Neal Brown was in a much better mood on Thursday night than he was on Sept. 1.
His football team fought back from a historic 0-2 start to claw back to an even 2-2 record after a dominating victory over Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium. Brown’s team defended the Black Diamond Trophy and brought it back to Morgantown for an indefinite period of time.
“It was a complete win. I felt great about our preparation coming in,” Brown said. “I have a lot of respect for Coach [Brent] Pry and what he’s doing program-wise, and this is one of the toughest venues to come in and play, but I really felt good.”
Trophy Defense in Blacksburg – The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast
Here’s what the head coach had to say after the win:
On the defense…
West Virginia showed a massive turnaround on the defensive side of the ball, holding the Hokies to just one touchdown and 228 total yards. It also finally snagged that elusive interception that it has coveted all season.
There is no doubt that performance was an improvement over the week two loss to Kansas when it gave up 55 points on 419 yards.
“That’s how we play defense here,” Brown said. “We had an aberration a couple weeks ago against Kansas, credit to them, but that’s not how we’re going to play defense here. I thought tonight was closer.”
WVU’s defensive line dominated the point of contact, holding Virginia Tech to just two conversions on 12 third and fourth down situations. It also held the Hokies to just 35 rushing yards in the game.
“We’re good up front,” Brown said. “I think our front six is very formidable.”
On the offense…
It took West Virginia’s offense a handful of drives to really get rolling.
The Mountaineers were pushed off the field on a three-and-out in its opening series and scored just one field goal over their next three drives. Still, Brown said he knew something was clicking.
“I knew we were close,” Brown said.
WVU scored its first touchdown on a nearly perfectly-executed drive right before the end of the first half. Brown said that was the product of a lot of hard work by the unit as it spent a lot of time drilling its two-minute offense.
“It was big, and I felt like we were in control of the game but the scoreboard didn’t say that,” Brown said. “So I thought really from that drive on, really we were in control.”
West Virginia went on to outscore the Hokies 20-3 in the second half with a big boost from its ground game. WVU finished with 218 rushing yards — before Thursday, the Hokies allowed just 42 yards per game.
“I think we’ve played pretty solid all year. Even in the Kansas game, our rushing numbers weren’t what they’ve been the other three times, but that was more on our backs, and it’s a combination. Offensive line-wise, we’ve got a chance, and then our tight ends, I don’t think they get talked about enough. [Mike] O’Laughlin and [Brian] Polendey are plus-blockers at this level. And then we’ve got running backs, like Justin Johnson, comes in tonight and does a really nice job.”
On the team’s momentum…
Brown’s confidence in his team never wavered, and Thursday’s result just reinforced that sentiment.
“I think the story of our downturn was probably exaggerated,” Brown said. “Pitt’s a good football team, we had a chance to win — fluke play….Now there were some other plays that we had that we could have won the game. Kansas did a nice job, again, we kind of were our own worst enemy there getting a late hit on the quarterback, but I knew we were close. I didn’t hit the panic.”
After a rivalry loss to start the season and a disappointing defeat in week two, WVU needed to prove that it was better than its winless record. The Battle for the Black Diamond Trophy was an opportunity for the Mountaineers.
“We talked about this being a redemption game for us,” Brown said. “We had a Thursday night game that didn’t go our way. What we put on TV was we played really hard but we got beat, so fast forward four weeks, here we are, another opportunity, prime-time television versus a rivalry game, and this time we got it done and we got it done convincingly.”