Takeaways from Backyard Brawl loss vs. Pitt – The Gold and Blue Nation Podcast
West Virginia opened its season with its second straight loss to a rival in an opener on the road. This time around, it was much more painful for the Mountaineers as they fell to Pitt after a 14-point swing in the final quarter.
WVU head coach Neal Brown was noticeably (and understandably) unhappy after the result, which came after several consequential plays and decisions from both teams.
Here is what the coach had to say after the loss:
On WVU’s crucial punt in the fourth quarter
Much of the postgame discussion has surrounded Brown’s decision to pin Pitt deep within its own territory rather than attempting to convert a 4th-and-1 situation.
Let’s set the stage as a refresher: West Virginia had possession of the ball and a 7-point lead with around seven minutes remaining in the contest. The Mountaineers had driven to the Pitt 48 yard line to bring up that 4th-and-1. Instead of punching it past the chains, Brown tapped on Oliver Straw to pin the Panthers inside their own 10 with 6:10 on the clock.
Straw put Pitt on its eight, but it took the Panthers just seven plays to tie the ballgame up.
“It’s easy to second guess now, because they went  yards, but I think the decision was sound and if I had to do it again, I’d do it again,” Brown said. “It’d be different if there was like three minutes to go, but there was six.”
Brown expressed confidence in his defense, noting that the unit had sacked Kedon Slovis earlier in the half and held the Panthers to an and-long punt on the previous drive. The Pitt defensive front was also finding a rhythm and giving the offensive line problems in the later moments of the game.
However, Brown did make the call despite the fact that WVU had its fifth-best rushing performance during his tenure and was 4-for-4 on short-yardage conversion runs in the game.
“If you look at what they’ve done traditionally, they’ve been really, really good in short-yardage situations,” Brown said. “When you go back and look at it, it was fourth and three-quarters of a yard probably. If you take the whole scope of the game, the drive before that, we got two sacks, we got them into third and forever, and we played really well defensively on back-to-back drives. So I felt good about it.”
On the depleted secondary
WVU suffered a major blow in the middle of the first quarter when preseason All-Big 12 cornerback Charles Woods was helped off the field with a lower leg injury. He was carted to the locker room and returned to the sideline in a boot, but never went back into the game.
“That affected the game, without question,” Brown said. “Our best corner….That hurt us.”
The Mountaineers slotted Wesley McCormick in his place, but he was ejected at the beginning of Pitt’s decisive game-tying drive due to a targeting penalty.
That made WVU’s secondary made up of four debuting Mountaineers: freshman cornerback Mumu Bin-Wahad, redshirt freshman corner Aubrey Burks, junior college transfer Hershey McLaurin and graduate transfer Marcis Floyd.
“[That injury] to Charles Woods and McCormick getting the targeting, that did hurt us,” Brown said. “We were thin back there.”
Pitt seemed to take advantage of the depth issue, throwing for 224 yards in the second half after tossing for just 84 in the first.
On the several consequential replay reviews
“Don’t ask me what targeting is and don’t ask me what a catch is because I don’t know, and I haven’t got an explanation so don’t ask me about that because I can’t talk about it,” Brown said. “I probably know less about a catch and targeting now than I did before the game.”
Most of the Backyard Brawl’s deciding plays seemed to go to replay review, the most poignant of which were three reviews for targeting calls.
The aforementioned one to McCormick might have had the biggest impact on the game. Not only did it thin WVU’s defense even further than it already was, but it also turned a Pitt third down in its own red zone into a 1st-and-10 on its 31.
The other two flags were thrown against Pitt, and coincidentally, they were both for hits on Bryce Ford-Wheaton. Neither was upheld after the official review.
“McCormick’s, that’s probably a good call, and I’m just confused. Don’t get me wrong, it’s really hard to officiate this game, and the targeting is really difficult to call,” Brown said. “I thought the one on Bryce at the end of the game, those are the types of hits we’re trying to take out of the game.”
The reviewed catches Brown referred to were both in the fourth quarter and proved to be decisive. Pitt tight end Gavin Bartholomew’s catch on the game-tying dive was upheld after a lengthy review, giving the Panthers 2nd-and-1 on their own 40 (coincidentally, on the play immediately after McCormick’s targeting penalty.). The more striking one was the play that ended the game when JT Daniels appeared to find Reese Smith on the goal line on WVU’s last snap from scrimmage. That one was overturned, giving Pitt possession for two final kneel downs.