Brown Looking Forward To WVU’s Start To Big 12 Play
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Coming off a 44-27 victory over N.C. State, West Virginia football coach Neal Brown should have been happy, but he started his weekly Tuesday press conference on a somber note, reflecting on the passing of Roane County High School senior football player Alex Miller.
“On behalf of our football program, I want to offer our condolences to the family of Alex Miller,” said Brown, who wore a maroon shirt to connect with the many grieving Roane Raiders. “For his family, friends, teammates and everyone in Roane County and that entire community, our thoughts and prayers are with them. That’s really a sad event, and I wanted to make sure everyone in Roane County and Spencer knew we were thinking about them.”
Miller, a senior receiver for the Raiders, collapsed on the sidelines between the first and second quarter of a game against Clay County this past Friday. He was immediately treated by EMTs and rushed to an area hospital but passed away. The cause of death is still unknown.
* * * * * *
Brown did eventually move on to analysis of his team’s 17-point victory over the Wolfpack on Saturday.
“It was a solid three-phase win for us. Dave (Doeren, N.C. State’s head coach) has done a really good job building that program, and I’m really proud of how our staff and players responded,” noted Brown, whose team improved to 2-1 with the victory. “It wasn’t perfect by any means, but we played the game the right way. That’s really what I was focused on.
“I thought it was a great atmosphere, and our crowd played a huge factor in that game.”
* * * * * *
West Virginia’s first-year head coach saw positives and negatives in all aspects of Saturday’s win.
“On special teams, first the negatives – we had a couple penalties that hurt us, and they hit us with a fake punt,” he said. “In retrospect, we should have just left our defense on the field.
“Then we misplayed a kickoff, and I also think our punt return game can be better. We have to give (punt returner Alec) Sinkfield a chance to run.
“The positives, Josh (Growden) had his best day punting – four inside the 20 and three inside the 10. I thought Evan Staley was really solid on his kickoffs, other than the one he kicked out of bounds. I also thought our coverage units were very good. Our kickoff coverage team was really physical. And then obviously the blocked punt (by Logan Thimons) was a big play for us.”
* * * * * *
After allowing N.C. State 21 points in the first half, in a game that was tied at halftime, West Virginia’s defense limited the Wolfpack to just six points in the second half, giving the Mountaineer offense an opportunity to pull away for the win.
Again, though, Brown saw not just positives but also negatives.
“Penalties in the first half (were a problem),” noted WVU’s coach. “Those were selfish penalties that extended drives. We had penalties on third downs – the roughing the quarterback and the targeting – where we could have gotten off the field, but those penalties extended drives by 12 plays, by my count.
“The positives, we had two sudden changes,” he continued. “After the fake punt, the defense came out and immediately put out the fire. No points resulted out of that. And after the interception, they held (N.C. State) to three plays and a field goal. Limiting them to just three points in those situations was a huge factor.”
* * * * * *
West Virginia’s offense, which totaled 465 yards in its first two games combined, gained 445 against N.C. State alone.
The biggest turnaround came in WVU’s ground attack, which averaged 32.0 yards per game against James Madison and Missouri, but was able to run for 173 yards against the ‘Pack.
“Offensively, the negatives we weren’t very good on third down (3-of-11). The good news is we didn’t have many of them, but we do have to be better on third downs,” stated Brown. “We also have to hit some of our shot plays. That’s something we’ve struggled with during the first three games.
“The positives are that for the first time this year we really limited the negative yardage plays. We averaged 6.2 yards per carry and had over 170 yards rushing. We were 100 percent in the red zone, and zero fumbles. Also our perimeter blocking was much better.”
* * * * * *
West Virginia’s victory over N.C. State at Mountaineer Field may have been a mild surprise, considering WVU was a seven-point underdog heading into Saturday’s contest.
But West Virginia’s next opponent, Kansas, pulled an outright shocker.
The Jayhawks, who had lost the week before to Coastal Carolina, 12-7, in Lawrence, went to Boston College as an 18-point underdog, yet scored its first Power 5 road win in 11 years. Friday night in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, first-year KU coach Les Miles led Kansas to a 48-24 blowout of the Eagles.
“Boston College is traditionally a really physical football team, and I thought Kansas played extremely well, especially in the second half. Coach Miles and his staff have done a very good job up to this point,” said Brown, who leads WVU to Lawrence for his Big 12 Conference game as West Virginia’s head coach. “Offensively, they are multiple. Last week they were different than they were the first two weeks. They are kind of spread but also do some things Coach Miles has done in the past.
“At running back, they have two of the best ones in our league. Both (Khalil) Herbert (who is averaging 119 rushing ypg) and Pooka (Williams, 110 rushing ypg) are fast and hard to tackle. They are going to be guys who we have to know about.
“And the (Andrew) Parchment kid (78.3 receiving ypg) is a junior college guy we know about because we recruited him at Troy. He’s gone over 100 yards in two his first three games.”
* * * * * *
Brown is also very familiar with KU’s defensive coordinator, D.J. Elliott, having worked with him for a couple years while both were assistant coaches at Kentucky (2013-14).
“Their numbers through three games have been impressive,” said Brown of the Jayhawk defense that is allowing just 17.7 points per game during its 2-1 start. “They are a three-down front. They are playing hard, and anytime you do that, you have a chance.”
* * * * * *
West Virginia is 7-1 all-time against Kansas, including a 2-1 record in Lawrence, though it did fall to KU there in 2013.
The Mountaineers have also lost four of their last five games away from Morgantown, including the 38-7 defeat they suffered at Missouri on Sept. 7.
“For us, we have to continue to get better this week,” said Brown. “We have to handle this trip much better than we did the first away game we had. But our players are excited about it and looking forward to starting Big 12 play.”