West Virginia coach Neal Brown puts his perfect bowl record on the line when the Mountaineers oppose Minnesota on Tuesday in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Phoenix.
After West Virginia failed to reach the postseason in 2019 in his first year at the helm, Brown guided the Mountaineers to a victory over Army in the Liberty Bowl last year. He also went 3-0 in bowl games during his 2015-18 stint as head coach at Troy.
West Virginia (6-6) had to win its last two games to make the postseason this year, part of a 4-2 finishing run.
Minnesota (8-4) ended on an even more impressive surge, winning six of its final eight contests, including an upset of then-No. 14 Wisconsin to end the regular season.
Brown said of the Golden Gophers, “They’ve had a tremendous year. If you look at them defensively, their stats speak for themselves. They’re in the top 10 or top 15 in numerous categories. … They’ve held almost every opponent under their season averages. …
“On offense, they want to run the football. Tanner Morgan at quarterback is a winner. If you look at his win-loss record throughout his career there in Minnesota, he’s done a very nice job of that. They control the clock and they run the football, and they are able to hit (long) plays down the field. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.”
West Virginia’s offense will be led by quarterback Jarret Doege, as running back Leddie Brown (1,065 yards, 13 touchdowns) opted out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft.
Doege started last year’s Liberty Bowl, but West Virginia’s 24-21 win over Army mostly happened with him on the sideline. He was benched for Austin Kendall after going 15 of 25 for 159 yards with an interception and a touchdown. Kendall led a rally for the victory.
Doege has thrown for 2,908 yards, 19 scores and 11 interceptions this year while completing 65.8 percent of his passes.
Minnesota rode its defense to get to this point. The Golden Gophers didn’t allow any of their past six opponents to gain more than 300 yards, and they permit an average of just 284.8 yards per game, which ranks fourth in the nation.
Minnesota’s offense played every game except its opener without star running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who tore his Achilles tendon after rushing for 163 yards in a 45-31 loss to Ohio State. Three different backs have compiled at least 550 yards in his place, with Ky Thomas leading the way with 680.
“This will be a terrific challenge for our team,” said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck of the bowl game.
He added, “When you look at this year, could we have won some more games? Maybe, but that discredits the people who beat us. Could we have lost some games? Sure, but credit to our team for pulling out those victories. …
“These guys did a tremendous job of finding a way to win eight games. When you look back at it, we got the most out of them, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach.”
The bowl game will be the first meeting of the West Virginia and Minnesota programs.
–Field Level Media