COLUMBIA, Mo. — Take a deep breath.
No really, do it. Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
Feel better? Good. Let's jump right into this: the West Virginia University football team is not very good right now, and it might not be very good all season. Neal Brown, WVU's first-year coach who arrived in Morgantown in January, has been trying to tell us this was possible since the first time he got to see the team practice this spring. He called WVU, "a work in progress" on Saturday, and it's a theme he has echoed at nearly every turn since his arrival.
As Missouri was whipping the Mountaineers, people - and by that I mean the folks populating my Twitter timeline - began to search, and, in some cases reach, for somebody to place the blame on. From my vantage point, there is plenty of blame to go around and that starts - but certainly doesn't end - with the previous head coach.
Dana Holgorsen left the cupboard pretty bare when he skipped town for Houston after West Virginia's bowl loss last season and the timing of his departure put the new staff in a bad way between the two signing days. Holgorsen bailed on West Virginia like the Colts did Baltimore back in the day (and, FYI, his house at Cheat Lake is still for sale if you have $2.7 million to burn and are in the market) and left the Mountaineers with a decimated roster. He saw the writing on the wall at WVU and the bags of cash his buddies in Houston were offering and never looked back. Holgorsen went all in on the 2018 season, but when things went sideways in the second half in Stillwater against Oklahoma State followed by the shootout loss at home to Oklahoma on the day after Thanksgiving, West Virginia's Big 12 title dreams were finished and Dana was done with Morgantown and the Mountaineers.
That can't be undone, and it stinks for WVU, Neal Brown and his staff. The new crew, however, is not without its share of the blame for a 1-1 start and not looking very sharp in either game. The good news on that front, however, is we're only two weeks into the season and there is plenty of time for Brown and his assistants to put some lipstick on this potential pig of a season.
Brown's hand-picked quarterback, Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall, has played poorly for six of the eight quarters WVU has been on the field for so far this season. Granted, this also kind of goes back to what Holgorsen left Brown to work with.
Holgorsen, an alleged offensive guru and molder of NFL talent prior to his arrival at West Virginia, was never able to develop a strong quarterback out of high school while with the Mountaineers. His best quarterbacks were either junior college transfers or came from other schools Jack Allison and Trey Lowe were never going to be the answer at the most important position on the field for WVU, so Brown had to make some moves to bring people in. Kendall might not ever be that quarterback who goes out and rips the opposition to shreds and takes over a game, but what he can't do is lose games for West Virginia.
Kendall was far from the only WVU player making mistakes Saturday, but his two first-half interceptions killed drives when the Mountaineers were still within striking distance of Missouri and had a little bit of momentum on their side. If Kendall turns out to be a whiff, that's on Brown, but the whole reason Brown had to go get a graduate transfer quarterback in the first place was the roster mess he inherited from Holgorsen.
Offensive coordinator Matt Moore doubles as WVU's offensive line coach, and those guys have not been very good either. Again, some of this is on Holgorsen for leaving the new staff with basically no depth up front. Still, Moore has had most of these guys under his wing since January. The depth concern I'm willing to put on Holgorsen, but run blocking, pass blocking - that is what offensive linemen are supposed to do and Moore's group, the ones who play at least, aren't doing a good job in those departments. That should tell you something about the depth on the offensive line, because if these guys are playing like this and in no danger of being benched, imagine what the coaches are seeing from the guys lower on the depth chart in practice.
Vic Koenning's defense has a tackling problem. Specifically, the Mountaineers don't do a good job of it. Koenning went as far to say WVU made Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant look like Superman on Saturday while the Mountaineers were Ant Man. We'll give Vic a pass for using a DC Comics superhero and a Marvel superhero together in his analogy, because Superman versus Ant Man would probably be awesome and I would absolutely read that comic or watch that movie. What was not awesome, at least if you're a West Virginia fan, was watching Missouri bully and push Mountaineer players all over the field Saturday. For all the offseason talk about the weightlifting program at WVU and how so many players had done so well in the weight room during the spring and summer months, Mountaineers were getting punked over and over against the Tigers on Saturday.
The good news is, like I said earlier, a lot of these problems can be corrected. Kendall can start playing better. Some linemen can step up in practice and push the starters for playing time. The West Virginia defenders can improve at tackling.
What can't change is the situation Holgorsen left for Brown, and that's a thing that we'll be reminded about with every Mountaineer loss this season. If there is one universal truth in football, it is this: winning is the cure for what ails you. The sooner Brown and West Virginia start winning again and winning regularly, the quicker the stink of the state the previous regime left the program in can dissipate.
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. We have a lot of football left this season.