Neal Brown Looks Back to OSU, Ahead To TCU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown doesn’t expect to make any major changes to his lineup when his Mountaineers (4-7) visit TCU (5-6) Friday afternoon for the 2019 season finale.
He’s already played 10 true freshmen this year, including a few who haven’t exceeded the four-game redshirt threshold, and at this point, he’s going to stick with the basic lineup he’s used as of late.
“We’re just going to play it like normal,” Brown said. “We’re going to play the people who are most deserving to play. We’ve played most of the (true freshmen) anyway, outside of the offensive linemen. And I think it’s just more harmful to play guys early in their career at that position.”
In all, 26 players have seen their first action at WVU this season, including not only the 10 true freshmen but also 12 redshirt freshmen. Of those freshmen – whatever the variety – nine have started at least one game.
Two those freshmen who had been involved in the rotation throughout much of the season have not seen a great deal of action as of late. True freshman nose tackle Jordan Jefferson did see limited work this past Saturday against Oklahoma State but hadn’t participated the week before in the victory at Kansas State. Redshirt freshman safety Kwantel Raines has not only failed to appear in either of the last two games, he hasn’t even been in uniform.
“Jefferson has been beat up a little bit lately,” explained Brown. “He did play eight snaps this past week and gave us some quality snaps defensively.
“Raines didn’t dress this week,” noted Brown. “Raines is trying to figure out what he wants to do. I haven’t talked to him.”
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West Virginia University students are currently on their Thanksgiving break, so the Mountaineers can concentrate on football full time since there are no classes to worry about.
“This is one of my favorite weeks of the year,” stated West Virginia’s first-year head coach. “It’s a great opportunity for us to spend this last week together as a 2019 team. We’ll do a lot of team activities. We’ll be intentional about enjoying this. We want to finish this on a positive note and send out our seniors feeling good about what they’ve done. I appreciate that group. This is great opportunity for us to have a building blocking moving into our offseason program, which is important.”
Because their depth has been so depleted by injuries and attrition, the Mountaineers will conduct relatively light practices as they prepare for the Horned Frogs. WVU will hold its team Thanksgiving dinner at the Puskar Center on Wednesday before flying to DFW Thursday and playing its season finale at TCU on Friday (4:15 ET on ESPN).
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West Virginia came up on the short end of a 20-13 decision against Oklahoma State this past Saturday, but WVU’s coach said there were some quality moments to highlight.
“It was a disappointing loss,” Brown admitted. “It was a game we had a chance to win, but we didn’t make the plays at the end. That’s been the case in a few games this season that maybe could have flipped our record.”
He also pointed out some quality individual performances.
“Special teams-wise, (senior) Josh Growden played really well,” Brown said. “He was very good in the net punt (41.8). Then (senior) Rex Sunahara has played very well. We don’t talk about the long snapper as much, but he’s one of the top prospects we have on the team. He’s done a great job all year, and he did on Saturday as well.”
“Defensively (junior d-end) Jeffery Pooler, for three weeks now, has played a high level. (Sophomore linebacker) Josh Chandler played his best game since coming back from his midseason injury. And (freshman safety) K.J. Martin played his best game as a Mountaineer on Saturday. He played every snap and really flew around. I’m excited about him. (Junior safety) Sean Mahone played his fourth consecutive game at a high level. We probably haven’t talked about him enough. I think he continues to get better. Then (senior cornerback) Hakeem Bailey played really well. It’s the best game I’ve seen him play.
“Offensively (senior tackle) Colton McKivitz continues to play at a high level. He’s set a standard that will live on after he’s gone,” added West Virginia’s head coach. “(Junior guard) Mike Brown, in back-to-back weeks, has played well. Also (sophomore running back) Leddie Brown played well Saturday. I don’t think the first guy who hit him Saturday tackled him. His totals don’t necessarily tell that story (31 rushing yards), but he played well, and I think that bodes well for his future.”
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After Friday’s season finale, the Mountaineer coaches will turn their attention to recruiting. The early National Letter of Intent period begins in a few weeks, and Brown wants to wrap up a solid class, which currently contains 14 commitments.
“The next couple of weeks leading into the Dec. 18 signing date will be huge,” he said. “Starting Sunday we’ll be on the road full time with the first contact day being Monday. We’ve had a couple recent commitments that are important, and we’ll have a couple more in the next week to 10 days, we hope. Then we need to finish strong. I like the guys we have committed. They continue to play well, either as junior college players or high school seniors. We follow them each and every week, and we’re proud of the progress they’re making.
“We definitely have some positions of need. Without a doubt we have to make some improvements and some strides on the offensive line. And we have to continue to add bodies in the secondary. We have every intention of finishing strong.”
WVU will have in the neighborhood of 23 scholarships at its disposal for the class of 2020, though it will likely not use all those during the early signing period.
“As far as holding some scholarships (until later in the process), we’ll always do that to a certain extent,” Brown explained. “How many? I’m not certain yet, but we’ll definitely hold at least one or two.”