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Liberty Bowl score: Quarterback switch, onside kick spark West Virginia’s comeback win over Army

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Midway through the third quarter of the Liberty Bowl, West Virginia was in dangerous territory. The Black Knights had just scored on a thoroughly on-brand drive: 13 plays for 75 yards. It took exactly eight minutes off the clock for Army to go up 21-10. It was the type of drive that would make almost any opponent call it a day and pack it in. Being down 11 points isn’t the end of the world, but going against Army, with its slow and methodical triple option, limits drive opportunities. And what opportunities West Virginia did have to that point were squandered with turnovers, drops and general missed opportunities. But in switching to one-time starter Austin Kendall at quarterback, West Virginia was able to begin its comeback resulting in a 24-21 nail-biter. 

Kendall replaced Jarret Doege, who was ineffective in the first half and turned the ball over twice. His second turnover, a fumble late in the second quarter, immediately led to an Army touchdown two plays later. Kendall came off the bench in the second half and led the Mountaineers on a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive to cut the deficit to 21-16. 

Knowing that Army could drain the clock again, West Virginia coach Neal Brown then opted for a surprise onside kick, which the Mountaineers recovered. The resulting drive didn’t do anything, but it stole a precious possession away from Army. 

West Virginia’s defense did about as good a job against Army’s triple option as anyone could ask it to do. Of Army’s 10 possessions, only two were long, sustained scoring drives. The rest never went for more than six plays. And while West Virginia’s offense didn’t perform much better — drops were a massive problem and running back Leddie Brown never really got going at 3.3 yards per rush — Kendall did hit T.J. Simmons for a 20-yard go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter. 

Army falls just short of notching its fourth 10-win in school history. West Virginia finishes 2020 with a 6-4 record, not bad for Year 0.5 for Brown. Carried by the defense for practically the entire season, the Mountaineers will have to show major improvements on offense in 2021. 

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