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In a college football rivalry game, every small decision is scrutinized.
West Virginia head coach Neal Brown learned the hard way Thursday night, choosing to punt the ball at the Pittsburgh 48-yard line on fourth-and-inches instead of leaving his offense on the field. At the time of the decision, the Mountaineers led the No. 17 Panthers 31-24 with a little over six minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
Brown elected to punt, putting his trust in his West Virginia defense. The decision backfired roughly two and a half minutes later when Pittsburgh completed a seven-play, 92-yard touchdown drive to tie the game.
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“There was a little over six minutes to go in the game. It was 4th and about a foot. We’re up seven….,” recalled Brown, according to 247 Sports. “You can pin ’em, and we did. 6:01 to go — I looked up at the clock — and they had to go 98 yards and we’re up by seven. If you go for it there and you don’t get it, then they got a short field and three timeouts. Best answer I can give you is, if I had to do it again, I would do the same decision.”
Pittsburgh would go on to win the 105th edition of “The Backyard Brawl” by the score of 38-31, with the final touchdown coming on a pick-six by M.J. Devonshire.
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“If you look at what they’ve done traditionally, they’ve been really, really good at short-yardage situations,” Brown said. “When you go back and look at it, it was probably three quarters of a yard, probably. So, if you take the whole scope of the game, you look at the drive before that, we got two sacks [and] we put them in third and forever.
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“And we played really well defensively on back-to-back drives. So I felt good about it. It’s easy to second guess now because they went 98 yards. I think the situation was sound and, if I had to do it again, I’d do it again. “
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The Mountaineers rushed for 190 yards on 34 carries, including 125 yards on just seven carries from running back CJ Donaldson.
West Virginia will take on Kansas in Week 2, while Pittsburgh will face Tennessee at home.