More Issues For WVU Football Squad
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–As if facing fifth-ranked and undefeated Oklahoma (6-0) in Norman this Saturday weren’t difficult enough, Neal Brown’s Mountaineers continues to take hits to their own roster.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, WVU’s first-year head coach did not provide a definitive answer to the playing status of his starting quarterback, Austin Kendall, who was knocked out of this past Saturday’s loss to Iowa State by a hit that left the junior QB with a chest injury.
Kendall did throw some in Monday’s practice, but Brown called his availability for the game at Oklahoma “questionable.” How Kendall, who transferred to West Virginia from OU this past January, performs the next couple of days in practice will determine whether he can play against his old squad, said Brown, who also added than Kendall will not play in Saturday’s game unless he is “100 percent.” If Kendall isn’t available to go, Jack Allison will likely start, though Brown did leave open the possibility of also using third-stringer Trey Lowe.
West Virginia senior cornerback Keith Washington is also questionable for the Oklahoma game, as he tries to recover from a leg injury that forced him to miss the contest against Iowa State.
So the Mountaineers’ starting quarterback and cornerback are both TBD this week, but status for a couple of others will be DNP.
West Virginia’s sophomore bandit linebacker VanDarius Cowan injured his knee this past Saturday, and he’ll soon undergo season-ending injury. Cowan had joined the Mountaineer lineup just two weeks ago after being suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season. The former Alabama transfer was in his first year of action with WVU and had six tackles and one sack in his two games. Cowan actually went back in the game against Iowa State after originally injuring his knee earlier, but a later examination determined an issue that will required surgery, and now he’ll be lost for the rest of the season.
West Virginia third-year junior receiver Tevin Bush also is not going to play any more this season. He’s at the four-game limit this year to still qualify for a redshirt, and he’s going to sit out the rest of the season to preserve his junior year of eligibility and then look to transfer to another school.
“Tevin and I met earlier today,” explained Brown. “He’s a good kid. He’s had a rough few months, dealing with some lingering foot and heal issues. He’s not available to play. We met today, and he made the decision that he’s going to enter the transfer portal at this time. I support that decision. It preserves his redshirt year. He wants to go closer to home (New Orleans). I support him, and we’ll help him achieve that goal.”
The loss of Cowan and Bush now adds to a Mountaineer attrition list that has grown to seven just in the since the start of the regular season. Offensive lineman Josh Sills, defensive end Taijh Alston and wide receiver Sean Ryan all are out with injuries (Ryan may be able to return this year, but Sills and Alston are each lost for the remainder of the season), while spear safety JoVanni Stewart and running back Martell Pettaway, who both played four games earlier this season, are now going to sit out and redshirt. Stewart is in the transfer portal and will apparently attempt to play his senior season elsewhere in 2020, while the plan for Pettaway appears to be for him to remain at WVU, where he would be a fifth-year senior next season.
These latest losses of seven contributors don’t count the attrition Brown’s squad suffered before the season even began. Ten other scholarship players with eligibility remaining left the program at various points since the end of the 2018 season, including potential starting offensive linemen Jacob Buccigrossi and Matt Jones, wide receiver Marcus Simms and safeties Kenny Robinson and Derrek Pitts.
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West Virginia’s coach couldn’t spend much time pondering those Mountaineers who are missing, though, as his club has a very difficult task staring it in the face this week in trying to find a way to keep up with the ultra-talented Sooners.
“They are a complete football team playing well in all three phases,” Brown said of Oklahoma, which is an incredible 116-10 at Memorial Stadium in the last 20 years. “They are the No. 1 offense in the country. Some of their numbers look like what our guys play on Madden – 9.6 yards per play, 335 (yards per game) passing, 286 rushing. I’d say it’s the best offense in the country, and with those numbers that goes without saying.
“Jalen Hurts gets a lot of publicity and deservedly so,” said Brown of the OU senior quarterback, who transferred from Alabama. “He’s running the ball well, and he has the offense really rolling right now. That offensive line, even though they are replacing (four) starters off last year’s group, they are playing really well, and they also have great depth at running back. I’m not telling you anything that everyone in this room doesn’t already know – they are really good on offense.
“Defensively, they are much improved. I think that is where the story is for them this season,” added Brown. “Credit (first-year defensive coordinator Alex) Coach Grinch and his staff for a job well done. They run extremely well, and they are multiple in their looks.”
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Besides looking ahead at Oklahoma, Brown also took time during Tuesday’s press conference to reflect on Saturday’s 38-14 loss to the Iowa State.
“For the second week in a row, we took a quality opponent into the fourth quarter, and for the second week in a row, we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to win the game,” said Brown, whose team dropped to 3-3 after consecutive losses to No. 15 Texas (4-2) and ISU (4-2). “We’ve got to coach better, and we’ve got to finish games better.
“We’re experiencing some growing pains; I think that is obvious,” WVU’s coach admitted. “I will say this – I think our kids are playing with great effort and playing really physical. Our execution and playmaking is not what it needs to be, especially at winning time, and that occurs in the fourth quarter.”
Though West Virginia fell for the second straight week, Brown did see plenty of individual performances worth complimenting.
“I don’t always do this after losses, but I do want to point out some guys who played well,” WVU’s coach noted. “On special teams, two guys who have played at a high level all year are Dante Bonamico and George Campbell, and they continued to do so against Iowa State.
“Defensively, (redshirt freshman will linebacker) Josh Chandler played his best game of the year. We cut his reps down, so he was able to play faster. We got (sophomore will linebacker Exree Loe in there more, and Josh played his best game of the year. Nicktroy Fortune played 80 snaps, and for a true freshman (cornerback) to go in there, he played well. It was really encouraging how he played. (Senior defensive tackle) Reese Donahue played his best game of the year. He had a sack and was really active. (Senior free safety) Josh Norwood, for the third game in a row, was our most physical player in the secondary. Then (senior defensive end) Reuben Jones played his best game. He was really active.
“Offensively, (senior offensive tackle) Colton McKivitz was dominant. It was fun to watch him play. I wish I could say that about more guys on offense. He’s playing at an extremely high level. I don’t want that to get lost in us not playing as well as we need to on offense,” Brown added. “Also (junior offensive guard) Mike Brown played his best game of the year, and then (junior receiver) T.J. Simmons has put two good games together. He had some big plays.”
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West Virginia and Oklahoma kickoff Saturday at noon (Eastern Time) in a game that will be televised by FOX.
The Sooners, who are 9-2 all-time against WVU and have won the last seven straight meetings, are currently listed as 33.5-point favorites in Saturday’s matchup. That’s the largest Vegas spread against the Mountaineers since they were a 34.5-point underdog to Miami in 2011. The Hurricanes won that game in the Orange Bowl, 45-3, against a WVU team with a first-year coach in Rich Rodriguez.