Chip Shots – Down or Brown?

Down on Brown? by Jim Buzzerd With just over six minutes to go in West Virginia University’s opening football game at Pitt, the Mountaineers led 31-24. It was fourth down and less than a yard to go for a first down. West Virginia had already rushed for more yards against Pitt than anyone had all last season. CJ Donaldson, West Virginia’s 240 lb. true freshman running back, was having a phenomenal game finishing with 125 yards on just seven carries. Starting tailback Tony Mathis was running better in the second half after shaking off a sluggish start. There was no indication that Pitt could stop the red-hot Donaldson short of the line to gain. There were plenty of WVU fans calling for WVU to go for the first down. A first down there would put WVU in great shape to win the game. Also worth consideration is the fact that on Pitt’s two previous offensive possessions the Panthers gained a total of seven yards. Kind of a compelling reason to try to pin Pitt deep. So, the Mountaineers lined up like they were going to go for the first down, but that was a decoy formation in hopes quarterback TJ Daniels could get Pitt to jump offsides. When Pitt didn’t jump, head coach Neal Brown had WVU take a delay of game penalty, then punted the ball away. Step one worked out great as punter Oliver Straw put Pitt at their own eight-yard line, 92 yards from tying the game. The decision to punt did not look so good when Pitt carved up the Mountaineers for those 92 yards in just seven plays to tie the game at 31. West Virginia got the ball back with 3:41 left in the game Donaldson cracked off a 14-yard run to the WVU 39. Disaster struck on the next play when Daniels threw a perfect strike to Bryce Wheaton that bounced off his hands and into the mitts of the speedy MJ Devonshire who returned the interception for a 56-yard touchdown and a 38-31 lead. At this juncture it should be pointed out that Wheaton had an incredible game. He caught nine passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He was tough and reliable, but the drop will be forever remembered. So too will the debate rage on about Brown’s decision to punt. Brown was getting roasted on social media following the game for his decision not to go for the first down. Plenty of the barrage was down right nasty. Brown defended his decision. “If you look at what they’ve done traditionally, they’ve been really, really good in short-yardage situations,” Brown said. “It was fourth and three-quarters of a yard probably. The drive before that, we had two sacks and got them into third and forever. We played really well defensively on back-to-back drives, so I felt good about it. It’s easy to second guess now, but I think the decision was sound and if I had to do it again, I’d do it again. It would be different if there was three minutes to go, but there was six.” Yes, some fans weren’t happy with the call in real time, but I’m not going too far out on a limb to suggest that a whole lot of those castigating Brown over the last five days would be saying similar things had WVU gone for the first down and been stopped. Like they say, hindsight is 20-20. Briefly, I like the looks of Daniels through one game. He is a real upgrade at that position. Next up for West Virginia is Kansas this Saturday at 6 p.m. at Milan Puskar Stadium. Perennial doormats in the Big 12 Football Conference there is more optimism surrounding the Jayhawks this season. Kansas was 2-10 last season in head coach Lance Leipold’s first season. The game can be seen on ESPN+. Leipold is considered by many to be a rising star in the college coaching ranks, and they point to Kansas’ final three games of 2022 pointing out that the Jayhawks beat Texas, lost to TCU by three points and WVU by six points, perhaps signifying the beginning of a turnaround. They beat Tennessee Tech 56-10 last week. WVU is still a 13-point favorite. Guess we’ll know more Saturday night.