WVU head coach Neal Brown criticized his quarterback for a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the final seconds of the game, but he was also sure to make note of other failures and slight successes across the Mountaineers’ entire body of work against Houston.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Brown’s postgame comments:
A chaotic final minute
When everyone looks back at Thursday night’s game they’ll briefly recall Hudson Clement’s 50-yard touchdown for WVU to take the lead with 12 seconds remaining, but Houston’s game-winning Hail Mary will be at the front of the mind.
Cougars’ quarterback Donovan Smith was able to set up Houston at the 49-yard line of WVU for the final heave, but they might not have been able to get that far if it weren’t for an unsportsmanlike penalty by Garrett Greene after WVU’s final score. The Mountaineers had to kick off from 15 yards deeper than usual because of the penalty.
“The celebration penalty after the last touchdown is kind of a microcosm to me of the game,” Brown said. “We don’t get that celebration penalty, which is completely asinine for us to take our helmets off. I don’t understand it. They’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt, they don’t really want to call that, but if you take your helmet off, it’s pretty clear. I don’t understand that, and that gave them the opportunity to get in scoring position.”
Failure to stop Donovan Smith
WVU allowed just 39 yards in the first quarter, but after Houston’s first four drives ended in punts, Cougars’ quarterback Donovan Smith had a career night.
Smith successfully completed his final 16 passes, a streak that started in the second quarter. During that stretch, he threw for over 200 yards with four touchdowns.
“He’s been a good player,” Brown said. “He’s dangerous. [We] knew that coming in. Our guys were prepared. They didn’t do anything tonight that we didn’t expect them to do. Our guys were prepared, and we struggled to tackle. They’re really fast at wideout, and we knew it was going to be a tough matchup for us, and we did not tackle well. Any time you don’t tackle well, it’s going to be a struggle, and we did not tackle well. They made us miss, and they broke tackles.”
Progress in the passing game while rushing attack stalls
Greene’s gaff on the last drive will be scrutinized, but statistically, he had a banner day. He set a career high in passing yards (391) on 20-of-38 passing. He accounted for four total touchdowns with two passing and two rushing scores.
“He was the best player tonight,” Brown said.
As a team, WVU only rushed for 3.5 yards per carry. The Mountaineers entered Thursday’s game down starting left tackle Wyatt Milum and left guard Tomas Rimac, but Brown was still disappointed with the team’s rushing output.
“We didn’t win on the line of scrimmage,” he said. “We didn’t run the ball great offensively. [It’s] probably the most we’ve struggled to run the football, and they did [run it]. If you look at their yards per carry, and our yards per carry, it’s not close.”
Still, the Mountaineers outgained Houston 546-393. They also held the ball for almost 17 more minutes than the Cougars, and ran 29 more plays.
“If you look at the stat sheet, it doesn’t make sense, but that’s why you play the game,” Brown said.