is we’ve got to get the ball down field. That’s something that he knows he’s got to improve on. We’ve got to improve our protection on those down field throws, we’ve got to improve on schematically setting up those one-on-one opportunities and we’ve got to improve on getting open. That’s bits and pieces everywhere, but he’s definitely part of that equation.”
MOM WAS WATCHING
West Virginia’s final touchdown of the game at Kansas, a 7-yard run by Martell Pettaway with 5:04 to play in the fourth quarter, was followed by a failed two-point conversion attempt. On the broadcast, Brown could be seen yelling into his headset microphone and quickly covering his mouth with a play sheet so people watching could not read his lips.
When asked about the play Tuesday, Brown immediately knew which play the reporter was referring to before he finished asking the question and explained why he hid his face from the cameras.
“When I got pissed?” Brown said. “Is that what you’re talking about? I knew my mom was watching.”
Brown said he was mad because there was a lack of communication on the two-point play but attributed that to coaches and players being happy and celebrating, perhaps a bit too much, after the touchdown.
“Here’s the deal — you tell everybody we were going to go for two. We started the drive and everybody knows you’re going to go for two. We get down there and we hit a third-and-5 run, Pettaway scores, the coaches get excited, players get excited and we don’t get the right personnel on the field, so we had to use a timeout. My opinion is if we don’t use that timeout, we probably get the two-point play.”
REDSHIRTS NO MORE?
True freshmen receivers Ali Jennings and Winston Wright seemed like candidates to redshirt in 2019 prior to the start of the season, but Brown said that might not be the case if they continue to play as well as they have.
“I think if everything stays the same as it is now, I think both of them moving forward will continue to play,” Brown said. “Winston played, I think, 41 snaps in the game [against Kansas] and he showed some improvement. Ali, he probably played our best as far as outside receivers went at the X and Z positions. He probably graded out the highest of any of those guys. If everything stays the same, we will continue to play both those guys.”
FOR THE BRAND
Last week former WVU kicker Pat McAfee explained to listeners of his daily television show — the appropriately named “The Pat McAfee Show” — why he has not returned to Morgantown since he left the school in 2007. Of course, that was the year McAfee missed two field goal attempts during a 13-9 loss to rival Pitt which likely cost the Mountaineers a spot in that season’s BCS national championship game and was not treated very well by West Virginia fans in the aftermath of that ordeal.
“It’s hard to go back to a place where you got 27 death threats, and then every time you talk about them, you get somebody to tweet you, ‘If you made those two kicks, we’re national champs,’” McAfee said. “I thought about disappearing after that game. It’s a very terrible time in my life, so whenever it gets reminded to me ... you can see how I could build up a potential resentment to a place.”
When the clip from that show made it to the internet, Brown offered an informal invitation to McAfee to make his return to WVU sometime in the future. On Tuesday, Brown touched on the topic again.
“I wasn’t here during that time, so I really can’t speak to it. I can tell you this — he’s done tremendous,” Brown said. “‘For The Brand,’ Thursday night football, radio show — the dude is killing it. I think he’s an important piece of our football history and he, just like anybody else that has a part of this program, is welcome back any time. I look forward to the day he comes back and I hope he does. Maybe it’s a Thursday night football game, maybe it’s just him having an open weekend and being able to come back for a game. He’ll be welcomed.”