Contributors, Football, Sean Manning, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: A tale of new plays in the waning moments of WVU’s 27-21 win over Virginia Tech

WVU head coach Neal Brown said it best following his team’s 27-21 win over Virginia Tech on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“Football’s a finnicky game, isn’t it?”

In the final moments of the game, with the Hokies making a furious comeback, the Mountaineers went through a play that went as poorly as it could, followed a few minutes later by one that was executed perfectly.

Fortunately for WVU, the bad play came first — a 3rd down interception by quarterback Jarret Doege on a slip screen.

At that point, VT was out of timeouts with 2:20 to go, and a run would run the game clock down to around 1:30 before the Mountaineers needed to punt, assuming they wouldn’t get the first down on the 3rd and 10.

Not only did Brown decide against a simple run, he called a pass play for Doege, albeit on a play that had a lot of success against Maryland and earlier Saturday. The intended target was Isaiah Esdale on a slip screen, but the Hokies knew it was coming and the pass was intercepted by Jermaine Waller, putting VT in prime field position, trailing 27-21.

It was a worst-case scenario for WVU and one of the most critical points in the game.

“Lo and behold, we had a really bad decision,” Brown said. “I’ll take ownership, that was my play. They have no timeouts, there’s less than three minutes to go. We hadn’t punted the ball very well — we hadn’t swung the field other than one time. That’s a play we’d hit for probably 35-40 yards throughout the course, and they played it. Credit to them.”

An unsung hero, which Brown didn’t want to go unnoticed, was wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton, who made the tackle on Walker before he could get any further than the 17-yard line.

The sudden change, which in the moment felt like the nail in WVU’s coffin, put enormous pressure on the Mountaineers defense, which brings us to the other play, this time in their advantage.

Five plays after Doege’s interception, the Hokies had the ball at the 4-yard line on 4th down with the game on the line. VT quarterback Braxton Burmeister lined up in the shotgun, took the snap, rolled right and threw across his body, where the ball was ultimately batted down by Jackie Matthews, sealing the win for the Mountaineers.

In that situation, it was essentially a 2-point conversion play, something Brown said his team practices all the time.

It just so happened it was the same play WVU’s offense likes to run in that situation; something the WVU coaches learned from the pros.

“What they ran was one of our favorite 2-point plays,” Brown said. “We went and visited the Steelers and coach Mike Tomlin before COVID and they did this thing called the ‘Steelers Drill.’ They run 5-7 plays from the 3- or the 2-yard line, and our defense covers that play (all the time), so it really comes full circle.”

If that defensive stop — perhaps the biggest of Brown’s coaching career — doesn’t happen, the tune of not only this season, but Brown’s tenure as head coach, strikes a bad cord.

But fortunately for WVU, the good came last, and the Black Diamond Trophy is back in Morgantown.