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2021 West Virginia football season rewind

West Virginia’s regular season has now come to an end, and with the weather getting colder, it is not too much of a distant memory for Mountaineer fans to think of how quickly this football season went by.

West Virginia opened their season in front of many Mountaineer faithful who made the trip down to College Park, Maryland, for what was a long awaited season opener. Fans had not been able to fully attend a college football game since 2019, and the West Virginia fans showed up — only the West Virginia offense did not. Quarterback Jarret Doege (who will be a big topic of conversation) passed for 277 yards, and threw two interceptions, while the West Virginia scored only three second half points in a 30-24 defeat.

The next week, the Mountaineers took care of business in a sound way against Long Island University, winning 66-0. If you remember Winston Wright opened this game with a kickoff return touchdown, and was the hottest return man in the country at that time.

West Virginia welcomed No. 15 Virginia Tech to town a week later, in what was a battle for the Black Diamond Trophy. West Virginia had its annual “gold rush” game and the fans brought a lot of energy. West Virginia running back Leddie Brown rushed for an 80-yard touchdown on West Virginia’s second play from scrimmage. Late in the game, the West Virginia defense came up with two huge stops. The first came on fourth down as Jared Bartlett forced a fumble, turning the Hokies over on downs. Virginia Tech would score again, making it a 27-21 game, and Doege made a poor choice and threw an interception late in the game which set up Virginia Tech with a chance to win the game. Just when it seemed like all hope was lost the Mountaineer defense bailed Doege out and the Mountaineers celebrated and lifted the Black Diamond Trophy.

After starting 2-1, all eyes turned towards a prime time tilt against No. 3 Oklahoma. The Mountaineers came out dominant, scoring a touchdown on their first drive, with the help of quarterback Garrett Greene. West Virginia would be in control for the majority of the game, but a few costly mistakes led to Oklahoma being able to kick a field goal to win the game as time expired. Many thought that close margin of defeat was a sign of good things to come — except not so much.

West Virginia returned home to face Texas Tech and faced a 17-0 halftime deficit. West Virginia stormed back in the second half thanks in large part to Doege. West Virginia could not finish the job, with Texas Tech kicking a late field goal, and West Virginia losing late two games in a row.

In their last game before the bye week, West Virginia went on the road to face Baylor. The West Virginia defense gave up more than 500 yards of total offense to the Bears, in a 45-20 losing effort. West Virginia hit the bye week having lost three straight games, and sat at 0-3 in conference play.

Following the bye week, West Virginia won its first road game since 2019, as the Mountaineers beat TCU 29-17. Brown rushed for 111 yards and three touchdowns, while the West Virginia defense forced three turnovers in the victory. Sitting at 3-4, and 1-3 in conference play, West Virginia knew they had to find a way to string together a couple of wins to get this season back on track. They did just that the next week against Iowa State.

On Halloween weekend, on a misty Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, the Mountaineers’ passing attack helped them defeat the Cyclones. After ending the 2020 season by getting blown out, it was West Virginia who got the last laugh this time around. Doege passed for 370 yards and three touchdowns, in what was arguably one of his best games of his career. All was right for West Virginia, sitting at 4-4, until Oklahoma State rolled into town.

The Cowboys and Mountaineers seemed to be a critical matchup in West Virginia’s season. Oklahoma State was at the top of the conference and West Virginia was trying to inch closer towards bowl eligibility, and had put together a pair of good games. Unfortunately for West Virginia, the Cowboys dominated West Virginia after their first drive. The Mountaineers had 133 total yards of offense and West Virginia quarterbacks were sacked a combined eight times.

On Nov. 13, West Virginia tried to rebound against Kansas State. Things got off to a rough start for West Virginia, including a blocked punt that went for a touchdown. West Virginia tried to come back late, but the defense could not stay fresh long enough, with West Virginia losing 34-17.

With two games left, this team was at a crossroads. The Mountaineers were 4-6, needing to win out against Texas and Kansas to become bowl eligible. The first of those two games came against Texas. Texas was reeling, having lost four straight games coming into this matchup. This game was all Doege and Brown. The pair combined for four touchdowns and 448 yards between the two of them. West Virginia won and just needed a win at Kansas to make a bowl game.

That win at Kansas is exactly what West Virginia got, after having a strong rushing performance. Brown and fellow back Tony Mathis both rushed for over 100 yards, and senior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo had two interceptions to seal the 34-28 victory and put the Mountaineers at 6-6.

Before the season, West Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 — the Mountaineers finished sixth. Although the final record did not go the way West Virginia had envisioned three months ago, the Mountaineers showed signs of improvement. West Virginia’s first three losses were by a combined 12 points — this team could very well have had one or two more wins.

The wins in the second half came from running the football and playing better defense. Yes, Doege also played well and that was crucial, but when West Virginia successfully ran the ball this year, they picked up wins more often than not.

This chart shows the number of total rush yards for West Virginia in each of their contests, compared to the result

The Mountaineers will now await to see where they will play their bowl game. West Virginia reached its second consecutive bowl game under Neal Brown, and with a top-25 incoming recruiting class, things are coming together at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Photo by Bryan Dougherty, Blue Gold Sports

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