Football coaches, and you can place West Virginia’s Neal Brown right up there among them, normally can accept defeat.
They don’t like it, but they understand that in every game one team wins and one team loses.
What they have trouble accepting isn’t being beaten by an opponent but, instead, when they beat themselves.
It’s something Brown harps on with his team almost daily.
“I’m extremely disappointed right now,” Brown said. “We talk all the time about WVU not beating WVU.”
Yet that is what happened on a warm fall afternoon in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The record book will say Oklahoma State beat the Mountaineers, 27-13, but there has to be a better way to put it in this era where analytics can give you everything from the spin rate of a golf ball as it flies through the air to the speed a baseball as it leaves the bat or the odds of making a shot on the basketball court from 15 feet, 6 inches and how it differs from the odds of making it from 15 feet, 10 inches.
They ought to find a way to award less than a full victory to the Cowboys and put some kind of penalty on WVU for the way it let this game just ooze through its grip.
In fact, you might say, that’s the only penalty that wasn’t assessed to West Virginia in this Big 12 opener, having been charged with 12 of them for 103 yards.
See, when you get 106 yards in penalties and only 68 net yards rushing, it doesn’t take a genius to see that there can be a negative effect on the outcome of the game.
But even with the penalties and the inability to run the ball WVU might have won the game if they weren’t so intent upon beating itself.
It’s like a basketball player making the winning basket in the wrong goal, like a baseball player missing second base on a game-winning home run, like a race horse approaching the finish line with a six-length lead and suddenly jumping the infield fence — and, yes, if this will make Neal Brown feel any better, I’ve had that happen to me with a horse I had bet on.
This kind of thing happens sometimes. Roy Riegels, whose coach at the University of California-Berkley called him “the smartest player I ever coached”, was playing what today is the equivalent of nose guard against Georgia Tech in the 1929 Rose Bowl when he snatched up a fumble near the sideline just 30 yards away from the Tech end zone.
Somehow, though, he got turned around and began running toward his own goal line, 70 yards away, his teammates chasing him. He was finally caught at his own three by a teammate, who tried to turn him around, but by then they both were snowed under by Georgia Tech players
He became known to history as “Wrong Way” Riegels. On the next play, Cal tried to punt, but it was blocked for a safety, and those two points proved decisive in an 8-7 Yellow Jacket victory.
We bring this up only because that was the only thing WVU didn’t do wrong — and that was because they it could not recover any of four Oklahoma State fumbles, a lingering malady from last season.
The closest they came was to have their former teammate, Josh Sills, who transferred to Stillwater this year and started in the Cowboy offensive line, fall on one.
“They put the ball on the ground four times and we got zero of them,” Neal Brown lamented. “You make your own breaks in this game. We had opportunities to get on all of them. We didn’t do it.”
But, when quarterback Jarret Doege went back to pass in the second quarter and had the ball knocked from his grasp, an Oklahoma State defensive lineman was there to scoop it up and run it into the end zone.
The right end zone, at that.
It was something of a disaster. Even good things went bad.
Take what was Leddie Brown’s best run of the day, a 14-yard burst in which he ran over and through a number of defenders. So pumped was he at the end of the run that as he got up he spun the football on its pointy end on the ground, only to draw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct.
He said he did the same thing on a run last year but it wasn’t a penalty then, something new this year as you apparently aren’t allowed to have fun playing a kid’s game.
“We can’t have the penalty he had. That’s a selfish penalty,” Neal Brown.
To his credit, Leddie Brown said that on the sideline “I apologized to my teammates.”
There really was no need to. There weren’t any of them standing there who hadn’t screwed something up during the game.
And so it went, fumbles, dropped snap on a field goal, missed open passes, penalties, missed tackles, players setting up long touchdown runs by going into the wrong gaps.
Even Neal Brown wasn’t exempt as he went ultra conservative twice in situations that hardly called for it,
Early in the game, at the Oklahoma State 39 on third and 10, he handed off to Alec Sinkfield, who was thrown for a 3-yard loss.
Then in third quarter, trailing 20-7 with the ball at the WVU 45 and facing third and Neal Brown — shades of Don Nehlen — ran a variation of a draw play that gained just two yards.
That might be all right if you are giving the ball to Steve Slaton, Pat White or Noel Devine, but neither Sinkfield nor Brown has yet reached that status and the offensive line hasn’t proved it can open holes the way Oklahoma State did on its two breakaway runs.
But maybe Brown was simply trying not to beat himself on a low percentage play, especially on a day when they probably couldn’t have taken a knee without something going wrong.