West Virginia head coach Neal Brown has been through tough stretches before. At Troy, in his first year leading the program in 2015, the Trojans got off to a 1-5 start, and won just three more games the remainder of the season – none consecutively – to finish 4-8.
Brown then executed a massive turnaround, winning 31 games over the next three seasons, which positioned him for his hiring at West Virginia in 2019, where he now faces something of a similar situation, in that his team is 2-4 overall with three consecutive losses. The difference, of course, is that this rough stretch comes in his third season in charge at WVU – a dip that has a number of observers restless, to say the least. And while Brown might be able to draw some comfort from the fact that he has built programs and gotten them out of situations like this, he notes that there is not a cookie-cutter approach that works all the time that can be simply reheated and served again.
“Each situation is different, and you approach them all differently,” Brown said on Monday. “We have to reassess and readjust. Last week was our worst performance to go along with the first half against Texas Tech, and some of that had to do with Baylor. We were not very good in any of the three phases (of play).
“We have had to overcome adversity, all of us in our coaching careers.” West Virginia’s third-year coach said of the experience of both himself and his staff in clawing out of downward arcs and losing streaks. “We are in this for the long haul. We knew this would take some time. We are disappointed but not discouraged. The bye week comes at a good time. We are out recruiting today and putting together our plan for moving forward.”
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Without question, the Bears were sharp, with their stars performing well. WVU did not get the same level of play from its leaders.
“Offensively (quarterback Gerry) Bohanon played extremely efficient, and schematically they did a good job getting into one on ones,” Brown said of what sparked the Bears to 525 yards of offense “They did as good a job as anybody in two years of blocking us. (Jalen) Petrie is in discussion of being best defensive player in our league, and I thought they did a nice job of matching up with us.”
On his side, Brown had emphasized the need to get off to a good start, or at least a more enthusiastic one, after the lifeless showing in the first 30 minutes against Texas Tech. Outside a couple of defensive plays and one drive, that didn’t happen.
“We have a tackle for no gain on first down [on a perimeter run] then we align incorrectly and miss two tackles on the next play and they take it the distance. I don’t know if you can say what went wrong there. On offense we came back and scored on the first drive, but it’s fair to say they started faster than we did, especially their offense vs. our defense.”
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The play of the offensive line, and additional blockers in pass protection, were also big factors in the blowout. Brown’s viewing of the game tape confirmed his thoughts from the postgame.
“We’re not playing very well up there. When you watch that game from the coaches’ copy, we have a couple of plays where we have good footwork and do our job, and then plays where we don’t,” he said. “It’s just inconsistent. Our running backs, outside of Leddie Brown, didn’t have a good day in protection either. They missed a couple, so it’s not all on the line.”
As for potential improvements? Just like the season at Troy six years ago, there are no microwave fixes.
“We are limited in the number of available bodies, so it’s not a function of playing different people,” Brown said of the offensive line. “We are playing who is capable of playing at this point. But we’re probably a year away from getting that position to the point where we feel decent about it.”