MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby believes that when Texas and Oklahoma leave the Big 12 and the four expansion teams join that the league well may be stronger than ever in basketball and hinted that more expansion may even be on the way in the future.

Bowlsby was speaking at Big 12 Men’s Basketball Media Day in Kansas City on Wednesday, addressing the idea of the two stalwart football programs leaving the league would not signify its demise when replaced by BYU in 2023 and then Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida by the 2025 season at the latest.

Asked if he thought the Big 12, considered perhaps the best basketball conference in the country now, could be better, he answered quickly and directly.

“That’s arguable,” Bowlsby said. “Nobody has a better basketball tradition than Cincinnati. BYU has a tradition of playing in the Top 25 and doing it out of a relatively mid-major league. I think Houston, their strength is self-evident. They were in the Final Four last year. And UCF has had good teams as well.

“You don’t ever replace truly an Oklahoma or Texas but in the sport of basketball I don’t think there’s any question we don’t fall off much and we may gain.”

If things go as anticipated, the Big 12 may wind up playing with all 14 teams for a short period of time as Bowlsby insists it is going to hold Texas and Oklahoma to their contracts which run through 2025, but admits that they could find a way to buy those contracts out early.

“I think we’ll have to play in divisions at that point.”. Bowlsby said, . “For a while we’ll be 14 members. Texas and Oklahoma have made the statements publicly that they will be with us through June 30, 2025. Until we see anything to the contrary, that’s what we are going to presume.”

When Oklahoma and Texas leave, giving the Big 12 a conference with 12 members, Bowlsby admits that further expansion could jump to the front burner.

“We play with 14 for a while and then fall back to 12 and will reassess at that point,” he said. “That could entail looking at targets of opportunity for additional expansion. It could entail a strategy to get larger, but I feel very good about the 12 we will have. I think these four schools bring remarkable strength to the Big 12 and we’re already pretty strong.”

Since the decision was made public that Texas and Oklahoma were leaving there has been growing concern about how the conference — and, of course, West Virginia —would fare financially when media rights come up again.

Bowlsby wasn’t making any predictions.

“We will go to the market with that when the time comes. With live content. nobody knows what it’s worth until somebody agrees to pay you for it,” Bowlsby said. “To forecast what it might be worth is really a fool’s errand because it’s worth only what they will pay for it.

“We think we will continue to play at a very high level. I think our content is high quality and we will be in three different time zones in a fairly significant manner and I’m very bullish about the value of conference going forward.

“We’re on ESPN+ and streaming has become a bigger and bigger part of televising college athletics. I think that migration is going to continue. How you model in the marketplace is really dependent on how many suitors there are who is going to compete for the content.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

A low-key appearance at the Big 12 men’s basketball Media Day meant few questions for the coaches present, including 900-win West Virginia mentor Bob Huggins, national champion Baylor coach Scott Drew and new Oklahoma coach Porter Moser. Thus unencumbered, Huggins had some interactions that spanned their few minutes at the podium.

Moser mentioned crossing paths with Huggins when Moser was at Creighton and Huggins at Cincinnati. Creighton was up by 21 points at halftime in a holiday tournament game in Hawaii, and obviously, Huggins’ team was not playing well.

“We heard an unbelievable motivational speech at halftime,” Moser said of Huggins’s reaction to the Bearcats’ play. “We lost by one or two.”

Huggins, for his part, provided a typical deadpan reaction.

“Those were words of encouragement I was sharing with my team,” said Huggins, who currently holds a record of 900-382 as a head coach. “I was telling them, ‘Boys, we can play better than this.’ I just said it a little louder than most people do.”

Baylor’s Drew, who was watching, laughed in appreciation, and a bit later took a chance with a break in the questioning with an off-topic query about the league’s top-rated fisherman.

“Scott Drew fishes the most, but I would consider myself the best,” said Huggins with a smile. An avid angler himself, Huggins has appeared on fishing and outdoor shows and is an accomplished operator of a fly rod.

Clearly, the duo has had some byplay on fishing, but the angle here is on Huggins’ take on coaching in the league, which is shared by many others. While Huggins might be the best fisherman, he notes that there’s no outcoaching the other program leaders in the Big 12. It’s a familiar message for WVU fans, but one that he reinforced when asked about the status of the league. Even with some coaches moving on to new jobs, competition in the league is no easier.

“This is a great coaching league. The guys in this league are great,” Huggins detailed. “We do this in the recruiting process º how many first-round picks we’ve had, how many draft picks. It’s a great league and a great players league. This league is so hard, I don’t think you all get how hard it is. We have coaches retire, and those ADs bring in guys that are just as good. They go out and get good players, and they coach them really good. We have guys that are at the top of the coaching profession.”

The quality is so good that Huggins agrees with Drew’s assessment of postseason possibilities.

“I think it’s attainable to get three teams in the Final Four,” he said of Drew’s stated goal. “We put enough teams in the tournament that it’s possible. If Scott (Drew) says it, it’s true. He doesn’t lie … much.”

Again, the barb, and again perhaps related to fishing as much as anything. When the topic turned to his team, though, the veteran coach turned a bit more serious.

“I wish I knew the answer to that,” he said of what character his team will take. “Losing Derek (Culver) is a big hit because he got hard rebounds. He didn’t get rebounds, he got hard rebounds. I don’t know if we have a replacement for that. When we signed Deuce (McBride) we didn’t know f he could ever play with his bad ankle. We don’t get guys like that a lot. We get guys who have to work like crazy to be able to play in this league.”

West Virginia will rely on outside shooting – a major change for a team that has featured inside scoring as its foundation over the past few years – but it’s another aspect of his team’s play that has Huggins concerned, and which he has voiced recently.

“We can make shots, but I don’t know if we can keep anybody from making shots,” Huggins said, reinforcing an observation from WVU’s public intra-squad scrimmage. “We’ll go from there. I’ve done this 40-some years, so I’ve been through it a time or two.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The NCAA Division I Council recently passed a rule allowing FBS programs up to seven additional scholarships this year to help offset losses due to transfers.

Many are trying to understand all the details in the new rule, which is in place for just one year but likely will be extended. Basically, though, it allows a school the ability to replace each scholarship football student-athlete lost via transfer on a one-for-one basis up to seven.

“I’m trying to get a good grasp in it,” noted WVU coach Neal Brown of the new rule. “I thought it was going to be pretty cut and dried, but I’m not sure on some things. I thought it was if you lost more than seven, you got a total of 32, but there is some fine print in there. I have to get a good understanding on how we can use those.”

While Brown and others are still sorting through the details, West Virginia’s attrition due to those transferring out will likely mean the Mountaineers will get to use not only the normal 25 scholarships for the class of 2022 but also will have seven more grants-in-aid at their disposal.

“We will have 32 available,” stated Brown. “We’re down scholarships, so we’ll have 32, and that will help.

“It will allow us to take another d-lineman high school-wise. It will allow us to take another high school and transfer DB, another body at linebacker, probably two more wide outs. It’s definitely beneficial.”

The meticulous Brown normally has a well thought-out idea for every aspect of his program. When it comes to transfers, he definitely wants to use them to fill immediate needs, but he also isn’t going to build with a majority of transfers. Instead, he believes it’s still important to construct the Mountaineers around mainly high school recruits.

“I’ve got a plan, but probably not one I’m ready to announce just yet,” said Brown. “I will say that I still believe we need to concentrate on developing players. We will have to fill some holes with transfers, but when you are dealing in the transfer world, you are going to have some hits and you are going to have some misses. That’s the same as recruiting high school kids, but when you recruit high school guys, you can get them in your program and develop them.

“Just because we’re struggling, you’re not going to see us go for transfers in large numbers,” he continued. “I don’t believe that’s the way to get to where we want to get to. That’s not negative for anybody who is doing it that way, but I don’t think that’s the right recipe for us. I think you’re starting to see the fruits of our recruiting, and you’ll see even more of them next year.”

West Virginia has just six players on its 2021 roster who are in their final year of college eligibility (safeties Alonzo Addae, Sean Mahone and Scottie Young, plus linebacker Deshawn Stevens, placekicker Evan Staley and punter Tyler Sumpter), but there is no doubt it has additional holes to fill, and some of those could be filled with transfers.

“Are we going to have to add some pieces in the secondary and at linebacker from the transfer portal? Yes, because we have holes that definitely need to be filled,” explained Brown. “Are we going to be aggressive in the transfer portal on the offensive line? Yes. But you are not going to see us go get 15 transfers. That’s not going to be the recipe from me anyways.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Bob Huggins is entering his 40th season as a head basketball coach this year, so you can imagine that it is very difficult to shock him, especially during the off-season.

