MORGANTOWN — On the surface, West Virginia quarterback Garrett Greene’s numbers in the team’s 38-15 loss to Penn State do not look all that bad.
The junior making his third career start completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 times and ran 15 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. They’re not explosive numbers, but he didn’t turn the football over and even helped the team avoid any pre-snap penalties in the hostile road environment of 110,000 Nittany Lions fans.
“Credit to him for the game management piece,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “That’s the quarterback, we didn’t have any 40-second clock issues, we didn’t have any 25-second clock issues. He handled all of that.”
The problem with Greene’s performance was that his biggest mistakes almost all came in the most crucial moments of the game. The Mountaineers were just 4 of 14 on third down and 3 of 6 on fourth down. WVU actually led Penn State in time of possession — 31 minutes to 28 — but because the Mountaineers kept floundering on third and fourth down, they continuously squandered promising drives and scoring chances.
“Let’s say you convert two out of those,” Brown posited. “Now you get three or four more downs but more importantly, you’re eating up the clock. You’re taking at least a minimum of one possession away from them and you’re really controlling the clock. The failure to convert those end-of-possession downs has consequences throughout.”
Individually on third and fourth downs, Greene completed three of six pass attempts for 27 yards and ran nine times for 50 yards. He only picked up five first downs in 15 chances, two of which were quarterback sneaks.
“The negative would be not being able to execute passes in critical pass situations and not making the plays most when we needed the play,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said Monday.
Although Greene and the Mountaineers avoided turnovers, they did lose possession on downs three times and had to punt the ball away on four more instances.
“We’ve got to improve our pass game execution,” Brown said. “What the game came down to was the end of drives.”
Scott said Greene needs to do a better job of staying in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield instead of scrambling right away. Of Greene’s 15 carries, three were PSU sacks and very few were designed runs.
“The biggest thing is he’s got to trust,” Scott said. “We’ve got the best offensive line in the country, in my opinion, and those running backs do a great job seeing the blitzes. He’s just got to do a great job of trusting those guys up front and trusting those backs that they’re not going to get him hit, they’re going to keep him clean.”
The turning point of the game came at the beginning of the third quarter. WVU’s defense forced Penn State to go three-and-out on the opening possession, giving the offense a chance to drive and potentially tie the game at 14-14.
After a penalty put the Mountaineers behind the sticks, Greene’s pass on second down was incomplete and his throw on third down gained just one yard.
“We knew we were in it. If I convert that third down, I think the game looks a lot different,” Greene said after the game. “I just didn’t make enough plays to win the game.”
Brown also noted that WVU got into tough third-down spots throughout the game, in part, because Greene missed a handful of throws on early downs.
“He’s got to make layups,” Brown said. “He had two really bad throws on screens, those are layups, he’s got to make those. What we talk to him about is you’ve got to make 100% of your layups, and he didn’t.”
Scott thinks leaning more on WVU’s running game can help create those “layup” opportunities for Greene earlier in games. Converting on those would help him out later in contests, Scott believes.
“We’ve got to establish the run early and find a way to get him an easy completion downfield to get rid of the jitters,” Scott said. “Rely on the run game heavily and find a way to get him an easy completion to get him going.”
Brown expects Greene and backup quarterback Nicco Marchiol to play this week when the Mountaineers host Duquesne on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN+).