The quarterback situation in Morgantown came full circle in West Virginia’s 24-21 victory over Army in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on the final day of 2020.
Neal Brown’s first bowl victory at WVU came after some consequential decisions, including a quarterback switch at halftime that ultimately proved to be the right move as Austin Kendall helped lead an 11-point comeback in the last two quarters.
“I thought he came in in relief and he did a really nice job,” Brown said.
WVU started with Jarret Doege as its signal-caller, and he got off to a good start in the opening drive. The Mountaineers came up empty-handed on the scoreboard, but they moved the ball down to field goal position. Things seemed to change on the next series, however, when Doege threw an interception near the sideline.
The Mountaineer defense had early success against Army’s patented triple option offense, forcing two four-play drives to start (a three-and-out and a turnover on downs). The next drive, however, was different, as the Black Knights marched 74 yards down the field and capped it off with a 1-yard rush by quarterback Tyhier Tyler.
This was the first score of an historic game for Tyler, who set a Liberty Bowl record with three rushing touchdowns.
WVU answered on the next drive, when Doege found TJ Simmons in the end zone to finish a 77-yard drive for the Mountaineers. That play proved to be the quarterback’s last touchdown of the season, as he fumbled on their next series, giving Army the ball inside the 10 yard line to set up an easy touchdown for Tyler.
Army opened the second half with the ball and drove 75 yards to open with Tyler’s third score of the game, putting the Black Knights up 11 points while also eating eight full minutes off the clock to put some early pressure on West Virginia.
At this point, Kendall made his Liberty Bowl debut, and started strong with some big connections to Simmons and Bryce Ford-Wheaton to get down the field. WVU got down to Army’s 3 yard line and opted to go for it on fourth down, another consequential decision that paid off for Brown as Kendall found Mike O’Laughlin for the score on an out route. That brought the game within five points.
A few drives later, Kendall struck again — this time, finding Simmons from 20 yards out on a corner route.
“I made a move, stuck into the corner, Sam James did a good job of taking the corner with him and getting a slight rub on the safety and springing me open,” Simmons recalled. “Austin Kendall did a great job of making a good throw to spring me open.”
That didn’t seal it for the Mountaineers, however. Army threatened on the ensuing drive as Christian Anderson came on for his third completion through the air of the game, catching the defense off-guard for a 32-yard gain to get inside the 30 yard line. Quinn Maretzki lined up to kick the tying field goal, but he missed wide left.
Kendall finished the contest with 121 passing yards along with his two touchdowns. Simmons, who earned the game’s MVP award, added 56 yards with his scores.
Josh Chandler-Semedo earned the team’s defensive MVP after finishing with 13 tackles, a tackle for a loss and the game-sealing interception on the final play — his first career pick.
The victory marked WVU’s second postseason win since joining the Big 12 Conference in 2012, and the first since its Cactus Bowl triumph over Arizona State in 2016. The win also kept the Big 12 undefeated this bowl season at 4-0.
“I thought this game mirrored 2020 in a lot of ways, so a fitting way to close out the year,” Brown said. “It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was gritty and I thought it was really important for our guys to finish in the right way.”