Yet there he was this past summer sitting in his office. which overlooks the court in the West Virginia Basketball Practice Facility.

Down below was the lone figure of Gabe Osabuohien, a senior known for giving the team life upon entering games, for his defensive play and hustle and, just as much, for his inability to score the basketball from either the floor or the free throw line.

Huggins could not believe his eyes as Osabuohien went about his business, working on his offensive game.

“I can’t believe how much better he’s gotten,” Huggins said recently, even before Osabuohien went out in the Gold-Blue Debut scrimmage and made four of seven shots and reached double figures with 10 points ... all that from a player who last season made just 17 shots in 539 minutes and who in two years owns a 36.4 field goal percentage and 44.1 free throw shooting percentage.

The improvement he saw came as a complete surprise to Huggins.

“I didn’t spend any time with him on his shooting. That was all him. He was in here every day pretty much all day,” Huggins said.

“His mechanics were horrible. He’s really cleaned them up. None of our guys put any time in with him. I’d look down from my office and see him, and it’s like I was shocked when I saw the ball go in the first time. He’s not like those other guys. He doesn’t make shots like they do, but he is making shots.”

What, one might ask, got into Osabuohien, who came to WVU as a transfer from Arkansas.

“What was in my head was losing to Syracuse,” Osabuohien said, referring to the season-ending, second-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. “I didn’t want to go out like that; definitely not. I was so mad after that game.”

Osabuohien, a 6-foot-8, 230-pound member of last year’s All-Big 12 Defensive Team could have left school after last season but he was determined to see if he couldn’t give himself a better exit, even though the team would be totally recast without Deuce McBride, Derek Culver and Emmitt Matthews Jr.

“I’m really working on every aspect of my game,” he said. “Becoming a better passer. Being able to make shots, so I’m guarded. Becoming a better defender also. Working on everything, not just one specific thing.”

Last year Osabuohien’s offensive deficiencies hurt WVU because when he was on the floor his man could double down on Culver inside. But this year’s there will be no such thing because the offense will come from beyond the 3-point line, so WVU needed someone down low to not only be able to score but rebound.

With four out and one in, to say nothing of Culver and Matthews’ exits, rebounds suddenly became a premium commodity and Osabuohien will have to get his share while others are going to need to step forward.

Osabuohien believes this year’s team, which will have Jalen Bridges crashing the boards from the corner and 6-10 Isaiah Cottrell, who can play low or hit 3s, helping on the rebounding.

But there is more.

“We still have me and Isaiah, and Pauly Paulicap’s kind of like me — a big energy guy, plays hard all the time,” Osabuohien said. “So, I know he’s going to be able to come in and help rebound.

“Dimon Carrigan, at 6-10, should be able to get in there, too. Our philosophy is we have two people opposite every time, so we’re sending two or three people to the glass every time and should be able to pull some. (Jalen Bridges) is going to come down and help rebound, too. It’s going to be a team effort.”

With so many new players on the roster, Osabuohien has taken a leadership role in an effort to see they are ready to go.

“That’s been the biggest thing, just making sure the new guys know everything,” Osabuohien said. “They literally have to know everything that we know. Practices haven’t been as fast as they usually are. They’ve slowed down and we’re making sure they know everything before we go head on into the season.”

And there’s an adjustment period for holdovers like Osabuohien.

“You got to learn their tendencies, what they like to do on offense, what they like to do on defense. It’s taking time but we’re starting to figure out what everyone is good at it,” he said.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — No one can argue that Leddie Brown has not lived up to preseason expectations as West Virginia's lead — and so far this year, virtually only — running back.

The question is why and there is no simple answer to that question.

Yes, it involves the offensive line. Yes, it involves a passing game that hasn't forced the defense to play off the line of scrimmage. Yes, it involves the fact that he hasn't been able to get much rest.

But there is something unseen and unthought of that very much has affected Brown's success this season.

Think of the running back and what do you think of? Speed? Power? Cutting ability?

That is what you see but for Leddie Brown it is what he sees that may be costing him yards this season, or so he indicated on Tuesday.

No fewer than five times during an 11-minute interview did he bring up vision in the discussion.

We're not talking about reading the fine print in the playbook. We're talking about on-field vision, reading blocks, seeing defenders and what they are trying to do, finding where holes will develop.

Brown's emphasis on how important vision is began when he was asked if the running game was close to reaching its potential.

"I believe it's been just a couple of plays," Brown said. "We need to strain just a little bit more. When I get tired, I need to be a little more disciplined with my eyes. I'm not saying I need to be perfect because nobody's perfect, but we need go a little bit more.

"That's the whole offense, not just the quarterbacks, the offensive line, the running backs. It's the whole offense."

Then he was asked about pressure being on him as the main cog in the running attack. Again he went back to a reference about what he was seeing as much as what he was doing.

"Pressure, no. I did know defenses would key on me, especially after what I did the first game of the season. I just have to go out and play my ball and do what I do. I can't let their schemes affect what I do.

"I haven't been as disciplined as I was a year ago. I have to get back on track and get my eyes back right. I feel like these next six games give me the opportunity to get back on track."

So, the eyes have it, but how and why?

"Vision is important because if your eyes are going rogue, you're not going to be able to see the hole because that's how fast the game is," Brown said. "I have certain read keys to look at in order to get to where the hole should be or to get to a place where I can make a play.

"Sometimes this year my eyes haven't been in the right spots and that's on me, honestly," he concluded.

The problem is it's something hard to fix in practice;

"It doesn't come from practice because practice and the game are at two different speeds," he said.

Brown was coming off a 1,010-yard rushing season in just 10 games last year and burst into this year with a three-touchdown performance against Maryland in the opener. While he had a difficult time in the blow out of LIU, Brown bounced back by opening the Virginia Tech victory with an 80-yard touchdown spring, finishing with a 161-yard performance against the Hokies.

But things have deteriorated as the season went on and through a three-game losing streak the Mountaineers bring into the TCU game, Brown averaging just 70.2 yards rushing per game after averaging 101 per game last year.

It certainly could be discouraging for Brown, but offensive coordinator Gerad Parker believes that hasn't happened and won't.

"One reason is because (running back coach) Chad Scott is great. Another is because Leddie is great," Parker said. "In order to be a pro, which he wants to be there's plenty of reasons to be motivated — team success, individual success, his future. It's not hard to motivate a guy in his chair.

"I think you have to remind him of it. He wants to play this game at the next level. To do that, guys sometimes forget — not say that he has, but just in general — the saying goes be 'where your feet are.'"

In other words, you ain't there yet.

"We have to be good at the jobs we possess now . As players we have to be good at the jobs we possess now and future success will take care of itself if you do that. He has plenty of reason to be motivated because it will affect his future and, more importantly, it will affect his football."

And Parker has seen nothing to make him think Leddie Brown won't make it to the next level.

"Yeah, he's a pro. We have to be better over these next six for him as a group and he has to be better over these next six for us. But, yes, of course, he possesses all those things it takes to play at the next level. Everything we do moving forward will help his percentage of getting there."

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — With an open date on the schedule, the Mountaineer football team spent this past week not only trying to improve in specific areas but also getting some much-needed rest.

“We put a lot of time in this building to put a product out there that gives us an opportunity to win,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, whose club is 2-4 heading into a Saturday night showdown in Fort Worth, Texas, against TCU (7:30 p.m. on ESPNU). “I don’t think anyone is pleased.

“I know we need play better. We’ve got one game this week, and then we’ll move throughout the schedule,” added WVU’s third-year head coach. “We play really good people from here on out. We need to play better than we did against Baylor (a 45-20 loss on Oct. 9). That’s the whole thing in my mind.”

After facing 3-3 TCU on Saturday, the Mountaineers play successive weeks against Iowa State (4-2), eighth-ranked Oklahoma State (6-0), Kansas State (3-3), Texas (4-3) and Kansas (1-5).

* * * * * *

West Virginia’s weak link offensively has been its difficulty in running the football, as it is last in the Big 12 in rushing offense, averaging 108.3 yards per game on the ground.

“We spent most of our time last week working to get our run game on track,” explained Brown. “It’s been close, but we just haven’t been consistent. That’s the M.O. of our entire football team — we just haven’t been consistent enough.”

While West Virginia's run game has not been a strength, TCU’s normally stout defense has had struggles of its own in stopping the run this season. The Horned Frogs are next-to-last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 210.0 yards per game. Only one team in the league, Kansas (249.3 ypg), has been worse against the run defensively.

“(TCU) has had some issues against the run this year,” noted Brown. “It’s our hope we can take advantage of that, but we have to go out and execute.

