West Virginia University quarterback Austin Kendall was good, but not great, in the first half of last week’s loss at Oklahoma. The second half against the Sooners is one he’ll probably want to forget, especially one missed opportunity.
The Mountaineers had a fourth down on Oklahoma’s side of the field and ran a swing pass designed for Leddie Brown. The sophomore running back did his part to get open — like, wide open — but Kendall’s pass was off target. The Sooners got the ball back and went on to finish a 52-14 rout.
“That’s going to haunt me for a couple days,” Kendall said. “That’s just an easy throw. To see him run scot-free into the end zone without the ball in his hands is disappointing. That’s the little things I’ve got to fix. Because those can be big, game-changing plays in the long run.”
Make no mistake, Kendall, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma who came to Morgantown in January with two seasons of eligibility, is in this for the long run with West Virginia. First-year Mountaineer coach Neal Brown put to rest any doubt that Kendall was his top choice at quarterback during his weekly press conference with WVU going into a Saturday off before a Thursday game on Halloween at unbeaten Baylor.
“Austin Kendall’s our starter,” Brown said. “I thought he played well in the first half on Saturday. The second half, he did not perform as well as he needs to. He understands that. First half, he handled the noise around that game pretty well. It’s a unique situation, he has to go back and play his home team in their stadium.”
Kendall, who injured his chest two weeks ago against Iowa State and was questionable early in the week prior to the Oklahoma game, was decent in those first two quarters at OU — he completed 13 of 22 pass attempts for 128 yards and two touchdowns. In the second half, after the wheels fell off the Sooner Schooner, the Mountaineer offense wasn’t too far behind. Kendall completed just two passes, and only attempted nine, in the final two quarters.
“I thought [Kendall] threw the ball really well,” Brown said. “We had three, maybe four dropped passes in the first half. I thought he made really good decisions. The second half, his decision-making wasn’t as good. He missed on several deep throws we needed to hit to be competitive in that game. But he’s our starter. And that’s how we’ll move forward.”
The Mountaineers did, however, have some formations dialed up for redshirt freshman Trey Lowe at OU. Brown wasn’t thrilled with the overall outcome on many of those plays, but said there were some good things on display.
“We’ve got to be more productive when we’re in those sets,” Brown said. “We had a couple clear runs where we didn’t get as many yards as we’d like to. I think Trey is getting better. It was good to get him in the game. We’d have liked to use him a little more. He had one really nice run late in the game and he was able to get a completion, so that will help him from a confidence standpoint.”
ADDITION BY ATTRITION
Under the best circumstances, West Virginia’s secondary is anchored by seniors, but much of the depth behind those upperclassmen is very young.
When hit by injuries, like the one to cornerback Keith Washington, or emergencies, like cornerback Hakeem Bailey being ejected early in the second half two weeks ago against Iowa State, the Mountaineers have been forced to go with guys like true freshman cornerback Nicktroy Fortune, who has played every defensive snap for WVU the last two weeks. Fellow true freshman Tavian Mayo was thrown into his first action of the season after Bailey’s ejection. With Washington still injured and Bailey benched for the first half at Oklahoma, WVU moved starting free safety Josh Norwood back to his former position at cornerback and started ex-Capital High standout Kerry Martin Jr. at free safety.
“I think that what you’re seeing in the young people playing, those first- and second-year players, is significant improvement from the first opportunity they had,” Brown said. “Even though the game didn’t do anywhere near the way you want Saturday, I thought those guys showed some progress.”
With Washington and Bailey set to finish their WVU careers this season, Fortune and Mayo could have a leg up on starting spots going into 2020. The same goes for Martin at free safety with Norwood also being a senior this season.
Junior college transfer Dreshun Miller and Alonzo Addae, who is sitting out this season as a transfer from New Hampshire, could push for playing time at cornerback along with 2020 recruits Jairo Faverus and David Vincent-Okoli. Brown has also said he would like to add multiple defense backs to the upcoming recruiting class, likely needing an upperclassman transfer among those.
“I think we’re going to have to add a couple more defensive backs to the [recruiting] class than maybe we originally thought due to attrition,” Brown said. “I think that’s the only thing from a positional standpoint we need to address. We need to add probably at least one older defensive back. Maybe two.”
DOEGE’S DAY OUT
Bowling Green transfer quarterback Jarret Doege traveled with the WVU football team for the first time this season for last week’s trip to Oklahoma. Brown has maintained all season that the plan for Doege is to redshirt this season, but that leaves the door open for the quarterback to appear in as many as four games for the Mountaineers this season.
The idea behind taking Doege to OU, Brown said, was to get the former Mid-American Conference standout a first-hand look at one of the more daunting atmospheres the Big 12 has to offer.
“It was important for him to go and be in that venue and get a feel for a Big 12 atmosphere at a high level,” Brown said. “We have aspirations that he could be a really good player for us. He’s going to have to perform in those venues if he wants to be a high-level quarterback.”