Climb. That has been Neal Brown’s slogan for his short tenure at West Virginia. The climb started from the second Brown got in Morgantown. His impact has instantly been felt on the recruiting ground and the team morale. The first test however for Brown as a coach starts tomorrow. The Dukes of James Madison come into Morgantown with one of the best squads in the FCS.
This season is the 128th chance for West Virginia to get to the top of the mountain, something they’ve never done. However, this year has a different set of goals. Neal Brown is by no means expecting a national title from this year’s squad, nor should he. It’ll be a climb to get even in a position to compete for a conference title. Something last years squad was so close to.
It’s viewed as a rebuilding year in Morgantown by many, but a win against James Madison is crucial. For both a possible bowl game berth and to set the stage for the Neal Brown era. God help Neal Brown if he looses this game. Here are some key stats and players to watch out for in West Virginia’s opener against the James Madison Dukes.
The last time WVU and JMU faced off was in 2012 when WVU dropped 42 points with the speed and elusiveness of Tavon Austin and the strong arm of Geno Smith leading the way. This year the Mountaineers will look for a different way to put up points. The run game. According to Sportsline the West Virginia offensive line outweighs the James Madison defensive line by a average of 53 pounds per player. This differential will only make the running game stronger and West Virginia has the luxury of not having to rely on one back. Kennedy McKoy is poised for a big year along with Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown. Alec Sinkfield also has the potential to break out. Those are four legit running backs that Brown is comfortable with handing the ball off to. James Madison might sell out to stop the run. That might not even be enough, but if it is it will open up holes in the passing game.
James Madison Might Have the Best Player on the Field
West Virginia definitely has more division-one talent and more depth than JMU. But the Dukes probably have the best player on the field in Rashad Robinson, the red shirt, senior cornerback. He missed last season due to injury but is still a preseason first-team All-American (FCS). Robinson had division one offers but decided to take his talents to Harrisonburg, Virginia. He appeared in every game as a freshman and started every game as a sophomore, but didn’t take off until his junior season. He didn’t start every game that year but finished the season as a first-team All-American and led the Dukes to an FCS National Championship game appearance. Robinson, paired with now Washington Redskin-Jimmy Moreland created a defensive backfield that most division one schools would trade their guys for in a heartbeat. Last year Robinson was practically a unanimous preseason All-American. Robinson discovered grade three turf toe in his left foot last season that ended up with some torn ligaments. One surgery and one medical redshirt year later, Robinson is ready to get back on the field. West Virginia will be his first game action in nearly two years. He might skip a step here and there due to rustiness, but it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll make his impact in this game.
Youth vs. Experience
James Madison returns 20 of 22 starters while West Virginia returns only 42% of their offensive production and that almost all comes from the running backs. The Dukes are ranked second in the FCS preseason poll for a reason, they’ve all been there done that. James Madison will not be unprepared for 60,000 fans and that aspect of playing at a big time D1 school won’t get to them. They did it last season against NC State and almost came out of Raleigh with a win. Most of those starters have seen two FCS national championship games. For West Virginia it’s almost the opposite. Austin Kendall makes his first career start at the college level and he does it with a somewhat revamped offensive line and completely revamped receiving core. The JMU offense returns its quarterback and receivers. If it wasn’t for a suspension handed down to Riley Stapleton the Dukes would return their top three receivers. They loose their running back from last season but will be just fine at that position with Percy Agyei-Obese. It’s clear JMU is about as experienced as a team can be, but with being an FCS school it’s the talent where West Virginia is going to have the huge advantage.
What Will the Headline Be Tomorrow?
Tomorrows headline will surely be “Klutch Kendall Paves the Way for the Mountaineers, Who Erase a First Half Deficit in Route to Neal Browns First Win at the Helm.”