MORGANTOWN — This was supposed to be a walk in the park.
This was supposed to be a piece of cake disguised as a collegiate football game.
This was supposed to be the respite before enduring a gauntlet of unequaled proportions.
West Virginia University was supposed to utilize the benefits of having a bye week, turn it into a feel-good victory over the Big 12’s favorite whipping post (winless Kansas) and, then, try to ride the momentum through consecutive games at Texas Tech, home to Kansas State, at Texas and home to TCU.
No other Big 12 school is scheduled to play five league games in five consecutive weeks.
Only the Mountaineers.
That’s why the bye week followed by a game against the Big 12’s resident weak sister seemed like such a good opportunity to coast into the gauntlet on a really positive, upbeat note.
It was such a fool-proof blue-print for success.
Until the game started.
Then, everything went wrong.
Quarterback Jarret Doege kept getting knocked down. Wide receiver Sam James kept dropping passes. And quicker than anybody could say “Les Miles, you should have been here,” the worst offense in the Big 12 held a 10-0 lead over the Mountaineers.
Absolutely nothing was going right for WVU.
Granted, the Mountaineers eventually turned this inexplicable game around, eventually winning, 38-17, here Saturday before 10,759 fans in sun-drenched Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
But it just wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.
The halftime score should have been 31-10 instead of 17-10. Then, WVU could have played the second- and third-teamers for most of the second half, while the starters blissfully rested.
It would have made life during the next four weeks much, much easier.
Instead, WVU did it the hard way on Saturday and, now, it’s also going to be the hard way for the next four weeks.
Goodness only knows what might have happened here if not for WVU’s resident spark-plug, Leddie Brown. The 5-foot-11, 214-pound junior running back ran right through the Mountaineers’ doldrums and forced his teammates to jump on his band wagon.
And what a wagon it was. At halftime, Brown had 88 yards rushing on 13 carries to go with 27 yards and a touchdown on four pass receptions. So, he was responsible for 115 yards and a TD on 17 touches.
The rest of the offense?
It had 116 yards on 30 touches and led only 17-10.
That’s why Brown’s 87-yard breakaway touchdown run with 3:37 left in the third quarter was so important. He single-handedly lifted the Mountaineers emotionally, resulting in a 24-10 lead suddenly growing into a 38-10 margin.
The problem is as easy as the final score makes this game appear for the Mountaineers, it really wasn’t. In reality, it was much, much harder.
Just ask Neal Brown.
“I was excited to see our fans back,” said WVU’s second-year head coach. “I apologize we didn’t give them much to cheer about early. About anything that could go bad went bad in the first quarter.”
And pretty much in the second quarter, as well.
“I think offensively we are getting closer,” said Brown. “But watching as a coach or fan, I’m sure it didn’t look that way. We need to get better. But I thought there were some guys that showed some signs.
“I thought Doege (quarterback Jarret Doege) played much better. We probably had 75 yards in dropped passes.”
Then, Brown cut to the obvious chase.
“Can we be better?” he asked rhetorically. “Yes. Do we need to be better to compete in the Big 12? Yes.”
The slow start against Kansas is proof.