“We’ve got to play better on the offensive line. We’ve got to run through some tackles. We’ve got to do a better job of controlling the extra hat with some things schematically.

“For us to have success, we’ve got to be able to run it, and that’s been a struggle for us,” acknowledged West Virginia’s head coach.

WVU is 9-0 in the Neal Brown era when it nets at least 100 rushing yards per game and 4-15 when held below that mark.

* * * * * *

West Virginia’s leading rusher through its first six games of the 2021 season is Leddie Brown, who is averaging 70.3 yards per game on the ground. WVU’s second-leading rusher is its backup quarterback, Garrett Greene, who is averaging 46.0 per game on the ground.

WVU’s head coach would like to develop a more consistent second-string running back to take some of the load off Leddie.

“Garrett has been our second-leading rusher, and that’s kind of where we’ve been getting carries from,” stated Neal Brown. “Tony (Mathis) was better during the bye week, and we’re going to let him and Justin (Johnson) compete on Tuesday and Wednesday, and whoever is better will get the chance (on Saturday).”

As for Greene, he’s going to continue to rotate with starting quarterback Jarret Doege. Brown said the key for Greene is to not just utilize his legs, but also to better use his arm.

“He’s going to play,” said WVU’s coach of Greene. “How much will be determined by how he goes about this week. There are some opportunities.

“He’s coming off one of his better games against Baylor, but Garrett has to continue to grow. Our receivers have been the most productive piece of our offense, and Garrett has to get them the ball. That’s where he has to show the most growth.”

* * * * * *

Scottie Young had started the Mountaineers’ first five games of the ’21 season at spear safety, but he was unable to make the trip to Baylor because of health reasons.

Young is now practicing again and should be good to go against TCU, though he won’t necessarily start. Jackie Matthews, who started at spur in place of Young at Baylor, is expected to stay in the starting lineup again this week, according to WVU’s head coach.

“Jackie has played really good football for us,” said Brown of the former junior college All-American. “He’s been one of our most consistent performers. He’s aggressive, and I think that’s his natural spot at spear. Scottie is back, though, and he’ll also be out there this week.”

* * * * * *

The Mountaineer coaches spent several days on the road last week evaluating recruits. They saw prospects who have already committed and also those from both the classes of 2022 and 2023 who have yet to make decisions.

West Virginia also spent three days during the open week scrimmaging with some of its younger players.

Brown gave praise for the scrimmage performances of defensive end Taurus Simmons, safety Saint McLeod, linebacker Caden Biser, defensive lineman Edward Vesterinen and safety Davis Mallinger, as well as quarterback Goose Crowder, offensive lineman Tomas Rimac, wide receiver Kaden Prather, tight end Charles Finley and running back Justin Johnson.

At the midway point of the season, Brown seems committed to using seven scholarship true freshmen above the four-game redshirt limit – Prather, Johnson, McLeod, Mallinger, Vesterinen, safety Aubrey Burks and offensive tackle Wyatt Milum.

A yes/no redshirt decision has not been made yet on cornerback Andrew Wilson-Lamp, explained WVU’s coach, who also said the hope is to preserve the redshirt of defensive lineman Hammond Russell and the other seven true freshmen scholarship players.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Football really is a simple game that we try and try to make more complicated.

The fact of the matter is what you want to is find a weakness in your opponent, devise a way to attack it and go with it.

Simple as that.

You don't need to watch hours of game tape, use algorithms and logarithms and hire coaches and analysts to figure it all out.

We offer this up now with West Virginia's struggling Mountaineers entering the second half of a season in which nothing has gone right as a way to suggest that this may be the week to take the bubble wrap from around redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Greene and turn him loose.

See, it looks like this.

TCU is No. 120 out of 131 teams in college football in rushing defense, giving up 210 rushing yards a game.

That screams out that the rush defense is the place where you must attack.

Coach Neal Brown looks at game planning this way:

"You look at where people have success them, then you see does that fit us? Is that something we can add to our package?" he explained.

On the surface, that would seem to be a big, bad no. West Virginia's offensive rushing attack is as bad as TCU's rush defense, ranking 104th with just 89 yards per game.

But there's a catch there. Most of the time Jarrett Doege is at quarterback, and his ability to run the ball can be summed up in one statistic. Doege has 82 career rushes that have produced negative 208 yards.

On the other hand, Greene has rushed the ball 44 times in his career for 270 positive yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry, while scoring four touchdowns.

He is WVU's second-leading rusher to Leddie Brown. Now, it's true that Brown's statistics are down from a year ago, but that can be put on the blocking of the offensive line and also the fact that he is the only running back and therefore draws the entire attention of the defense.

Greene's ability to put pressure on the corners while turning Brown loose on the inside could be the perfect answer against the TCU Swiss cheese run defense.

Brown understands the dynamics at work here.

"Greene is going to play," Brown said, stopping far short of saying he would start as many fans hope. "A lot depends upon how he goes about this week, but he will play. You will see more of him. There's some opportunities for him."

And Brown knows he has to explore them.

"He's coming off one of his better games versus Baylor. He just has to continue to grow," Brown said.

And that means to become a more complete quarterback who can beat you with his arm as well as his feet.

"The thing with Garrett is our receivers have been the most productive part of our offense, and Garrett has to continue to get them involved. That's where he has to show the most growth," Brown said.

How does he get better, though? You ask offensive coordinator Gerad Parker, who surely worked with him some during the off week and who, with quarterback coach Sean Reagan, will work more with him as this week goes on.

"There is no secret to getting better," Parker said. "You sure wish there were easier paths, but there's not.

"So how do you get better? We go with what we believe in. We execute at higher levels, we work on our fundamentals. We spend more time before practice, individual time working on fundamentals."

Greene has a lot of work to do in the passing game.

"He's still in the process of learning how to be successful ... which is accuracy, proper progressions, pocket presence and those things," Parker said. "Those are the things he has to work on to improve.

"You have to find proper places to put him so he can be successful."

Certainly, TCU offers such an opportunity.

"He's growing," Parker said. "To say he's there would be inaccurate, but at the same, time there's things he's done well and places where he needs to improve."

Monday, October 18, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The announcement came and went with little reaction from the college sports world, but it brings with it another potential huge hit to the athletics budgets of Big 12 schools.

On Oct. 7, the league announced that it will allow its members “to provide education-related benefits and academic or graduation awards or incentives up to $5,980 per academic year to student-athletes in all sports who are receiving athletically related aid.”

That’s a bit of a mouthful, and perhaps the significance was buried in the verbiage. What it means is that each school, at its discretion, can pay any of its athletes who are receiving any scholarship money nearly $6,000 per year. for anything related to academics — a very wide-ranging field.

It is up to each school to determine how much to pay, and for what it will pay. Potential items can include educational aids such as computers or other equipment, postgraduate scholarships or other external educational opportunities, but also could be as simple as paying an amount each year for remaining academically eligible, achieving a certain grade point average or completing particular courses or projects. In effect, nothing is off the table.

The new guideline came in response to the Alston v. NCAA court case, in which former WVU player Shawne Alston was a lead plaintiff in a case which sued the NCAA for preventing additional education-related benefits to football and basketball players. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and capped the yearly additional amount which could be provided per player, per year, at $5,980. The ruling also extended to all collegiate scholarship athletes.

The SEC was the first to announce that it would allow such payments, and the Big 12 quickly followed. That is the limit of conference involvement, however, as the Big 12 punted decisions such as the amount of payments and the areas which can be awarded to member schools.

Just as the arms race in facility building and program extras have skyrocketed, the same is expected in this area. Schools are likely going to have to pay out, or commit to, the full amount each year, as they don’t want to be functioning at a disadvantage in competition with other schools in their league.

With that assumption, basic math shows that will be another big burden on schools already staggering under losses caused by the global pandemic and somewhat decreasing attendance figures, which affects income from ticket sales. West Virginia, with 345 athletes on scholarship this year, would potentially be on the hook for $2,063,100 per year to fully fund the academic rewards program each year.

No decisions have been made yet as to the areas which will be rewarded by WVU or any of the other Big 12 schools. Just as in the amounts to be awarded, they are free to determine when, and for what, awards are to be made.

In order to promote a return on investment, one thought is that schools might not pay rewards or incentives out on a yearly basis, but rather hold payments until a player has earned a degree. That would not only lessen immediate drains on finances, but keep players from collecting payments for a year or two, and then transferring or leaving school.

Other options, such as paying incentives to a player who leaves for a professional career but not for one who transfers to another school, also could be considered. Again, nothing is out of bounds at this point.

