No Easy Task For Neal Brown
When Neal Brown decided to leave the comfort of the program he had built at Troy University in Alabama to take on the challenge of picking up the pieces Dana Holgorsen had left behind at West Virginia when he moved on to coach Houston, he knew it would not be easy.
But he didn’t exactly think it would be like trying to roll a boulder up Law School Hill.
Yet, he had to feel like he’d be run over by a boulder as he suffered his first loss as a West Virginia coach, being buried by a Missouri team rebounding from an unexpected loss at Wyoming, 38-7.
He knew he didn’t have Will Grier or David Sills or Gary Jennings or David Long or Yodny Cajuste, but this has been a proven Big 12 product at WVU and it has over the years regenerated itself.
But two games in with one win and only 64 combined rushing yards and an offensive line that hasn’t blocked anyone and a defense that has, in the words of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, missed so many tackles against Missouri, “I’d be shocked if we didn’t set a school record today,” Brown has every right to be upset.
And he is. He openly admits so, but he isn’t at the point of no return yet.
“I’m very disappointed, but I’m not discouraged,” he said. “I want that to be heard loud and clear: I’m not discouraged.”
It isn’t that he saw anything positive in a first-half that was completely dominated by Missouri, and while he did see a flickering light at the end of the tunnel when Missouri called off the dogs and put in a back up quarterback, he deserves at least that much mercy.
He’s willing to own up to the challenge.
“Until we win one-on-one blocks and until we win one-on-one in coverage and until we break tackles, we’re gonna struggle … that’s what they’ve done the last two weeks. That’s what next week’s opponent is gonna do.”
And next week’s opponent is North Carolina State, which has shut down the run completely in two victories and will come with a co-defensive coordinator by the familiar name of Tony Gibson, who would like nothing better than a pitch a shutout with negative rushing yardage.
That may sound impossible, but it was exactly what Missouri had going at the half and save for a garbage time 46-yard TD pass from quarterback Austin Kendall to George Campbell they would have had their shutout and kept WVU to 125 total yards.
“The offense was a mess until the fourth quarter, when we finally got physical for the first time in two games. … Where does it go from here? I’m not sure. Time will tell,” Brown said
This was a case of everything going wrong, including what appeared to be a serious leg injury to defensive end Taijh Alston.
Finding help will not be easy.
“We’re a work-in-progress. I’ve been saying that since I got here,” Brown said. “That’s not a negative. It’s what it is. It’s where we’re at. We have some deficiencies. I’ve been pretty open about those.”
Not that he could hide them, certainly not from opponents who have overpowered WVU in each and every phase of the game.
Missouri was armed with former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns while avoiding the rush all day to turn negative plays into positive results.
“He seemed like he was Superman and we were Ant-Man,” Koenning quipped.
The Mountaineers’ deficiencies showed up pretty much right from the start, and that included the coaching.
Brown opted to do a pooch kick on the opening kickoff, which gave the homestanding Tigers field position right away and while Darius Stills forced them punt with his first of two sacks, they pinned WVU deep and this offense just can’t get out of those holes.
WVU went three-and-out but Missouri took advantage of the field position and after Dante Stills forced an incomplete pass from Bryant with a savage pass rush on third down, Tucker McCann kicked a 43-yard field goal.
With no running game, the passing got tougher and Kendall threw his first of two interceptions and that ended with Bryant hitting massive tight end Albert Okwuegbunam with the first of his two TD catches from 26 yards out and it was 10-0.
The second quarter started with more Missouri dominance with running back Larry Rountree carrying on five of the first six plays and catching a pass on the other, scoring the touchdown he earned on a 10-yard run.
After WVU missed a long field, Mizzou again played roughhouse football, this time Bryant and running back Dawson Downing doing the heavy lifting until Bryant hit Okwuegbunam with a 15-yard scoring throw.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks that we’ll see all year, but that doesn’t give us the excuse, though, for our bad tackling,” defensive end Reese Donahue said.
WVU moved back into Missouri territory with the clock ticking down on the half, went for it on fourth down only to have Kendall smothered for a sack that set Missouri up in position for one more drive.
This ended with Bryant tossing his third scoring pass of the game to Barrett Banister from the WVU 3 to make it 31-0 at halftime.
Now, the only thing unsettled was the final score and what the meal would be on WVU’s charter flight home.