MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It’s been a while since this has happened, but the Mountaineers have indeed returned from a Big 12 road trip with a victory.
West Virginia (3-4, 1-3) emerged from its open week and kickstarted the second half of its regular season schedule with a 29-17 win over TCU. That triumph marked the team’s first Big 12 win of 2021, its first overall win in more than a month and its first win in a true road game since a victory at Amon G. Carter Stadium in November 2019, snapping a seven-game road losing streak that spanned 23 months.
After the game, head coach Neal Brown credited the victory to success in three key areas, all of which were focal points during the open week.
The way Saturday’s game began could have caused the Mountaineers to self-destruct. They allowed the Horned Frogs to return the opening kick for a touchdown, and then botched the catch on the ensuing kickoff, forcing them to start their opening drive from the TCU 11.
But the Mountaineers responded to those early setbacks with poise. They scored points on each of their first four possessions, carving out a 20-17 advantage at halftime, and putting themselves in position to close out the game in the second half.
That was a complete 180 from the team’s previous game against Baylor. In that contest, the Mountaineers surrendered touchdowns to Baylor on each of its first three possessions, and they trailed by double digits for the remainder of the game.
“I thought we handled adversity. Something we didn’t do at Baylor,” Brown said. “I never really thought we really bounced back from the two opening touchdown drives against Baylor, but I thought as a football team, we handled adversity much, much better.”
Brown said the team simulated adverse situations in practices during the open week, and he thinks that contributed to the way his players responded in Fort Worth.
The return of the run game
In the days leading up to the TCU game, Brown indicated that the Mountaineers would try to run the ball against the Horned Frogs’ subpar rushing defense, even though West Virginia had struggled in that category all season.
It worked. The Mountaineers rushed for a season-high 229 yards, and nearly half of the team’s total offensive output came on the ground.
Senior Leddie Brown ran for 111 yards and three touchdowns, while backup running back Tony Mathis logged 48 rushing yards on 12 attempts. Backup quarterback Garrett Greene also rushed for 69 yards, with 67 yards coming on one carry, the longest play from scrimmage in the game.
In the passing game, starting QB Jarret Doege was effective, completing 21 of his 28 attempts for 257 yards.
“We ran the ball efficiently, and I thought our pass game, we did a nice job,” Neal Brown said. “We didn’t hit any big plays, but I thought again, efficiency is the key term there.”
The Mountaineer offense did not commit a turnover in the win.
Another focal point of the open week — generating takeaways on defense — also came to fruition Saturday.
The Mountaineers forced three TCU turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter that allowed the Mountaineers to come away with the victory. Entering the contest, the WVU defense had only generated four takeaways all season.
“That’s something that we’ve really been focusing on,” Neal Brown said.
Defensive back Charles Woods played a role in both fourth quarter takeaways. He made an incredible play to intercept a Max Duggan pass early in the period, and then recovered a fumble that was forced by safety Sean Mahone with 5:15 left in the game.
Cornerback Darryl Porter Jr. also intercepted a pass in the third quarter.
The defense also limited the TCU offense, which features one of the Big 12’s best running backs in Zach Evans, to a season-low 149 rushing yards, and held the Horned Frogs without a point in the second half.