If all of this sounds like paying players, it pretty much is. The advent of Name, Image and Likeness deals, which opened up this year, was a big step, and this is another. While it’s couched in a framework of academics, the lack of rules from a national or conference level and the low bar which might have to be cleared to earn the awards or incentives mean that those who can simply stay in school and keep their scholarships could be in line for nearly $24,000 over the course of their time in college.

As noted, guidelines and rules set by each individual school are still to be determined, but two things are certain: Scholarship athletes in the Big 12 and SEC are going to be getting another significant payday, and athletic departments are going have to figure out how to absorb another multi-million dollar hit on their budgets.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — As if coach Bob Huggins needed any help in inspiring his 2021-22 West Virginia basketball team for the upcoming season, he got some on Monday with the release of the Associated Press' preseason poll.

Not that it was shocking, considering the losses WVU took from last year's team, but the Mountaineers are nowhere to be found in the rankings.

Not in the Top 10. Not in the Top 25. Not in others receiving votes.

While Kansas is No. 3, Texas No. 5 and Baylor No. 8 among the Top 10 and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech are among those also receiving votes, WVU enters the new season below the national radar without any expectations.

That's what happens when you lose five players from last season's team who could have returned in starters Deuce McBride, the point guard who led the team in scoring and assists and was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the New York Knicks; center Derek Culver, an inside power who dominated the backboards and was a double-double machine, slashing forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. and backup point guard Sean McCabe.

And that's not to mention power forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who stunned everyone as 2020 turned into 2021 by announcing he was transferring, eventually ending up at Kentucky.

Huggins was in a rebuilding stage, but he went far beyond that by completely reshaping his team from a power team to the second-best shooting team in the Coliseum behind the many time NCAA champion WVU rifle team.

"We just don't have veteran guys that have played a lot of minutes coming back," Huggins acknowledged last week during a "Meet the Mountaineers" media opportunity.

This team, instead of featuring the many talents of McBride, is built off of the shooting skills of Sean McNeil and Taz Sherman, who shared time with each other last year.

"Taz didn't play that many minutes until the end of the season," Huggins said. "Sean didn't either, and those are pretty much our most experienced guys. There's a whole lot of difference between having Deuce and Derek back, or before that having Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles back. There are a lot of unknowns."

Sherman hit 47 pf 131 3-point shots for 35.9%, while McNeil canned 69 of 178 from 3, which was 38.8%.

But what is known to Huggins is that this team will be joined by Jalen Bridges, who should be ready to blossom after he was forced to play last year after Tshiebwe left; the return of versatile big man Isaiah Cottrell, who can play low or hit from 3, hustling defender and improved shooter Gabe Osabuohien and a pair of potentially solid point guards in Malik Curry and Kobe Johnson.

"We're not as big. We don't have Derek inside ... we're guard heavy. I think that's good," McNeil said. "We have a lot of guys who can go in and out. I think people like watching an up-and-down quicker type game. We have so many guys who can all play and contribute right now."

Respect is something they don't have coming into the season.

"I feel nobody knows what we're capable of, and we have to go out and show it," Osabuohien said.

Sherman said he expected this day to arrive and has prepared for it.

"I noticed when we were in Cancun last year that Deuce was a pro, and I started asking myself how long he was going to be here. We knew as a team Deuce and DC would not be here, so we got over it pretty fast.

"You got to get over it," he continued. "We're losing probably 30 or 40 points a game between Deuce and DC and a lot of rebounds and our leader in Deuce. We have to make a more conscious effort to spread things around.

"We won't be relied on two or three pieces, but we will rely on the whole team more this year."

"It's definitely different but we have a great group of guys and the pieces to build around. It's weird because I came in with those guys and now it's only me, Sean, Taz and Gabe still here," Bridges said.

Gonzaga was voted overwhelmingly the nation's No. 1 with UCLA second, Kansas at No. 3, Villanova No. 4 and Texas No. 5.

Rounding out the Top 10 were Michigan, Purdue, Baylor, Duke and Kentucky.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The bye week is over, and the fate of West Virginia's 2021 football season hangs precariously in the balance, a three-game losing streak having been carried into the halfway point in the season.

The pressing question that the Mountaineers (2-4) carry into the second half of the season is whether the first half should be looked at as a time of despair or simply as them being a team in need of repair.

There were three games they could have won had they been able to make a play or two, including a 16-13 road loss to Oklahoma, the nation's No. 3 team, on a last-second field goal at the end of a heroic drive by the Sooner offense and a disappointing breakdown of the Mountaineer defense.

The scenario would play itself out again a week later when Texas Tech put together a carbon copy field goal victory, the kind of game that the losing team leaves deflated by not winning but not doubting that it could have won ... and in its own mind, certain it should have won.

So they could be 4-2 instead of 2-4, maybe even 5-1 had they escaped at Maryland as a good team would have ... or they actually could be 1-5 but for an equally harrowing victory over Virginia Tech.

Certainly, much time has been spent by Neal Brown over his quarterback situation, whether to leave Jarret Doege as his starter or go with redshirt freshman Garrett Greene; his offensive line, which has not figured it out yet, and the entire offense that has scored 30 points only twice in 19 games against Power 5 opponents.

One of those two opponents was Kansas, which defies the definition of Power 5 any way you want to define it.

But perhaps the biggest cause for concern was that in the final game before the scheduled break, the Mountaineer defense, upon whom all hope of victory rests, had come unwound, the scoreboard twinkling 45 points for Baylor in an embarrassing 45-20 defeat.

While the first three losses had been gut-wrenching, this one was nothing but a punch to the gut followed by several knockout punches to the jaw.

If the defense is going to play like that, not recording a sack and throwing Baylor for only seven negative yards all game, then it is going to be a long, cold fall.

Senior Dante Stills is the leader of the defense and has held up his end of the bargain through most of the season. But he, like everyone else, is wondering what is happening.

"We just didn't handle business second week in a row. We have to rest our bodies, watch film and get better," Stills said as WVU headed into the bye week. "Like I say, it wasn't a good enough performance by myself or anybody else."

The question is whether what has happened to WVU the past two weeks is a hangover from the Oklahoma loss.

"It definitely surprised me." the Fairmont Senior graduate said. "That's two weeks in a row that we did not come to play right away. If a team gets up 20 points or 35 points at the half, it's very hard to come back."

Listening to Stills, who as a senior knows just how much WVU wanted to beat Oklahoma for the first time since joining the Big 12, makes you wonder.

"It was like we did enough, but we didn't do enough," Stills said the Tuesday after the loss in Norman. "It's never enough. I left plays out on the field that I should have made. It happens, it's football. It's a game of ups and downs."

WVU had nothing as it took the field against Texas Tech the week after the Oklahoma loss and needed a furious second-half comeback to put itself in position to win, only to have a second-straight field goal at the end beat them.

Expected to travel to Baylor with fire in their hearts, the Mountaineers came out timidly and without any emotion as the Bears hit a big touchdown play to open the game and rode that rush of emotion to squish the Mountaineers.

"We knew they would try to take shots on us early to try and get a big lead," Stills said.

But they also knew Baylor lived offensively by the run, and thus were stunned when instead they soared through the air like an eagle, and not one from Philadelphia.

"The pass game is where we struggled today," Stills noted, speaking for the defense. "Getting to the quarterback and defending."

The pass rush is now a major cause for concern, as WVU had no sacks against Iowa State and Army in last year's final two games and now has gone through three of its past eight without a sack.

To make matters worse, WVU goes on the road again to face an angry TCU team that was blitzed last week by Oklahoma and wants to make amends.

As evidence of where WVU fits in the TV pecking order, it plays its 7:30 p.m. game at TCU on ESPNU and then comes home the next week for what was expected to be a huge game against Iowa State at 2 p.m. Oct. 30 on ESPN+.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — The No. 21-ranked West Virginia men’s soccer team earned a come-from-behind, 2-1 win over Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon.

Trailing 1-0, the Mountaineers scored back-to-back goals in the 76th and 88th minutes, respectively, to claim the victory. Senior forward Ike Swiger tied the game for WVU before sophomore midfielder Ryan Crooks scored the game-winning goal in the final moments of the fixture.

The win marked West Virginia’s first in Mid-American Conference play this fall.

“These games are huge for momentum; you can just tell with the guys’ response and the way they feel,” WVU coach Dan Stratford said. “Given the nature of the last week that we’ve had, the response was incredible. It would’ve been easy for us to fold over and really struggle, but we didn’t give up. I’m just really, really pleased with the result because I think over the course of the 90 minutes, we deserved to win the game.”

