MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The word WVU head coach Neal Brown uses is “grit.”
West Virginia’s football team heard it a lot this week. It became an anthem almost, Brown stressed it so much.
His team may not be better than your team but he expected it to beat you with its grit, just at it did Saturday in topping Baylor, 27-21, in double overtime.
Now you may know that Brown does a lot of self-help reading, finding things he can use in his coaching. Along the way he discovered a work by Angela Duckworth.
The title of the work, fittingly enough, was “Grit: The Power of Pride and Perseverance.”
“We have to own who we are,” he told play-by-play announcer Tony Caridi on the pregame show. “What we are right now is a young football team that needs to be hungry. We need to be a blue-collar football team that plays the game with grit.”
It was here he mentioned Duckworth’s book.
“We got to play today with extreme passion … love not only for the game but for competing, love for your teammates, where you are not going to let them down and then perseverance to overcome adversity,” he said.
As it turned out that was the road map to victory.
West Virginia dodged adversity at every turn. The result was far better than the performance, but in a way they forced Baylor into a similar performance and it got to the point that Brown eventually would summarize it by saying:
“It wasn’t pretty, but I’ll tell you what it was, in the second half we didn’t lose the game.”
Brown knows his team. “We’re not going to be the most talented every Saturday I’m not sure we will be the most talented in this game today. But we can be the grittiest,” he said “We have to translate that to success on the field.”
And that was what they did.
“Coach Brown pounded grit into our heads all week,” said WVU junior running back Leddie Brown, who scored the game winning touchdown on a 3-yard run in overtime.
What is grit? It is just that … pride and perseverance
You are too proud to lose and too strong to allow anything to get your way, even if that “anything” is yourself.
What did they overcome? They overcame a second week of 12 penalties, some of them indescribable and some – two pass interference calls in particular would have killed a team with least heart, less grit – more invisible than indescribable.
There were five fumbles, two of them lost, plus a couple of interceptions.
But they persevered.
How so? Take wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton. He made a terrible special team mistake, running into returner Alec Sinkfield while he was fair catching a punt, causing a fumble that could have cost the Mountaineers the game.
Brown noted that a year ago he’d have gone off into a corner of the bench and probably been worthless the rest of the game, but he came back to make a make a difficult catch in tight coverage for the first touchdown in overtime.
Persevere? This game wasn’t won in overtime It was probably won when Baylor got down to the one-foot line on WVU in the fourth quarter, about to punch the ball into the end zone.
But they couldn’t get there. The defense persevered. On fourth down Baylor tried to power its way in but the defensive front, which was heroic all day, held.
It was a play that had to be reviewed but in one of an endless number of reviews, the striped shirts could find no conclusive proof that the football had pierced the goal line and upheld the ruling.
“Sometimes the game comes down to us and we like that,” said nose guard Darius Stills, who spent the whole day displaying the grit that his career at WVU has been built up “If the game is in our hands, we’ll get the job done.”
You talk about grit, how about having James Gmiter, the starting left guard and maybe your best offensive lineman, fail his COVID screening test on Friday and be declared out of the game, forcing true freshman Zach Frazier to fill in for him. The line had been a weakness and no, it wasn’t exactly the Seven Blocks of Granite Saturday, but late in the second half they did what had to be done.
“I’ll say this, winning is hard,” Brown said, opening his post-game press conference. “I think in COVID times, it’s probably even harder. That was a great program win. On a day where we had a ton of things go wrong, we found a way to win.
“It sounds simple, but teams find ways to lose, and we found a way to win today, which, at the end of the day, is all that matters. I’m never going to apologize for (that). Some people may say it’s ugly, but I say it’s gritty.”