Brown Eyes Practice Field Teaching, Competition To Address WVU Deficiencies
As he noted immediately following his team’s 38-7 loss to Missouri, West Virginia’s first-year head football coach Neal Brown was disappointed but not discouraged. He emphasized the difference up front in his postgame remarks, and later expanded on why he is not disheartened or pressing any panic buttons.
“It’s more of a collective of what I have seen since I’ve been here,” he said. “I’ve known since our first winter workout that we have some deficiencies on our roster. I knew we would have challenges in year one, and I think I have been open about that.
“I’ve known that we have to get better, develop guys that are here and then do a great job of recruiting.”
Without question, Brown has been open in that regard. While not diving into specifics, he has said multiple times that his team would likely have a rocky, uneven path early in his tenure. The key factor for him is understanding the difference in reacting to immediate results versus worrying over the long-term direction. He’s upset with the former, but still has confidence in the plan.
“You’re only discouraged if you don’t see effort. I think we will play better moving forward, but it’s not going to be a smooth road,” he reiterated. “But I am not discouraged about the direction we are going.”
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Typical reactions to bad play on the field, at least from some fans, is to begin replacing those making errors. The problem is that in this case, it’s not the same people who are having breakdowns that are hampering play. That especially goes for the offense, where synchronization and synergy are the keys to a good performance.
“I knew we didn’t play well, but I just wanted to measure how bad we played,” said Brown in response to an update of his thoughts on the offensive line’s play, which he reserved detailed commentary on until after reviewing the game film. “What happened Saturday is what happens a lot when bad football is played. Every play, it’s just one or two guys, and not same guy every play. On offense you have to have all 11 guys doing what they are supposed to be doing. If you don’t, the play fails. We actually had a pretty good plan. We really killed ourselves. We are going to go to work to try to correct some of those errors and give some other guys some opportunities. I think you have to when the performance is poor two weeks in a row. They have to prove it in practice before you give them a chance in the game.”
That stands a bit in contrast to Brown’s postgame thoughts, in which he noted that the gap between the first team and backup offensive line was considerable. West Virginia’s offensive line did not play a sub during a play from scrimmage against Missouri. John Hughes was set to take a snap in place of a shaken up Kelby Wickline, but WVU called a timeout, and at its conclusion Wickline was back on the field. With all of the woes along the offensive front, the thought of substitutions leaps to mind, but Brown noted that the fact that none were made illustrates a point.
“It’s an indication the guys behind them have got to get better. Those five didn’t necessarily play great, but nobody behind them is showing they are ready to play. That’s an issue we have, and we’ve really been exposed two weeks in a row on it. We have to get those guys better. We have them, we have to get them better.
“We have to do a lot better from a detail standpoint,” he continued. “We aren’t doing a very good job with our eyes. Pre-snap movement has killed us in both games. Those guys behind them haven’t shown they ware ready to play.”
This week’s practice will provide a chance for them to do so.
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Sophomore defensive end Taijh Alston, who sustained an apparent knee injury in the game, met with doctors on Monday. As of Monday afternoon, no update was available, although Brown expected to have one by Tuesday.
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Brown again found it difficult to form a full opinion of the play of quarterback Austin Kendall, who was under siege for much of the game.
“It was tough to evaluate. I had him getting hit eight times in the first three series,” Brown detailed. “I thought there were times he threw the ball really well, and showed courage by standing in the pocket and delivering the ball He has to do better with his decision-making and with his eyes, but we have to do better around him, too.”
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Brown on his team’s rushing problems: “I knew going in it would be a struggle, but I didn’t know we would be the worst team in the country rushing.”
To be fair, the Mountaineers do not reside in the cellar, but are on the bottom step going down to that level. The Mountaineers are 129th nationally, averaging 32 yards per game. The only team behind them, Texas State (29 yards per contest) is coached by former WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital.
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Brown and his team will try to get back on track this Saturday against N.C. State, a team that he views has having established a strong identity.
“They have been able to run the ball on offense and are doing a good job of developing quarterbacks,” he said of head coach David Doeren’s Wolfpack. “Defensively, they have not given up a touchdown in two games. They are building a really solid program, and they don’t beat themselves.”
In a continuation of the coaching connections, the Wolfpack defense is headed by former Mountaineer defensive boss Tony Gibson. In its first two games, the ‘Pack yielded just a pair of field goals to East Carolina and shut out Western Carolina.