On a chilly, windy afternoon at the WMU Soccer Complex, sophomore midfielder Ryan Baer nearly opened the scoring for the Mountaineers (7-1-4, 1-1-1 MAC) in the 19th minute with a shot that was saved by the WMU goalkeeper in the center of the goal. That proved to be the Mountaineers’ best scoring chance until the 43rd minute, when fifth-year senior defender Kevin Morris had a header saved off a WVU corner kick.

The match stayed scoreless as it reached halftime.

In the second half, fifth-year senior goalkeeper Steven Tekesky made a diving save in the 52nd minute to keep things knotted up. Then, the Broncos (4-5-4, 0-2-0 MAC) took the lead in the 72nd off a set piece. It marked just the second time this season that WVU conceded the opening goal of a game.

Needing to respond, Swiger found the quick equalizer, becoming the 12th different player to tally a goal for WVU this fall. Following a pass from Baer, Swiger was able to find the back of the net with a shot off the post to make it 1-1 in the 76th minute.

The Mountaineers weren’t done from there. In the 88th minute, Crooks tallied the game-winner when a long pass was mishandled by the Bronco back line, allowing the Oxfordshire, England, native to capitalize.

West Virginia held an 8-7 advantage in shots in the win, including 5-4 in shots on goal. WVU also held a 6-4 advantage in corner kicks. Crooks and Swiger co-led the Mountaineers with two shots each, while Tekesky made three saves in the win.

With the win, WVU improved to 6-5-2 all-time against Western Michigan, including 3-3-1 in Kalamazoo. Additionally, 11 of the 13 matchups between West Virginia and Western Michigan have ended in either one-goal games or draws.

Next up, West Virginia concludes its four-match road trip by traveling to Kentucky for a non-conference matchup Tuesday in Lexington, Kentucky. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s massively revamped men’s basketball team made its first public appearance Friday night at the WVU Coliseum, and although the scrimmage was loosely officiated and often defense-free, there were a number of observations to be made concerning the 2021-22 Mountaineers.

Before getting into those, though, a couple of caveats: Judgments based largely on the statistics compiled would be very misleading, as the teams played just two 15-minute halves, with fouls only called in the most egregious of situations. Also, the teams were split up, with likely/possible starters or those expected to earn major minutes split between the Blue and Gold teams, which could have robbed each side of the some of the synergy that’s hoped to be developed during the year.

With those cautions in mind, on to some thoughts and initial impressions:

Running the offense and handling the ball on the perimeter is still a work in progress, but might not be at a level of concern that some have placed it at. Transfer Malik Curry and returnee Kedrian Johnson were mostly solid in getting their teams into their attacks and passed the ball reasonably well, as they combined for 11 assists against four turnovers and didn’t get stuck with the ball on many occasions.

Freshman Seth Wilson, whose strong build and aggressive play backed up some early observations of his ability, was also respectable, and although he probably isn’t ready to challenge for major minutes yet, he has a number of positives upon which to build. Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil also took some turns getting things started, giving WVU some veteran presence if need be.

This isn’t to say that the Mountaineers have found a total solution to their questions at the position yet, but they do have some candidates who look to be able to get the ball into the lane and find teammates for open shots. This isn’t going to be a point guard-dominated team, but that might not be a requirement.

The near-total absence of defense was disturbing and contributed some to the high level of offensive success. As such, all of the stats, such as shooting percentages and relatively low turnover numbers, have to be viewed with a huge grain of salt.

On-ball defense was OK at a few stretches, but many ballhandlers cruised past defenders like high-performance cars on the Autobahn. Hopefully that is a sign of proficiency in that area, but fundamentals of positioning and the ability to stay in front of the ball were mostly lacking. Again, the hope is that some of this is due to the nature of the scrimmage, but if West Virginia’s defense resembles any of this during regular games, it’s going to need to score in the 80s to have any chance.

* * * * * *

Speaking of scoring, most of it is, as expected, going to have to come from the perimeter, the mid-range and from drives to the bucket. Only on a handful of possessions did WVU throw the ball to a posted-up player with his back to the basket, and that was mostly Isaiah Cottrell, who did show a respectable jump hook over the shoulder on one sequence. There aren’t going to be many post isolations this season, a staple of the offense over the last couple years.

On the plus side, Dimon Carrigan and Pauly Paulicap did get to the rim for lobs and a few dunks, but again, there’s that lack of defense to be concerned with, as rotations when the ball got free were as rare as chants of “Let’s Go Pitt” in the Coliseum.

* * * * * *

All three true freshmen have some chops. Whether that’s enough to see some time this year is still to be determined, though both Wilson and Kobe Johnson, who have physiques that look more like those of juniors than first-year players, seemed at ease in competing alongside and against their older teammates. Johnson drained four of his five 3-point attempts, and Wilson, as mentioned, was not overwhelmed in setting the offense.

Jamel King, the late addition to the class, looks taller than his listed 6-foot-7 and, like a number of his teammates, has a good wingspan and did not back down from any situation. He had a monster contested dunk in the second half that sent Gabe Osabuohien, an opponent on the night, into a huge celebration that included a couple of chest bumps.

* * * * * *

Jalen Bridges continues to be deadly from 3-point range in the corner, which helps keep other spots open on the perimeter for teammates. His game-best 21 points seemed effortless, as his shot looks even smoother and more well-honed than it was a year ago. Add in his game-high eight rebounds, and there’s no question he’s going to be a vital cog this year.

* * * * * *

Osabuohien might have a future as a shot doctor. OK, that’s an overreaction, but he demonstrated what head coach Bob Huggins explained a day earlier when he said that the super senior had fixed his shot mechanics without assistance from the coaching staff.

A careful watch in pregame revealed a much more repeatable shooting form, with his hand under the ball and a softer release, and that carried over to most of his attempts in the game. There were a couple of 3-point attempts that he’s not going to be taking in the regular season, and one rushed drive/shot that resulted in a heave, but overall the improvement was remarkable.

This does not constitute a prediction that he’s going to become a massive scorer. However, if he can drive the ball from the key and put up good shots as he did in this game, opponents aren’t going to be able to leave him alone as they did a year ago. That’s also going to help his ability to pass the ball, which was already at a high level.

* * * * * *

Seny N’diaye is likely headed for another developmental year, but it’s clear he has been putting in time in the weight room. While he has not massively bulked up, he has much more definition in his upper body, and that should allow him to compete more effectively.

* * * * * *

Whether consciously or not, or due to the split roster, Isaiah Cottrell showed that he is not just an outside shooter. He made six of seven shots inside the arc, with a couple coming off drives, a couple in the mid-range, and more off passes from teammates. In all, it was a tantalizing display of his all-around offensive game, and that is going to be critical for the Mountaineers this year. He can certainly shoot outside, but having scoring threats in the 6-15 foot range (analytics be damned!) are important in making WVU’s offense tougher to defend all over the court.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Neal Brown gets it.

Honest, he does, and he showed that he gets it early in his Tuesday press conference following a third straight loss to Baylor, this one by a 45-20 score that really wasn't even that close.

"The way I always think about it, right or wrong, is we're in the entertainment business," Brown said.

They call it football and sell it as a sport, but if you look at the reality of the game, the coach is the script writer, and the director and the players, they are the actors. You are creative as a coach, yes, but for a reason and that reason is to entertain paying customers; those who pay their way into the stadium or paying a cable television bill.

And what is entertaining to those people?

Winning.

The script may be miserable but when the curtain falls, the patrons leave with a smile on their face and craving more of the same if the team they root for is ahead on points.

It was so well put many years ago by one of the best playwriters/directors ever, Vincent Lombardi, when he said "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."

And to win it takes great performances. WVU has always been able to provide that on their winning teams, be it Pat White, Steve Slaton, Tavon Austin, Noel Devine, Stedman Bailey, Geno Smith, Major Harris or Amos Zereoue.

It is, Brown understands, his job to provide that for his fans.

"That's what we are, and when the product is not good, the people have an opportunity to complain, and that's probably what they're doing, and I don't blame them." he said. "It's no different than when you go to a restaurant and the food's not good or you watch a movie and it's not good or however you get your entertainment. When the product is not good you complain."

But Brown knows that there is this chasm between the coaches and the players and the fans, who can be quite fickle.

"It's not entertainment for us. It's our livelihood. The people in this building each and every day, our job is to get it fixed."

And that is what this off-week was all about for the 2-4 Mountaineers, looking for answers that may or may not be there at this stage of Brown's rebuilding.

See, WVU's offense has been terrible, and while there is much blame to go around, when you look at it from an entertainment standpoint, that goes back to the main character and, in football, the main character is the quarterback.

