Memphis, TN—West Virginia started the game a little tight and looked like they would go home without hoisting the Autozone Liberty Bowl Trophy.
WVU came back from 21-10 in the second half deficit to claim a 24-21 victory over Army Black Knights in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Thursday in Memphis.
This was the Mountaineers first bowl victory since it won the Cactus Bowl in 2015 and first bowl win under head coach Neal Brown. After a 5-7 season in 2019, Brown took the Mountaineers to a 6-4 record in his second season in Morgantown.
Army led 14-10 at the break, the Mountaineers benched quarterback Jarret Doege after two turnovers (an interception and a fumble).
Brown said the decision to switch signal callers was made at halftime by the coaching staff after seeing Doege struggle, particularly in the second quarter.
“Jarret has played very, very well all year, but for whatever reason, he didn’t see it well. Brown said. “I thought Kendall came in in relief and did a nice job.”
Austin Kendall replaced Doege in the second half. He completed eight of 17 passes for 121 yards in two touchdowns and lead the Mountaineer comeback.
With the victory, which was WVU’s first bowl game under Brown, its second-year head coach, the Mountaineer finished the 2020 season with a 6-4 record.
The Black Knights (9-3) held WVU to just 42 net rushing yards. It’s the first game this year in which the Mountaineers have found a way to win while the ground attack rush for less than 130 yards. But WVU did find modest success through the air for a combined 280 yards between the two quarterbacks.
West Virginia’s defense limited the Black Knights’ usually powerful run game to just 182 yards on 59 attempts. Army came into the contest averaging 281 yards on the ground, which was the fourth best mark in the NCAA.
Leddie Brown was held in check but managed 65 yards on 20 carries, but he surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in ten games. Also Brown was first team all Big 12.
Army started the second half off with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took eight minutes off the clock.
With a little less than five minutes left in the game, Kendall found T.J. Simmons in the endzone on a post corner route for a 20-yard touchdown to take a one-point lead. An end-around run to Reese Smith on the two-point conversion attempt gave WVU a three-point lead.
With two minutes remaining, Army attempted a 39-yard field goal that sailed wide left to hold the Mountaineers in the lead at 24-21. Following a WVU three-and-out, the Black Knights had one final opportunity to steal the victory.
With time against them, Army were forced to throw the ball. It ended in an interception by Josh Chandler-Semedo to clinch the victory for West Virginia.
Army quarterback Tyhier Tyler had three rushing touchdowns — from 1, 6, and 2 yards — to tie a Liberty Bowl record.
“You can’t do anything without the offensive line, the slotbacks and the fullbacks,” Tyler said. They pave the way, and I just follow.”
The game was played in overcast conditions with occasional showers and sub-40-degree temperatures. The weather and local COVID-19 restrictions limited the crowd in the 60,000-seat Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, leaving clusters of the announced 8,187 fans scattered throughout the stadium.
“West Virginia just whipped blocks, they beat blocks,” Monken said. “(They) got themselves where they needed to be to make the play. And they did that a lot.”
AutoZone Liberty Bowl Stats
Austin Kendall, West Virginia: 8-of-17, 121 yards, 2 TD
Leddie Brown, West Virginia: 20 carries, 65 yards
Jarret Doege, West Virginia: 15-of-25, 159 yards, TD, INT
Tyhier Tyler, Army: 24 carries, 76 yards, 3 TD
A.J. Howard, Army: 3 carries, 18 yards
Anthony Adkins, Army: 9 carries, 26 yards