Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Underdog Mountaineers taking pride in winning ugly

MORGANTOWN — Nobody would claim the 2023 West Virginia Mountaineers are a pretty football team. They are, however, a winning team a third of the way through the season.

The 3-1 Mountaineers haven’t played aesthetically pleasing football, but they’ve found ways to win through an injury to their starting quarterback, two season-ending injuries in the secondary, an extended weather delay in their home opener and more.

“In the past, we’ve done a good job of finding a way not to win those games,” offensive coordinator Chad Scott said Monday. “I always look at it as good teams come together at times when you get games like this where they’re not always pretty, but you find a way to come out on top. In the past, we’ve done too good of a job finding ways to not come out on top in those games.”

Last week’s 20-13 win over Texas Tech was the perfect example of WVU’s resilience this season. The Red Raiders outgained the Mountaineers 321-256, WVU only threw for 99 yards and Texas Tech won the turnover battle 2-0. And yet, WVU still came out on top.

“The last two games I think you could call them ugly,” center Zach Frazier said. “I think it’s kind of beautiful from an offensive lineman’s perspective. Running the ball and controlling the game, I like that. A win’s a win, no matter how it happens.”

And wins are something WVU desperately needs, especially after the Mountaineers were picked to finish dead last in the Big 12’s preseason poll.

“We’re fueled off being picked 14th in the conference,’ linebacker Lee Kpogba said. “There’s no bigger underdog than that, they picked us to finish last.” 

This week’s game against 3-1 TCU (8 p.m./ESPN2) presents a clear step up in competition from WVU’s last two opponents.

“We know in the Big 12 there’s not that much of a difference from the top to the bottom of the conference,” Kpogba said. “Every week we’re prepared for a dog fight and that’s what we go out there ready to do.”

WVU has also opened all three of its games against FBS opponents this season as the underdog. The Mountaineers were eventually favored in their matchup against Pitt, but they were the underdogs when betting opened at the beginning of the week.

“That’s a huge motivation,” Frazier said. “I view it as a good thing. I always love when someone tells me I can’t do something, that just makes me want to prove them wrong. Picking us 14th, that’s the biggest amount of motivation you can get. Picking us last, you can’t get any worse than that. It wasn’t 13th, it wasn’t 12th, it was 14th.”

WVU is again the underdog this week as TCU is currently a 12.5-point favorite to win on Saturday.

“I would rather them picked us as the underdogs,” Frazier said. “I think we should keep that going and use that as motivation. I personally like it.”

Kpogba said the underdog status and chip on their shoulders comes from the way they played last season when WVU finished 5-7 without a bowl game. Even players who weren’t on the team last year have adopted the mindset that they’re going to prove everyone wrong.

“When you have that cohesive bond, my brother’s struggle is my struggle as well,” said bandit linebacker Tyrin Bradley, who transferred in from Abilene Christian this summer. “These guys were picked 14th, so I was picked 14th as well. They picked us last and no matter what, they brought me in to help them out, so I’m a part of it.”

The Mountaineers’ solid start has changed the perception of the program a bit since the start of the year. ESPN’s internal projections favor WVU in four of their remaining eight games. But even if the tides fully turn and the Mountaineers stop being viewed as underdogs, being picked 14th will continue to fuel them.

“We’ve got that chip on our shoulder every time we go out on that field,” Kpogba said. “We’re not forgetting where they picked us to finish. We just put our heads down and work and we want to prove everybody wrong.”