Jarret Doege, whether the offensive line has given him a chance or not, has not entertained the fans. It isn't for lack of effort or preparation. It is simply that everyone can't be Brando or even Bruce Willis.

You are what you are, which is not a knock on you as a person but as a performer.

The problem is that Doege's back up, Garrett Greene, has shown no ability to change the outcome of games in which he has been used.

It didn't play out at WVU as it did at Oklahoma when Coach Lincoln Riley yanked his preseason Heisman candidate at quarterback Spencer Rattler in the midst of a dismal performance against Red River Shootout rival Texas in favor of true freshman Caleb Williams.

Williams rallied the team from three touchdowns down to a dramatic 55-48 victory.

The script that day turned into "A Star is Born" while at West Virginia Doege's understudy hasn't been able to create a difference.

It's become an issue, a complicated issue, one where people wonder if Greene's use as an alternate QB has actually kept Doege from moving forward.

Brown says that is not the case.

"I don' think playing Garrett has hampered him," Brown said. "It hasn't necessarily taken practice reps away from him. We always give our backup reps anyway and the things we're doing with Garrett you wouldn't ask Jarret to do, and vice versa. He's just been a little bit inconsistent and missed some things."

The result has been an average performance when a winning performance was being screamed for by the fans. Fans don't want to hear about dropped passes, which have been far less of a problem of late, or about missed blocks.

They want points ... period. Doege hasn't provided them, Greene hasn't provided them and it has left everyone who spent their good money and was football starved after a year of COVID-dictated isolation which kept them from attending football games frustrated.

These are West Virginians who like life at the top of the Mountaineer and have found the climb that they were asked to trust to be more difficult than imagined.

Statistics tell the story, none more than the fact that in the 17 games in which Doege has started WVU has reached 30 points scored just twice, and that includes special team and defensive touchdowns.

They have left a lot of points on the field, having to settle for field goals on 14 of their last 28 trips into the red zone.

The running dimension Greene gives the offense is tempting to Brown to use, but the real question is whether or not he's ready to run his own offense at this level.

"He's got to do what he's coached to do in the pass game," Brown said. "I'm all for the free-lance, but he needs to go from 1 to 2 before he takes off and runs. Last Saturday, he just took a drop and then ran.

"The struggle with him is the receiver group is by far and away the most productive group on offense right now. He's got to be able to utilize them. There are some things we can do with him in the run game, but the receivers are open when he's playing and he's got to be able to find them and give them the ball because it's like I said, that's the most productive group right now."

There is a third option in true freshman QB Will "Goose" Crowder, but at this stage of his development that's like calling someone out of the audience and asking him to perform the lead role.

"Goose is a guy that, he's coming along. From a leadership standpoint, he has probably as good of skills as anybody in our program. He's really added positive weight over the last nine months since being here in January. The game is starting to slow down for him. He's had two really good Mondays in a row."

But they don't play games that count on Monday.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — An open week in a college football schedule is a time for self-improvement, both for those who are seeing significant game action on Saturdays and those who are more in the developmental phase of their career.

West Virginia’s football team has 16 first-year scholarship players. Of those, 14 are listed as having seen game action already this season, but half of them have participated in just one contest. Thus they still are very much alive for a redshirt, which entails they play in no more than four games in a season.

According to WVU’s participation chart, the only true freshman to play in every game this season is wide receiver Kaden Prather. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound native of Montgomery Village, Maryland, also got the starting nod at Baylor, though his only two receptions so far this year came against Long Island.

Offensive tackle Wyatt Milum is the only other true freshman besides Prather to earn a start this season, as the 6-foot-6, 291-pound Spring Valley product was on the field for the first series against Texas Tech. He suffered a leg injury midway through that game against the Red Raiders, though, and that ailment kept him out for the rest of the contest against TTU and all of the Baylor game, the only contest this year in which he has not played.

Besides Prather and Milum, other true freshmen who have seen action in multiple games this year include safety Aubrey Burks (five games), running back Justin Johnson (five games), cornerback Andrew Wilson-Lamp (four games), safety Saint McLeod (three games), safety Davis Mallinger (two games), quarterback Goose Crowder (two games) and defensive lineman Edward Vesterinen (two games).

Neal Brown’s program holds a weekly intra-squad scrimmage, which it calls “Monday Night Football,” for those young developmental players who don’t see much game action on Saturdays.

That scrimmage work was expanded this off week.

“We’ll go today, tomorrow and Thursday,” Brown said on Tuesday of the scrimmage plans for his younger players. “We’ll get them a bunch of reps.”

One of those taking advantage of Monday Night Football, according to Brown, is quarterback Goose Crowder. The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder from Gardendale, Alabama, did get a series of action against LIU earlier this year, where he completed both his pass attempts for 28 yards. Crowder has shown promise, said Brown, though he’s still likely ticketed to redshirt this year.

“Goose is a guy who is coming along,” stated the head coach. “From a leadership standpoint, he’s probably got as good of skills as anyone in our program. He’s added positive weight over the last nine months since getting here in January. The game is starting to slow down for him. He’s had two really good Mondays in a row.”

WVU brought in two scholarship running backs as part of its class of 2021 — Justin Johnson (5-10, 196) and Jaylen Anderson (6-0, 215).

Johnson has seen action this season in all but the Virginia Tech game, and he got opportunities to carry the ball against LIU (10 rushes for 42 yards) and Baylor (eight rushes for 18 yards, plus one reception for two yards).

“At running back, Justin Johnson is a guy who is playing,” said Brown of the Edwardsville, Illinois, native who is battling for the No. 2 spot at the running back position. “He had a couple really nice runs (against Baylor). He missed some protection issues that he can’t do, but he’ll continue to improve, and we’ll keep working him hard.”

As for Anderson, it took a little extra time compared to his classmates to get academically approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse, but he was allowed to enroll at WVU in mid-September.

“Jaylen is just now starting to practice,” explained Brown of the Perry, Ohio, product, who will almost certainly redshirt this season. “He was out of shape when he first got here, and then he was sick last week and missed some days. He’ll practice this week, but I don’t have a big enough body of work to comment on him.”

West Virginia has two tight ends in this class, Victor Wikstrom and Treylan Davis, both of whom have played in one game so far this year. Each is likely ticketed for a redshirt.

“The tight ends, Victor and Treylan, they aren’t ready right now, but they are very similar to what a lot of the league is playing with as far as blockers and guys who can get out in the flats and do those things,” said Brown. “I think they’ll be able to help us next year.”

WVU had just two offensive line signees in the class of 2021. Milum is already part of the rotation up front, and he could very well get additional starts at right tackle as the season continues. The second O-line signee, Tomas Rimac (6-6, 298), is one Brown likes but is still in the developmental stage.

“Offensive line-wise, Tomas Rimac is a guy who isn’t ready to play right now, but we do think he will in the future,” said the coach of the Brunswick, Ohio, product. “He’s progressing well. He’s really learning how to pass protect for the first time.”

Brown also mentioned redshirt freshman offensive tackle Ja’Quay Hubbard. The 6-6, 310-pounder transferred from Virginia to West Virginia in the summer of 2020. He didn’t see any game action last fall but is starting to get some reps this season, including a number of snaps at Baylor.

“I’ve talked about Ja’Quay Hubbard before,” said Brown. “He was really heavy (listed at 335) when he got here, but he’s lost a bunch of weight and is gaining his strength back. I like the way he plays with effort. He just lacks some strength right now, but he’ll play for us down the road.”

Freshmen defensive linemen Brayden Dudley (6-2, 242), Edward Vesterinen (6-3, 270) and Hammond Russell (6-3, 287) each have gotten some game reps so far this season, though none have yet eclipsed the mark that would keep them from redshirting.

“Hammond Russell is a guy who has played spot duty,” noted Brown. “We like what he’s doing. He’s done a nice job on scout team.”

At linebacker, Ja’Corey Hammett (6-0, 196) has been restricted in practice as he continues to recover from a knee injury he suffered last season at Miami Northwestern (Fla.) High School.

WVU has used four true freshmen defensive backs in games this season. Any or all of them could exceed the redshirt limit.

“Aubrey Burks played 20 snaps or something like that on Saturday. He did a nice job,” Brown said of the 5-foot-10, 201-pound safety. “We’ll continue to grow him, because he needs to play.

“I think Saint McLeod is a guy we’re going to take a hard look at because he may be able to help us now,” added Brown of the 5-10, 209-pound safety.

Mallinger (6-0, 188) and Wilson-Lamp (6-1, 174) were primarily wide receivers in high school. They both enrolled at WVU in January and began transitioning to safety and cornerback, respectively.

