It wasn’t easy, but the WVU Mountaineers came out victorious in this year’s AutoZone Liberty Bowl, beating Army 24-21.
After the Black Knights took eight minutes off the clock during their 13-play drive to open the third quarter, this game appeared to be just about over. They went 75 yards, and running back Tyhier Tyler scored his third touchdown of the night.
On down 11, head coach Neal Brown turned to backup quarterback Austin Kendall to spark the Mountaineers. He did exactly that.
The senior transfer had attempted only six passes this entire season before the bowl game. That didn’t seem to make any difference.
Kendall led WVU 80 yards on 10 plays to get it right back in the game. Sophomore tight end Mike O’Laughlin caught a three-yard pass to cut into the Army lead.
Then, in the fourth quarter, Kendall hit senior wide receiver T.J. Simmons for the game-winning 20-yard score.
The WVU defense held on down the stretch, and coach Brown earned his first bowl win with the Mountaineers. It was their sixth win of the season, bringing their final record to 6-4 for 2020.
WVU prevails over Army
While junior quarterback Jarret Doege was more than capable over the course of the regular season, he just wasn’t getting it done in the Liberty Bowl.
Besides completing only 15 of 25 passes, he committed two costly turnovers. With WVU right at the 50, Doege was picked off on third down, setting up Army with great field position.
Later in the second quarter, the QB fumbled while getting sacked deep in the Mountaineers’ own territory. Army recovered and scored a touchdown two plays later to take a 14-10 lead.
Once Kendall came in, WVU’s struggling offense suddenly had legs. Overall, he was 8 for 17, with 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior running back Leddie Brown accumulated 65 yards on the ground; however, he wasn’t all that effective. He averaged just 3.3 yards per carry, about two yards shy of his season average.
Since the Mountaineers were down so much in the second half, they were forced to abandon the rushing attack somewhat, too.
Thankfully, their receiving corps was able to handle the workload. Eight different players caught at least one pass, with Simmons leading the way with four for 56 yards.
Sophomore Bryce Ford-Wheaton and junior Sean Ryan also added four receptions each and combined for nearly 100 yards.
Most impressively, the majority of the WVU wideouts contributed some type of big play. Seven of them had a long catch of at least 14 yards.
Defensively, WVU shut down Army for the most part even without its tackling leader. Despite Tony Fields II opting to skip the bowl to prepare for the NFL draft, the defense held the Black Knights in check for most of the game.
Although Army held the ball for almost 34 minutes, it was limited to just 239 total yards and 16 first downs.
Linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo had an incredible showing, leading the team with 13 tackles. The junior had a crucial interception and a tackle for loss, and his 10 solo tackles were double those of any other Mountaineer.
As the season concludes and the focus moves to next season, there’s already noteworthy news.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Kendall will spend his last year of eligibility at a different college football program. Even though he just helped the Mountaineers capture the Liberty Bowl, he’s clearly not content with his role on the bench.
Kendall entered his name into the NCAA’s transfer database this week.
While he barely saw the field this year, the quarterback showed flashes during last season’s campaign. Kendall completed about 62% of his passes for almost 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns in nine starts in 2019.
His stint in Morgantown might not have lasted very long, but the Mountaineer faithful will certainly remember his second half in the bowl game.
Unfortunately for those who bet on WVU, it came up just short of covering the spread against Army. The Mountaineers were laying about -9 points at West Virginia sportsbooks for their bowl.
Of course, the win alone was enough for those who put action down on their -400 moneyline odds.
Coach Brown was very pleased with his team’s fight and how they were able to finish the year as a whole. According to the WV MetroNews, he said:
“Going into this game, we had played football and were great representatives of how the game should be played for eight games. We didn’t win them all, but we had a chance to win every single one of them. Our ninth game was ugly. It wasn’t who we were. For us to bounce back and have a come-from-behind victory here in the fourth quarter [and] win our second bowl game since joining the Big 12, I thought it was huge.”
Now Brown and the rest of his coaching staff must prepare for taking the next step in 2021. Brown added:
“But we still have a lot of work to do. We are very aware of that. We are going to celebrate this, then take some time off. The next eight months are going to be critical in our development.”