Jarret Doege, Austin Kendall and West Virginia's Biggest 2020 Position Battle
It's a misnomer to say that football season is over. Like any major collegiate sport, the second one season ends, the following one immediately commences. Thus, as soon as West Virginia exited Amon G. Carter stadium last Saturday after securing a season-ending win over TCU, the clock on the 2020 season was officially triggered. Football is a restless beast and it never stops.
So after a 5-7 campaign that ended on an upward trend, you can bet all of your mountain-minted dollars that Neal Brown and his staff are already assembling pieces on their board at each position unit and thinking long and hard as to who will feature at each spot. As is the truth at any level of the game, all eyes will fall first to the position under center. Quarterback play in 2019 was a tale of two halves, with Austin Kendall starting the first nine games of the season to mixed results, eventually giving way to fellow transfer Jarret Doege, who helped produce some late-season spark. Both quarterbacks flashed and at times, however briefly, looked wholly in control of the moment. Simultaneously, both showed holes in their game and made mistakes. It can be argued, given his sample size, that Kendall looked less equipped and not as game-changing as Doege. The numbers certainly support that position, anyway.
But let's be clear about something: the job is by no means guaranteed to Doege in 2020.
Austin Kendall didn't have a banner year in 2019, that much is certain. His season line of 187/304, 1,989 yards and 12 TD's to 10 INT's did not do much to endear him to the fan base at large and, while the problems on offense were systemic, a large portion were (fair or not) laid at his feet. Neal Brown knew a reset was imminent and you can't blame him for giving the green light to Jarret Doege when West Virginia traveled to then-ranked Kansas State. The results validated the decision, anyway. In West Virginia's last three games, Doege threw for 699 yards and six TD's to three interceptions. Additionally, West Virginia would go on to win two of the three games and looked to have found a second win after the season seemed bereft of any hope weeks earlier.
So one could reasonably assume that Doege owns the starting role going into 2020, right? Not quite.
West Virginia is still rebuilding and will be for at least another season or two. Neal Brown's grand vision for his program is still missing some essential pieces, namely on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary and despite Doege's late season performance, quarterback play is still in need of elevation. You cannot reasonably hope to be a force in a conference like the Big 12 when you're per game averages for points (20.6) and rush yards (73.3) are worst in the league
To a large degree, West Virginia's issues creating big plays offensively can be traced back to torrid play on the offensive line. If you can't block and if you're unable to fire off the ball and win the battle up front, you can't run and you certainly can't set up big plays downfield. While Austin Kendall made some questionable decisions and at times look flustered in the pocket, it's hard to over-perform if you're encumbered by lousy protection. How much better he could have been if there was better play up front, we may never know.
What is likely certain, however, is that Neal Brown, Sean Reagan and co-offensive coordinators Matt Moore and Chad Scott have a lot of due diligence ahead of them. While Doege is presumably the favorite going into the off-season, Kendall will have an opportunity to win his job back. Assuming he improves going into 2020, Kendall will push Doege and incoming freshman Garrett Greene, a four star prospect and Elite 11 finalist, will make things interesting. Heck, Trey Lowe III is about to enter year three with the program and he has impressive physical tools that could become a factor at any moment. It's the best case scenario, anyway. Competition breeds success- it's one of sports' greatest and oldest maxims.
However you feel about Austin Kendall, he at least deserves the opportunity to compete for the starting job that was formerly his. Doege played well but his sample size is small and he was by no means perfect in his three starts evidence by his multi-interception performance against TCU. Additionally, Neal Brown is not, generally speaking, impetuous. He's a thorough, detailed student of the game who pays attention to the little things. Does he have a favorite in the quarterback room? I certainly am in no position to confirm or deny. Perhaps no one but Neal Brown is. Between the offensive line, the running back and receiving corps and, critically, the play under center, West Virginia is in need of a dramatic return to form on offense in 2020 if it has the faintest hope of competing for a Big 12 title in a field that includes a suddenly resurgent Baylor and ever-talented Oklahoma.
It's all within reach, though. That Neal Brown was able to engineer five wins this year with an injury-plagued and green roster is not to be taken lightly. With consistent play under center and better protection across the front, West Virginia can finally look like a Big 12 offense again. Whether it's Jarret Doege or Austin Kendall leading the charge remains to be seen. Whomever it is, Mountaineer fans needs to stay positive and place its faith in Neal Brown and his camp. There's simply no other way to "trust the climb".