Faced with a late shift in player availability, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown shuffled his offensive line 24 hours before Saturday’s Baylor game. With no practices to work on those moves, the results from the contest, while mixed, were enough to get a win and even the Mountaineers’ league record at 1-1.
“We had to change on Friday at about 11:30,” Brown recounted of his learning of lineman James Gmiter’s positive COVID-19 test. “Chase (Behrndt) had been working some at guard and tackle, and we had practiced guys at some different spots and had to move them on Friday. Zach Frazier was making his second start, but his first at left guard. He had gotten most of his work at center. He made some mistakes, but he was physical. (Left tackle) Brandon Yates played his best game. There is still improvement to be made, but [the offensive line] was definitely better.”
Brown attributed some of the mistakes committed by the offensive line to simple unfamiliarity. With Behrndt back at center and Frazier at guard, there were different two-man combinations than the Mountaineers had practiced during the week.
“In the first half we had some quarterback hits on twist games where the guys hadn’t worked with each other,” Brown explained, with the thought that Baylor’s pressure didn’t come from overwhelming West Virginia’s front, but rather from technical execution. “I didn’t think we had a lot of protection issues. There were against Oklahoma State, but not so much against Baylor.
‘We did mis-identify a couple of things. Moving forward, Chase will get locked in on the interior [line positions].”
The changes, in both positions and alignments, continued on the defensive side. Middle linebacker Tony Fields was walked up to the line of scrimmage frequently, while nose tackle Darius Stills got some snaps on the outside of the line.
“We moved him around, and we do move the mike around a bunch,” Brown said of Fields. “We tried to do some things with him on Saturday that may not be his strength. I’m not sure if we do that as much going forward. He’s probably better at depth (off the line of scrimmage). He’s a really good blitzer.”
* * * * * *
West Virginia’s defensive play earned praise across the board from Brown, with players on both the defensive line and secondary joining Fields in receiving kudos. The senior transfer led the team in tackles again with ten, including two behind the line. He also had a pass breakup and two hits on the quarterback.
- “Darius Stills’ best attribute is his quickness. He has a really good feel for what we run. When he’s in a position to make plays, he makes them. That sounds simple, but when he gets in the backfield he makes them.”
- “People forget this is really on the second year Dante (Stills) has played a big role. That was the hardest Dante has played in any game in his West Virginia career.”
- “(Ahkeem) Mesidor has probably played as much as any freshman this year. He’s explosive and he loves football. He loves to compete, loves to practice and loves to play. We played him on the outside more this week, where he’s probably a little more comfortable. That (defensive line) room is a good room. He’s been pushed a lot.”
- “Dreshun (Miller) made some big plays and made some mistakes, but he’ll continue to get better. He didn’t get to practice much at all last year, and didn’t have any full speed work. He played with a ton of energy. He has showed a lot of maturity.”
* * * * * *
While Brown noted that expectations of an offense producing a number of plays of 50 yards or more might be unrealistic (“There’s not a whole lot of people who have a bunch of those”), he admitted that he didn’t get as many deep passes called against the Bears as he would have liked.
“We do have to throw the ball down the field better. I have to do a better job of getting deep balls called. We only had three against Baylor. As the play caller, that’s on me. We have to call more of those.”
WVU has received all of its eligibility waiver decisions for this year. As reported earlier, wide receiver Zack Dobson is eligible this year, while edge defender Bryce Brand will be eligible starting with the Texas Tech game. Offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard, who had been away from the team for two weeks while helping with his mother, who suffered a stroke, will be back at practice for the first time today, Brown said. Hubbard also recently received a waiver for immediately eligibility.
Defensive back Scottie Young will sit out this year, though.
Brown also noted that with some of the transfers using spots in the maximum 25 new players allowed in each class, there are “probably only five or six open spots left in the 2021 class.”
WVU will continue its virtual visits during this off week, with a heavy emphasis on the class of 2022.
* * * * * *
There are always a few plays or calls coaches wish they had over. That’s part of film review and study, and while games can’t be replayed, those observations can lead to changes in usage rates and game plans in the future. Brown noted one such assessment from the Baylor game.
“When I’m watching film, I ask myself if I play this game tomorrow, what do I do? I’d play Alec Sinkfield more,” he admitted. “He played well, with his contact balance and winning one on ones in space.”
Sinkfield had 53 yards on just six carries, an average of 8.8 yard per attempt, and added another 19 yards on three receptions.
“That’s the disappointing thing about our punt return,” Brown added, citing the gaffe that caused a muff and a turnover, along with some deficiencies in return game blocking that have kept Sinkfield from getting any realistic chances at a return. “We have to give him a chance to get started.”
The Mountaineers have just 20 punt return yards this season.
* * * * * *
In order to build off the Baylor win and make it a program step, Brown reiterated two key factors that must continue to be a part of his team’s makeup.
“That’s the the most toughness and physicality I’ve seen in a game since I’ve been here. We have to play with the same level of effort and physicality and mental toughness. If we follow that up, then we can look back and say this is the game where we got over the hump. But it doesn’t matter if we don’t do that.”