If you can believe it, West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown is getting ready to enter his fourth season. With pre-season practices starting this week, we are now less than a month away from opening kickoff for the Backyard Brawl.
There have been ups, and there have certainly been downs in the first three seasons. While Brown is not to blame, with a new quarterback, and an experienced offensive and defensive line, Brown and WVU are certainly in win-now mode.
Improvements from the offense
In Brown’s first season the Mountaineers finished 111th in the country in points per game, in 2020 they finished 100th, and in 2021 101st. In three seasons, Brown has not managed to crack the top 100 in points per game. Brown has taken steps to fix this, as he hired former USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and brought in former Georgia transfer QB JT Daniels. Along with these additions, WVU will be one of the only teams in the country who returns their entire offensive line. Daniels is an experienced QB who, when healthy, has won his entire career.
Between adding an offensive coordinator with a history of great offenses, the entire starting offensive line returning, and a former 5 star QB who has won at major programs before, this is Brown’s opportunity to bring back the high octane offenses of Mountaineers past and restore faith in Mountaineer fans. Brown not only has to show improvement on the offensive side of the ball, he has to show a change in his ways. In previous seasons, Brown took over play-calling from his offensive coordinator. This season, he needs to let Harrell have full control of the offense and show what he can do.
Keep the defense at the same level
One of the ups of the Neal Brown era has been the defense. The defense under Neal Brown has shown incredible improvement over previous regimes. Despite the offense not being able to stay on the field, as well as putting the defense in undesirable decisions, the defense has not only kept the Mountaineers in games, but has been the main piece in every win in the Neal Brown era.
Now, the Mountaineers will return the majority of their defense from last season, including two preseason All Big-12 picks in Dante Stills and Charles Woods, along with some new additions, Brown needs to keep the defense at the same level as previous seasons. This will need to be in spite of the secondary being chalk full of players who haven’t seen playing time before, or transfers who are learning a new system and will need to be trusted to hold down opposing receivers. If we see the defense at the same level as previous seasons, along with the offense showing improvement, it will be hard to downplay Brown’s improvements this year.
Show improvement from the young players
One of the things we haven’t seen from the Neal Brown era is improvement from young players. And of the young players we have seen emerge under Brown such as Tykee Smith and Winston Wright, many have moved on to new schools. So this is a two step fix for Brown, get young players more playing time as well as show improvement, then be able to keep them with the Mountaineers. Players such as Kaden Prather and Davis Mallinger are in position to become starters for Brown this season. In previous years we have seen Brown not give leeway to young players and continually play veterans who don’t have potential. This season we need to see Brown give them room to make mistakes, while showing improvement over the season and have them in a position to come back next season as a starter once again.
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