“Davis Mallinger has been traveling (with the team to road games),” said Brown. “He played seven to 10 snaps on Saturday. He can really run, but he’s still learning how to play defense. He’ll help us on special teams. We’re going to continue to play him, and he’ll help us, especially on special teams. He plays the game fast.

“Wilson-Lamp is doing a good job on special teams,” added the WVU coach. “He’s still new at corner, so there’s a bit of a transition process there.”

Things ultimately could change, but it appears WVU is likely going to play at least seven true freshmen — Prather, Johnson, Milum, Burks, McLeod, Mallinger and Wilson-Lamp — above the four-game redshirt limit, with Russell also a possibility as well.

Of course, you know what they say about the best-laid plans …

Friday, October 15, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Before a WVU Coliseum crowd of several thousand on Friday, the 2021-22 Mountaineer men’s basketball team made its first public appearance of the year in the Gold/Blue Debut.

Starting with a speech by West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins and concluding with an autograph session, the heart of the evening’s activities was an hour-long officiated scrimmage.

Returnees like Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Jalen Bridges (five of eight from 3) displayed their form, especially from the perimeter. It was also the initial opportunity for WVU fans to see newcomers Pauly Paulicap, Malik Curry, Dimon Carrigan, Kobe Johnson, Seth Wilson and Jamel King in Blue & Gold uniforms.

In the scrimmage, Bridges led the Gold team to a 74-57 victory, as he poured in 21 points. Isaiah Cottrell and Kobe Johnson contributed 16 each for the Gold. The Blue squad was topped by McNeil, who had 16 points. Taj Thweatt added 14, while Gabe Osabuohien and Dimon Carrigan both had 10 points.

“We can make shots; we’ve got guys who can make shots,” said Huggins, who is preparing for his 14th season as the head coach of his alma mater. “I think we’ll be able to stretch defenses if they continue to shoot it the way they’ve been shooting it. In particular, Sean and Taz, though J.B. (Bridges) has also shot it really well. That’s three guys on the perimeter, and Isaiah has shot it really, really well (he was seven of nine from the floor and one of two from three in the scrimmage). He’s whatever, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11 or 7-foot-2 with his hair.

“It’s hard to tell anything when you play against yourselves, because they know what’s going to happen before it happens. It’s hard to run offense,” analyzed WVU’s coach. “Gabe (a fifth-year senior) is there telling everyone what’s going to happen before it happens. That would be great if we were playing somebody else.”

West Virginia’s first opportunity to play someone else will come on Friday, Oct. 29, when it hosts Akron in a charity exhibition game that will tip-off at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers’ regular-season opener will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. when Oakland comes to the WVU Coliseum.

One of the reasons Osabuohien knows what’s going to happen is because he’s one of the most experienced Mountaineers, having spent two years at Arkansas before transferring to West Virginia, where he’s now heading into his third season.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound veteran, who was a member of the all-Big 12 defensive team last year, has been known in the past much more for his effort (4.4 rebounds per game last season) and hustle (171 deflections and 23 charges taken) than his offensive output (1.7 points per game). Osabuohien put in a lot of work this summer, though, trying to improve his offensive skill level.

“I looked down from my office and was shocked when I saw the ball go in the first time,” chuckled Huggins of glimpsing Osabuohien’s summer workouts.

“I can’t believe how much better he’s gotten,” the coach continued of the Toronto, Canada, native. “That’s all him. He was in here every day, pretty much all day.

“His mechanics were horrible, but he’s really cleaned that up. He’s not making shots like the other guys (Sherman, McNeil, Bridges and Cottrell), but he is making shots now.”

Osabuohien made four of seven field goal attempts and two of three from the foul line Friday.

While the losses of Deuce McBride (15.9 points per game last season), Derek Culver (14.3 ppg), Emmitt Matthews (7.7 ppg) and Jordan McCabe (2.2 ppg) take away four of the top seven scorers from West Virginia’s 19-10 club of 2020-21, with the return of Sherman (13.4 ppg), McNeil (12.2 ppg) and Bridges (5.9 ppg), Huggins seems less worried about his offense this coming season than he does about other aspects, like rebounding, defense and ballhandling.

“We’ve got to pass it better, but that’s probably everybody this time of year,” Huggins stated. “We do bang a lot of balls off ankles.

“Defense is all about reacting,” added the coach, who holds a 900-382 career record. “If you just stand and watch, you’ll have to run and try to catch up, and you’ll never catch up. We were so good at running through balls before because we reacted so well, but we haven’t reacted like that in a couple years.”

On Friday, the two teams totaled nine steals, as well as 28 assists. Curry led the way in the assist department with seven while turning the ball over twice and scoring four points.

Friday, October 15, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Before a WVU Coliseum crowd of several thousand on Friday, the 2021-22 Mountaineer men’s basketball team made its first public appearance of the year in the Gold/Blue Debut.

Starting with a speech by West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins and concluding with an autograph session, the heart of the evening’s activities was an hour-long officiated scrimmage.

Returnees like Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Jalen Bridges (five of eight from 3) displayed their form, especially from the perimeter. It was also the initial opportunity for WVU fans to see newcomers Pauly Paulicap, Malik Curry, Dimon Carrigan, Kobe Johnson, Seth Wilson and Jamel King in Blue & Gold uniforms.

In the scrimmage, Bridges led the Gold team to a 74-57 victory, as he poured in 21 points. Isaiah Cottrell and Kobe Johnson contributed 16 each for the Gold. The Blue squad was topped by McNeil, who had 16 points. Taj Thweatt added 14, while Gabe Osabuohien and Dimon Carrigan both had 10 points.

“We can make shots; we’ve got guys who can make shots,” said Huggins, who is preparing for his 14th season as the head coach of his alma mater. “I think we’ll be able to stretch defenses if they continue to shoot it the way they’ve been shooting it. In particular, Sean and Taz, though J.B. (Bridges) has also shot it really well. That’s three guys on the perimeter, and Isaiah has shot it really, really well (he was seven of nine from the floor and one of two from three in the scrimmage). He’s whatever, 6-foot-10, 6-foot-11 or 7-foot-2 with his hair.

“It’s hard to tell anything when you play against yourselves, because they know what’s going to happen before it happens. It’s hard to run offense,” analyzed WVU’s coach. “Gabe (a fifth-year senior) is there telling everyone what’s going to happen before it happens. That would be great if we were playing somebody else.”

West Virginia’s first opportunity to play someone else will come on Friday, Oct. 29, when it hosts Akron in a charity exhibition game that will tip-off at 7 p.m. The Mountaineers’ regular-season opener will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. when Oakland comes to the WVU Coliseum.

One of the reasons Osabuohien knows what’s going to happen is because he’s one of the most experienced Mountaineers, having spent two years at Arkansas before transferring to West Virginia, where he’s now heading into his third season.

The 6-foot-8, 230-pound veteran, who was a member of the all-Big 12 defensive team last year, has been known in the past much more for his effort (4.4 rebounds per game last season) and hustle (171 deflections and 23 charges taken) than his offensive output (1.7 points per game). Osabuohien put in a lot of work this summer, though, trying to improve his offensive skill level.

“I looked down from my office and was shocked when I saw the ball go in the first time,” chuckled Huggins of glimpsing Osabuohien’s summer workouts.

“I can’t believe how much better he’s gotten,” the coach continued of the Toronto, Canada, native. “That’s all him. He was in here every day, pretty much all day.

“His mechanics were horrible, but he’s really cleaned that up. He’s not making shots like the other guys (Sherman, McNeil, Bridges and Cottrell), but he is making shots now.”

Osabuohien made four of seven field goal attempts and two of three from the foul line Friday.

While the losses of Deuce McBride (15.9 points per game last season), Derek Culver (14.3 ppg), Emmitt Matthews (7.7 ppg) and Jordan McCabe (2.2 ppg) take away four of the top seven scorers from West Virginia’s 19-10 club of 2020-21, with the return of Sherman (13.4 ppg), McNeil (12.2 ppg) and Bridges (5.9 ppg), Huggins seems less worried about his offense this coming season than he does about other aspects, like rebounding, defense and ballhandling.

“We’ve got to pass it better, but that’s probably everybody this time of year,” Huggins stated. “We do bang a lot of balls off ankles.

“Defense is all about reacting,” added the coach, who holds a 900-382 career record. “If you just stand and watch, you’ll have to run and try to catch up, and you’ll never catch up. We were so good at running through balls before because we reacted so well, but we haven’t reacted like that in a couple years.”

