Unless the coronavirus causes a future postponement, West Virginia is headed into a critical period in its football schedule that features five games over the next five weeks.
It’s the longest stretch without an off week from any Big 12 team this year. Baylor also was supposed to play a similar five games in five weeks slate, but the Bears have had a significant COVID outbreak, forcing BU’s meeting with Oklahoma State this coming Saturday to be postponed until Dec. 12.
Thus WVU will be the lone member of the 5-for-5 club in the Big 12 this year, if the Mountaineers and their opponents can outmaneuver the virus.
West Virginia (2-1) begins its five-game stretch on Saturday in Morgantown when it hosts Kansas (0-3). That contest will kickoff at noon and will be televised by FOX.
“It’s unique; we’re the only ones,” lamented Brown of playing five straight weeks without a scheduled break.
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WVU’s coach said the Mountaineer offense has to become more consistent if his club is going to have success against the upcoming challenge that includes not only Kansas but also Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas and TCU.
Statistically, West Virginia’s offense is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring (32.0 points per game), fourth in rushing (178.8 yards per game) and fourth in passing (263.7 yards per game). But Brown said those numbers are a little deceiving, especially when it comes to the Mountaineers’ passing attack.
“If you look at the pure statistics of it, we don’t look like a team that is struggling to throw the football,” stated WVU’s head coach. “When you get into it and look deeper, though, our yards per attempt (6.6, eighth in the Big 12) isn’t very good, which tells you we’re not very explosive.
“That’s something we have to work on. There are two ways to do it – you have to throw the ball down the field or you have to make some people miss. Our completion percentage (65.8%, fourth in the Big 12) is fine. We just have to get the ball extended down the field or make some people miss on short-yardage throws.
“We worked a lot on that in the off week,” Brown continued. “I think that will define how we’re going to be as an offense, because we’ve shown the ability to run the football decently to above average. But we’ve got to stretch the field and our receivers and quarterback have to be able to make some plays.”
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While West Virginia’s offense has lacked consistency so far this season, averaging just 13.5 points in regulation in its two Big 12 games, the Mountaineer defense has had some good performances in its first three outings.
That was especially true in the 27-21 double overtime victory over Baylor in which WVU held the Bears to just 231 yards of total offense in regulation.
“It’s a little early to say we’ve arrived,” Brown said of his defense. “Week one (in a 56-10 win over FCS Eastern Kentucky) we were better than them. Week two (in a 27-13 loss at Oklahoma State) we played just OK. But I thought we played exceptionally well against Baylor.
“That was due to a couple of reasons – we played extremely hard and extremely physical. If you’re going to play hard on defense and play physical, and do what you’re supposed to do, you’re going to have a chance every week.
“We’ve got to continue to maintain that, week in and week out, home or away, regardless of the opponent. My hope is we get that point where we play that way every game, but I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”
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The status of a pair of Mountaineer starters who missed the Baylor game is still up in the air, according to Brown.
Sophomore James Gmiter started the first two games of the season at left guard but missed the Oct. 3 contest because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“We’re still trying to get it cleared up with James. I’ll probably know more about it tomorrow,” WVU’s coach said on Tuesday. “I’m not trying to avoid it, but I just don’t have a clear answer now.”
Junior bandit linebacker VanDarius Cowan also missed the Baylor game after suffering a leg injury the week before at Oklahoma State.
“VanDarius has not practiced yet, but he is going to try in a limited capability today,” said Brown, prior to Tuesday’s drills. “We’ll see how that goes.”
True freshman Zach Frazier got the start at left guard against BU in Gmiter’s absence, while senior Dylan Tonkery moved into the first-team role in place of Cowan at the bandit, though redshirt freshman Jared Bartlett saw a lot of playing time at that position as well.
There was concern that the number of COVID cases at WVU would rise after it played Baylor last week, because the Bears reported that 28 football players and 14 football staff members had come down with the coronavirus shortly after returning to Waco from Morgantown.
BU administrators speculated that the outbreak within the Baylor program stems from a Bear player on the trip who apparently was contagious but had received a false positive test prior to accompanying the squad to West Virginia.
To this point, though, it doesn’t appear that the outbreak within the Bears’ program spread to its Oct. 3 opponent.
Brown said the Mountaineers have not had any new positive COVID test results in the last week, though a few results remain pending from tests on Sunday/Monday. As there are prior to every game, there are more coronavirus testing hurdles to clear before the Mountaineers take the field on game day, as WVU still has tests on Wednesday and Friday ahead of Saturday’s meeting with the Jayhawks.
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Brown is very familiar with Kansas defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot.
The two worked together on the staff at Kentucky, where Eliot was the UK defensive coordinator from 2013-16, and Brown was the Wildcat offensive coordinator from 2013-14.
“I have a great deal respect for D.J.,” said West Virginia’s second-year head coach. “He’s a really intelligent guy.”
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After playing its previous two games this season at Mountaineer Field with only family members of the players and coaches, plus essential workers, in attendance, this coming Saturday’s contest will be open to as many as 15,000 spectators in the stands.
“I’m excited about welcoming back our fans,” stated Brown. “We’ve missed our season ticket holders, our students and missed our alumni, so it will be fun to have them back at Mountaineer Field with us.”
As of Monday afternoon, approximately 5,000 tickets remained available for purchase for Saturday’s game.