Three years ago when Neal Brown was hired, expectations were high. West Virginia was coming off a 2018 season, and the team had missed making the Big 12 Championship by a three point loss at home to Oklahoma.
Although the loss, it had looked like the program had turned a corner. Then, Dana Holgorsen left and the Mountaineers were left to select their next head coach. When Neal Brown was tabbed as the next head man of the Mountaineers, analysts, fans, and people of the college football world were very impressed with the hire.
Three years later, it seems as Brown has not taken a step forward, but rather taken a step back. At the bye week, West Virginia sits at 2-4, and could easily 1-5, if not for a goal line stand against Virginia Tech.
This season has had some good, a lot of bad and unfortunately, a lot of ugly.
The good thing for the Mountaineers this season has been special teams and the defensive line. Special teams got off to a hot start in a big way. In week one against Maryland, Winston Wright finished with 217 kickoff return yards. In the next week against Long Island, Wright returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and even though he has cooled down a bit, it still has been one of the bright spots of the first half. In addition to Wright having success in the return game, the Mountaineers have been very sound in the kicking game. West Virginia is a perfect 10-of-10 on field goals this season, and that has been a welcomed site for Brown’s team.
The defensive line was supposed to be one of the better units of this West Virginia team. The Mountaineers defensive line won them a game against Virginia Tech, getting pressure on the quarterback, after their own quarterback Jarret Doege threw a terrible interception late in the game. West Virginia has 17 sacks this season, which ranks second in the Big 12.
Red zone defense has been very good this year for the Mountaineers. Most fans will remember the goal line stand against Virginia Tech, as well as the other stops in the red zone against the Hokies. West Virginia ranks 14th in the country in red zone defense, which is surprisingly high and good.
Besides these three areas there has not been much good for West Virginia. The wide receiver group has played well, but due to inconsistent quarterback play, the Mountaineers have been unable to show their true skill so far this season, so let’s give them an honorable mention in the good category.
The line between bad and ugly can be a slippery slope. There has not been a lot of good this year, meaning the majority of West Virginia’s team will fall into these next two categories.
The secondary has been bad. They have had times where they have been able to stop opponents, but for the most part they have not been able to turn the ball over and they have gotten beat. This was no more evident than this past week. Against Baylor, the Mountaineer defense allowed 354 pass yards, the second time this team has given up at least 330 yards through the air this season. Another problem with the secondary is that the defense is not on the field as much as other teams. West Virginia ranks first in the conference in average time of possession — unfortunately though they have still been burned and looked tired at times on defense.
Penalties. Penalties have hurt West Virginia in a big way. Whether it was the false start at the goal line against Oklahoma or just not being able to get off the field in big moments due to key penalties. The Mountaineers have been penalized 53.2 yards per game, fourth worst in the Big 12.
Obviously a lot could be put in the bad category, but the penalty problem has been limited in some games and a big issue in others. The secondary has looked good at times, but have also let teams go down the field at will when they wanted to.
Now to the ugly. This team’s offense could be considered ugly and it all roots from the offensive line. Yes it is hard to be good up front, yes it takes time, yes the Mountaineers run out a very young and under-developed offensive line, but that is the cards this team is dealt and the players on that line are not changing until next year at the earliest. The Mountaineers have also allowed the most sacks in the conference — 16. This ranks 94th in the country out of 130 qualified teams. Not great.
Leddie Brown and the run game was supposed to be the backbone of West Virginia’s offensive success. West Virginia’s run game has been bad and not really close to mediocre either. The Mountaineers are last in the Big 12 in rush yards per game, and rank 110th in the country in rushing — one spot ahead of Troy. Brown has not been bad, but the lack of consistent production on the offensive line as well as sub-par play calling at times from offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, Brown and the run game has struggled. As a team, West Virginia has only rushed for more than 100 yards twice — one being against FCS school Long Island.
Last on this list and least surprising to anyone is the quarterback shuffle that is continued to be played between Jarret Doege and Garrett Greene. This was supposed to be the year Doege became one of the better quarterbacks in the country. Every coach in the building said Doege was the most improved player in the offseason, and then as soon as the first game hit, he looked lost and if anything, like he had taken a step back.
When Doege makes good decisions he is a reliable quarterback, but his inconsistency and inability to produce in the clutch has flawed this team more time’s than can be counted. When Greene began rotating in he has shown the ability to change the offense. Greene’s inability to throw the ball has also limited the offense when he is on the field, as teams can expect the run from either him or Brown and be able to stop it.
Coach Brown and his staff continuing to put their trust in Doege, shows Greene is not ready to be the quarterback of the future, and as most football fans know — the quarterback is the most important part of a team. With a bad quarterback comes bad offense, and with bad offense comes a tired defense, and with a tired defense comes losses and this season Doege has made bad decisions and bad throws that have plagued the Mountaineers.
This offense has been ugly all year. Besides spurts (first half of Maryland and Virginia Tech, third quarter of Texas Tech), this offense has been inconsistent and lacked an identity. If they want to turn things around in the second half, it will take better play calling, an improved run game, and better quarterback play, to take more of the pressure off of the young offensive line.
(Top Photo: Bryan Doughtery)