Is Neal Brown into lite tanking?

Recently departed West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was known as a trailblazer with his contributions to the Air Raid offenses as both an offensive coordinator at various schools and as head coach at WVU. Now, in his initial season as head coach at the University of Houston, he’s blazed his most untraveled trail.

Holgorsen’s brought a version of the pro sports concept to tanking to college.

Recent events in Morgantown begs this question: is Holgorsen’s Mountaineers replacement Neal Brown doing a tanking lite?

WVU starting quarterback Austin Kendall has been listed as “very questionable” for Saturday’s game at his former school, sixth-ranked Oklahoma. When Kendall went down in the first half of last week’s 38-14 loss to Iowa State, he was replaced by redshirt junior Jack Allison. In the not unlikely event Kendall can’t play Saturday, Allison or redshirt freshman Trey Lowe will start.

The fact that Allison replaced Kendall in the Iowa State loss and that he or Lowe will replace him in Oklahoma raises the question: Is this Neal Brown’s version of tanking?

In August, the NCAA ruled that Bowling Green transfer quarterback Jarret Doege was immediately eligible to play. Doege was one of four quarterbacks (Kendall, Allison and Trey Lowe) who battled for the starting spot that eventually went to Kendall. Once he named Kendall the starter, Brown indicated Doege would redshirt and Allison would be the backup. That made sense. There wasn’t a reason to burn Doege’s redshirt just to be the No. 2.

But now the backup is probably the starter. And there isn’t much (any) evidence that Allison is the best healthy WVU quarterback.

But what about Lowe, and reports he could/will get the start? Two different coaching staffs have told us that, at least up until last week, Allison is better than Lowe. That’s why Holgersen started Allison in the Camping World Bowl last December and why Brown replaced Kendall with Allison on Saturday. Yes, many are intrigued with the idea of Lowe running wild. But if both Holgorsen and Brown went with Allison over Lowe, there’s probably a good reason. And even if Lowe gets the nod against Oklahoma, the best that can be deducted is maybe he is slightly better than Allison. Allison doesn’t look like a Power 5-caliber quarterback. And if he’ isn’t, it’s not likely that, as of Saturday at least, Lowe is either.

But that’s not necessarily the case with Doege. It’s likely Doege isn’t playing because Brown wants to preserve his redshirt. To confirm this, let’s check out the numbers of Allison and Doege.

Allison (2018-19): 42-71 (59.1 percent), *208.5 yards per game, 2 TDs, 4 int, 116 passer rating.
Doege (2018 with Bowling Green): 2421-389 (62.2 percent), 253.8 yards per game, 23 TDs, 9 int, 136 passer rating.
* Allison yards per game for Syracuse and Iowa State games only

Even forgetting what your eyes have seen from Allison (and it hasn’t been pretty), the statistics speak for themselves. There is little doubt Doege would give WVU a better chance to win this season than Allison or Lowe. So does the fact that Brown is going to Allison and shelving Doege mean he’s “tanking,” at least a little?

Yes, it does.

And he’s right to do it.

With West Virginia hitting the midway point of the season, the Mountaineers are, to quote the late Dennis Green, who were thought they were Brown took over a roster that was incredibly depleted from the high-powered group that contended in the Big 12 until the last week in 2018. Five players from that team were selected in the NFL Draft. When Holgorsen left for Houston, he left the talent cupboard pretty bare. Brown did a good  job rallying the team from the dispiriting rout in Missouri for back to back victories over NC State and Kansas. But as the Mountaineers undertake the meat of the Big 12 grind, it’s becoming obvious this team doesn’t have the talent and depth to win much in conference play. That depth is exposed even more as injuries and transfers pile up. It would be great if the Mountaineers could qualify for a bowl games. It’s more likely that they’ve already won their last game this season.

With all that as a backdrop, it would be program malpractice for Brown to burn Doege’s redshirt so the Mountaineers can lose in Oklahoma by 24 instead of 31. Same with using that year of eligibility to ensure four wins instead of three. Brown has bigger fish to fry than 2019. That’s unfortunate for this year’s senior class, but it’s a fact of big time college football. It doesn’t always end happily.

There’s a chance Doege is the Mountaineers starter in 2020. It’s likely he will be their starter in 2021. Those years contain more promise than this one does.

Old School had Frank the Tank.

The Mountaineers have Neal the little Tank.

And that’s just fine.