Neal Brown and his Mountaineer football team are trying to put the frustration of last Saturday’s 27-13 loss at Oklahoma State behind them and turn their attention to this week’s matchup with Baylor.
“Too many mistakes to beat a quality opponent on the road. I think I was pretty clear about that after the game,” said Brown of the loss to the Cowboys. “There is a very small margin for error in this league and that’s where we are at right now in this league. We just made too many mistakes.”
West Virginia (1-1) hosts the Bears (1-0) Saturday at noon in a game that will be broadcast by ABC.
The only spectators allowed into Mountaineer Field this week will again, like the season opener, be only essential workers and the families of the players and coaches. WVU officials have already announced, though, that the next home game, on Oct. 17 against Kansas, will be played with 25% capacity in the stadium.
“I’m glad we’re getting home,” noted Brown, who is 3-4 at Mountaineer Field. “I’m sad we’re not going to have fans (this week), but I’m glad we are going to have fans for the Kansas game and moving forward, hopefully.”
As for this Saturday’s Mountaineer foe, Baylor had difficult time getting its season off the ground, as scheduled contests against Louisiana Tech and Houston each had to be postponed because of various COVID-19 issues.
Under first-year head coach Dave Aranda, the Bears finally got things going this past Saturday, and enjoyed an outstanding opening effort, hammering Kansas, 47-14, in Waco.
Baylor now comes to Morgantown for its first road contest of 2020, and Brown expects WVU will face a very difficult test.
“Baylor was impressive in week one against Kansas and really dominated that game,” noted West Virginia’s second-year head coach. “I have a lot of respect for Coach Aranda, coming off a national championship last year (as the defensive coordinator at LSU). He’s put together a great staff with two former head coaches as his coordinators (Larry Fedora as O.C. and Ron Roberts as D.C.).
“I talked about this last year, but when you turn on Baylor’s tape, they’re a tough, physical team that runs very well. You can tell they have a really good culture there. Matt Rhule (who left BU after last season to become the head coach of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers) built it, and now Coach Aranda and his staff have maintained it.”
The Bears rushed for 203 yards in their victory over Kansas, and the BU defense limited the Jayhawks to just 98 passing yards. Baylor also got a pair of kickoff return touchdowns from Trestan Ebner, one of 100 yards and the other of 83. A running back, Ebner also added 36 rushing yards and 53 receiving yards to produce 272 all-purpose yards.
“They play extremely hard on special teams, and you can tell that that is part of the culture that is ingrained in them,” said Brown, who was 5-7 last season, his first as WVU’s head coach.
Certainly limiting Baylor’s explosive special teams plays will be key for West Virginia, but so too will be the Mountaineers eliminating their own mistakes.
“We had 16 negative yardage plays, some critical penalties, and really stalled in that fringe area,” recalled Brown. West Virginia finished the OSU game with 12 penalties, setting the Mountaineers back 106 yards. It’s the most penalty yardage WVU has been assessed during the Brown era.
“I didn’t necessarily agree with all of them,” said West Virginia’s coach of the penalties called this past Saturday. “The procedure penalties and non-aggressive penalties have to be eliminated, because they kill yourself.
“The selfish penalties – Leddie (Brown) had one after the whistle had blown (for spinning the ball following his 19-yard run) – we have to eliminate those. The aggressive penalties, you have to be careful with.
“Where we’re at right now as a program, we cannot beat ourselves,” Brown continued. “Whether that is a turnover, missed assignments, penalties, we can’t do that. We’ve got to get better at that, really stressing those non-aggressive penalties.”
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Improved offensive line play will be another West Virginia necessity moving forward.
The Mountaineer front paved the way for running back Leddie Brown to gain 104 yards on the ground against OSU, but five sacks and other negative yardage plays placed WVU’s net rushing yards at 68.
“It was a mixed bag,” said West Virginia’s coach of his offensive line’s play at Oklahoma State. “At times the interior three did some nice things, got some movement. We were successful short yardage-wise.
“At tackle, we’ve got to get better. Those guys haven’t played a lot of football. They got compressed and lost some one-on-ones.
“So, it was a mixed bag,” Brown concluded. “I do think we’re improved from last year. We have to do a better job staff-wise, myself mainly, of not putting our quarterback in a position to get hit. He’s also got to do a better job throwing the ball from the location the pocket he’s supposed to, but he’ll get that corrected.”
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West Virginia came away from Stillwater relatively healthy, its coach reported.
Bandit linebacker VanDarius Cowan banged up his knee at OSU, and Brown said he’s questionable for this week.
All the other Mountaineers, though, are apparently good to go at this point, according to their head coach.
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One WVU player who will be available against Baylor for the first time this season is freshman defensive end Sean Martin.
The Bluefield, West Virginia, product was not available for the first two games because contract tracing linked him to a pair of COVID-19 cases.
Martin has been cleared to play now, though. He returned to practice this week and will be available to play against the Bears, if the coaches decide to use him.
WVU’s coaches decided not to use freshman receiver Sam Brown against Oklahoma State. Brown had started West Virginia’s opening game against Eastern Kentucky. He was in uniform in Stillwater and available for duty but did not see any action against the Cowboys.