WVU’s Neal Brown Assesses Saturday’s Performance

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown looks ahead to the next possession

With one game – and one victory – in the books, Neal Brown and his Mountaineers have a little extra time before they have to focus in on opponent No. 2

After a 56-10 blowout of Eastern Kentucky this past Saturday, West Virginia’s football team has week off before traveling to Oklahoma State for a Sept. 26 showdown with the 11th-ranked Cowboys in what will be the first Big 12 game of the 2020 season for both clubs.

So, Brown wasn’t yet in game-week mode when he spoke with the media via a Zoom videoconference Tuesday afternoon. That allowed him time to reflect on this past Saturday’s season opener a bit more than he normally would.

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“It was fun to be out there competing again,” said Brown, whose WVU squad was 5-7 last year. “Defensively, the negatives were the three explosive pass plays (of 47, 28 and 23 yards, which accounted for 75 percent of the Colonels’ total of 131 yards through the air). We had two missed takeaway opportunities, and we also have to do a better job of getting all 11 guys to the football.

“The defensive positives – we had very few missed assignments, and we played a lot of people. We held them to one of 11 on third down, which was impressive. They averaged just 2.3 yards per rush, and then we had four sacks and nine (tackles for losses) within 49 snaps. So 13 of the 49 plays were for negative yardage, so that was job well done there.”

Besides scoring a Brown-era high of 56 points, West Virginia’s offense also posted 624 total yards in the opener with 329 of those coming on the ground and 295 through the air. WVU never rushed for more than 195 yards in a game last season, nor did it total more than 550 yards of offense. It topped the 275-yard passing mark only twice.

“The positives for us offensively, we had zero turnovers in 86 countable snaps,” explained Brown. “We had 329 rushing yards, which as you know has been a point of emphasis for us. We also started fast. We wanted to get ahead quickly, and we did that.

“The negatives – the perimeter blocking. We have to make some strides there. I thought the details in our routes were just OK; we have to be better than that. And I was really disappointed in the second half. We missed on a fourth-and-short and failed to convert once in the red zone, which has been a point of emphasis for us.”

West Virginia’s special teams were a mixed bag in the opener, as penalties and a missed 25-yard field goal took away from the positive moments.

“Special teams, without a doubt, were the most disappointing part of Saturday afternoon,” noted Brown. “We don’t ever want to be in a situation where West Virginia beats West Virginia. We were better than Eastern, so it didn’t hurt us, but we cannot get into Big 12 play and have that many (special teams) penalties. We had six flags – we actually had more than that but just six that were accepted – on special teams. The kickoff coverage team, which was a strength of ours throughout all last year, did a nice job Saturday on all but one. Thankfully on that one, a penalty called back a touchdown. We had about four guys who didn’t do what they were taught to do on that one, but luckily it was called back. Also our field goal protection wasn’t good enough, and we missed the 25-yarder. We’ve got to be better than that.

“The positives – we downed a punt inside the one, and we put a lot of work into that. Despite the negatives, we still won the field position battle, so that was good.”

West Virginia’s Jeffery Pooler, Exree Loe and Jalen Thornton (l-r) form the protective wall in front of punter Tyler Sumpter

* * * * * *

A lot of Mountaineers played in the season opener, as a total of 69 were listed in the game’s participation report.

Still there were a few who did not get into the contest.

Brown explained that freshman defensive end Sean Martin was unavailable for Saturday because he had recently been in contact with a pair of WVU walk-on football players who had tested positive for COVID-19.

Also a pair of transfers to West Virginia – safety Scottie Young from Arizona and offensive lineman Ja’Quay Hubbard from Virginia – still has not received NCAA approval on their waivers to play this season. Neither is able to see game action in 2020 until their waivers are approved.

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