Football, Sports, WVU Sports

COLUMN: Greene can’t make up for poor defense, special teams in 1st start

MORGANTOWN — Sophomore quarterback Garrett Greene performed as expected in his first career start Saturday against Kansas State. He was overall consistent and flashed the play-making ability that has been promised, but he also made a handful of bad decisions that are common for young signal-callers. 

“I thought Garrett did some good things,” said WVU coach Neal Brown. “He ran around and made some good decisions and made some bad decisions, which is going to happen when you’re in your first career start. He’ll continue to get better.”

Unfortunately for Greene, poor play from WVU’s defense and special teams demanded perfection from him in order for the Mountaineers to beat the Wildcats. Greene wasn’t perfect and, with no help from the other phases, his handful of mistakes ended up being the difference in the game.

“Special teams has been a strength of ours all year and it really hurt us (Saturday),” Brown said. “Defensively, we played really poorly in the first half.”

Greene started out as poorly as he could have. Following an opening-drive touchdown by the Wildcats, Greene threw a pick-six on his third play from scrimmage and Kansas State led 14-0 three minutes into the game.

“I tried to put it in a window that really wasn’t there,” Greene said. “You can’t really start out a start that bad.” 

Greene showed some early poise, however, and led the team right down the field and into the endzone. Then WVU’s defense followed with its only impact play of the day, a pick-six by Malachi Ruffin, and the Mountaineers were in position to put the bad start behind them and be all tied up. Then Casey Legg missed his first PAT of the year and WVU trailed, 14-13.

“My guys rallied around me and then the next drive we went down and scored,” Greene said. “I think that was a positive of us responding to a bad play by me.”

That pick-six was the only help the defense would provide, unfortunately, as the Wildcats proceeded to score three straight touchdowns and kick two field goals to score 41 points before halftime.

Anything less than touchdowns on every drive and WVU’s offense was going to get left in the dust. Greene put together two more first-half scoring drives but another missed PAT and a failed two-point conversion resulted in a lopsided 41-25 halftime deficit.

Greene finished 15-of-27 passing for 204 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.
“Kansas State’s a really, really good team and they have a lot of talent,” Greene said. “I just can’t make those mistakes at critical times in order for us to beat good teams. That’s on me. Those two picks really kind of sealed the game, kind of. We can’t do that, I can’t do that, and beat really, really good teams.”

He ran for 40 yards and another score, but three sacks brought his net rushing yards to just 17.

That’s not a bad stat line for one’s first start, especially against the No. 19 team in the nation. Kansas State’s defense was allowing just 19.9 points in Big 12 play coming into the game, and had held three conference opponents without a single touchdown — Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Greene scored four touchdowns himself and WVU finished with 31 points.

The public didn’t find out Greene was starting until Saturday, but he knew all week, as early as Monday or Tuesday.

“We kept it under wraps,” he said with a wry smile.

Brown had seen enough during the Oklahoma game, in which Greene orchestrated four scoring drives in the 23-20 victory, to elevate Greene to the starter.

“I thought he played well last week, he was the Big 12 player of the week,” Brown said. “I thought he was just deserving, he practiced well this week. This was his first opportunity to start and we needed to see what he was able to do. I thought he did some nice things — he threw some really good throws. Some of his decision-making has got to get better.”

In picking up their seventh loss Saturday, the Mountaineers ensured they will only play one more game this season, Saturday against an Oklahoma State team that has lost three of its last four contests. 

Brown was again mum as to who would start at quarterback, but it’s safe to assume that Greene is the frontrunner right now.

“You have kind of a different approach because in practice, you get all the reps that the (starter) usually gets,” Greene said of preparing to start. “So I think you’re more confident in the game plan and actually operating it, not just on the board but with actual bodies out there. I was obviously pretty nervous, but after that pick-six, I felt comfortable and was seeing the field well.”

Saturday would be Greene’s first extensive playing time on the road, but without more help from the team’s defense or special teams, anything short of perfection from him could end up being not enough.

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