On Friday, the two teams totaled nine steals, as well as 28 assists. Curry led the way in the assist department with seven while turning the ball over twice and scoring four points.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The No. 21-ranked West Virginia University men’s soccer team travels to Kalamazoo, Michigan, for a Mid-American Conference match at Western Michigan on Saturday, Oct. 16. Kickoff at the WMU Soccer Complex is set for 12 p.m. ET.

Of note, Saturday’s match will not be streamed.

“(Western Michigan) has a way of doing things and has an identity,” WVU coach Dan Stratford said. “Chad (Wiseman) has delivered his message well because the players have bought in and are executing. I don’t think there are any secrets for what they’ll look to do, and I don’t think there will be any secrets on what we’ll look to do. It’ll be about who can execute with the greater amount of conviction and who wants it more.”

Saturday marks the 13th meeting between the Mountaineers (6-1-4, 0-1-1 MAC) and Broncos (4-4-4, 0-1-0 MAC). The series is tied, 5-5-2, while WMU holds a slim, 3-2-1 edge in matches played in Kalamazoo.

The two squads split a pair of meetings last season, with WVU falling to Western Michigan, 1-0, on March 14, on the road, before it earned a 3-1 win on March 31, at home. Overall, 10 of the previous 12 matchups in the series have ended in one-goal games or draws.

Saturday’s match also marks the third fixture in WVU’s current, four-match road trip.

Last time out, WVU fell to Northern Illinois, 2-0, on Oct. 9, in DeKalb, Illinois. The setback snapped the Mountaineers’ 10-game, season-opening unbeaten streak, good for the longest to begin a year in program history.

West Virginia was placed at No. 21 in this week’s United Soccer Coaches Division I National Poll, marking WVU’s sixth straight top-25 ranking. The squad also sits at No. 11 in the College Soccer News and TopDrawerSoccer polls.

Senior forward Yoran Popovic paces West Virginia with four goals and eight total points this season. What’s more, the Zuidlaren, Netherlands, native has found the back of the net in four of his last six contests.

In goal, fifth-year senior goalkeeper Steven Tekesky enters the weekend ranked No. 7 in the nation in shutouts (6) and No. 11 nationally in goals against average (.459).

Stratford enters Saturday's fixture with a 73-8-10 record as a head coach, including 12-4-5 with the Mountaineers.

Western Michigan is led by ninth-year coach Chad Wiseman, who is 87-49-24 during his time in Kalamazoo. The Broncos have finished .500 or better in nine straight seasons, dating back to 2012.

Last time out, WMU took down Michigan State, 2-0, on Oct. 13, at home. Of note, all four of the Broncos’ wins have come at home this season.

Dylan Sing leads the club with four goals, while Caden Jackman has a team-best three assists.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The term was popularized in another era pertaining to another sport.

This was the mid-1940s and Army's Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were terrorizing collegiate defenses the way the Allies were terrorizing the Nazis overseas.

Sportswriters dubbed coach Red Blaik's stars as Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.

Flash forward a few wars and many decades, switch your attention from football to basketball and from West Point, N.Y., to right here in Morgantown, where Bob Huggins is putting together his 2021-22 team.

Huggins has his own Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside, but he is not using up two roster spots for them because they come packed in the one very large body belonging to redshirt freshman Isaiah Cottrell.

Cottrell stands 6-10 and weighs 242 pounds, although Huggins notes that with his blown-out Afro, he's every bit of 7-2.

But there's a whole lot of little man moves in that big man's body.

He can be powerful in the post, but is equally at home outside the 3-point line pumping up shots from long range, which seems to be a requirement to play on this Mountaineer team.

"All around, I'm trying to show I'm a mismatch," he said. "I can play really anywhere on the floor."

If that sounds boastful, Huggins and Cottrell's teammates assure you it is not.

Fairmont Senior product Jalen Bridges attests to that.

"He can really post up," Bridges said. "He's got a great post game. He has great footwork. He's more agile than a lot of the bigs that we'll play against, so he can really face up, face the basket, maybe jab this way and go the other way and beat the big to the basket and go shoot a post-up or a layup or maybe dunk on somebody."

But what makes him special is the ability to move outside and score, bringing a big man out with him to take him away from the boards and give the guards open lanes in which to drive to the basket or pull up and hit mid-range jump shots.

“He’s shot the ball so well from the perimeter,” Huggins said. “He shot a couple yesterday that didn’t move the net from 3. He has to rebound it better and do some other things, but offensively, he’s really shot the ball well.”

"I was always good inside," he said. "I think the way I naturally play is more outside, finding the open space and trying to make plays from there. I can pretty much do anything on the floor in any spot that I'm at. I've definitely been trying to get a lot better in the post and strength-wise and making plays down there."

What takes this beyond just your ordinary college basketball saga of the big man who can shoots 3s is what Cottrell has gone through the past year to reach this point.

Highly regarded as a freshman last season as 2020 was turning into 2021, Cottrell blew out his Achilles tendon just as Oscar Tshiebwe blew out of town through the transfer portal, ending up at Kentucky.

This, of course, is a serious injury, one that once ended careers or, at best, restricted what a plyer could do athletically throughout his career.

You have this injury and you expect to lose a year, but Cottrell hit the comeback trail immediately.

“It surprisingly only took seven months,” Cottrell said. “I haven’t had any hiccups since. They said it was going to take about eight to twelve (months), but I made it back and I’m here.”

“I thought he’d be really ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down and jumping,” Huggins said. “He hasn’t shown any sign of maybe favoring the other leg or whatever. From the beginning, he’s been ready to go.”

It wasn't an easy road back, rehab never is, he approached it with determination, even as it worked on his mind.

“The uncertainty of coming back and if I’m ever going to be the same or if I’m ever going to play again,” Cottrell said when asked his concerns. “As rehab went through, I started to get a lot better and my mind started getting better.”

And so did his game.

While he couldn't do basketball things, he'd sit out behind the 3-point line and work on that 3-point shot.

It certainly helped.

"I think it helped my basketball IQ," he noted. "Watching the game from the bench, hearing what the coaches were saying was important.

Now, he begins picking up where he left off last year when his career was so rudely interrupted.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — When West Virginia takes the wraps off its 2021-22 basketball team Friday night at the Coliseum in the annual Gold-Blue gala, it won't be the typical Bob Huggins-coached group you are used to looking at.

Instead of featuring a monster down low like Sagaba Konate, Oscar Tshiebwe or Derek Culver, you will be treated to a "two-headed monster" — the characterization provided courtesy of guard Sean McNeil, who contributes one of those heads at the guard position and cans shots from the outside.

Led by McNeil and Taz Sherman, two seniors who took an off-season taste of the NBA before returning for another try, this is a new look that will take some getting used to — for the fans and for the opponents, who normally felt they had to win the battle of the boards to beat WVU but are now going to have to spend their energy guarding outside the 3-point line.

Or further out.

How much further?

Well, McNeil was asked about his shooting range Thursday and offered up this assesment:

"Anywhere across halfcourt. Almost Pittsburgh."

McNeil and Sherman are the poster boys of this year's team, just as Deuce McBride and Derek Culver were for last year's team, but the emphasis has changed dramatically as Huggins has gathered together a group that can put five players on the floor who can shoot from the outside — and that includes big men.

Big man Gabe Osabouien has been seen shooting the ball with an improved stroke, with Huggins admitting that the first time he saw it, he was "shocked."

But with Jalen Bridges and Isaiah Cottrell, two accomplished big men who can shoot outside, every game is liable to turn into more of one of WVU's rifle matches than the hand-to-hand combat Huggins used to promote.

Obviously, this is a different group, and one that has to earn respect, being picked on Thursday to finish tied for fifth place with Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Coaches preseason poll. Kansas is expected to return to the top of the league.

"Yes and no," McNeil said when asked if the team had to regain the league's respect. "Deuce was Deuce and did a lot of stuff for us. It was a big loss. Obviously, we would lose a little bit of respect, but we're still respected. This program will always have a respect no matter who is here, who leaves ... but we definitely have things to prove this year."

If the shooters shoot as Huggins expects them to, they could be a strong dark-horse candidate to stun in the Big 12.

But Huggins has some decisions to make, not the least of which whether he plays McNeil and Sherman together at the same time, something he didn't do often last year when he had McBride at the point.

"It's nice to have a two-headed monster," McNeil admitted. "We never got to experience being on the court together too much last year. Now he gets to play with each other. It's nice. We complement each other well."

Huggins has other concerns, though, too.

"The hard thing is having both off the floor and keeping them out of foul trouble. That's my biggest fear," Huggins said. "You'd kind of like to have one of them come in off the bench and make shots for you, but they both obviously deserve to start."

And that's the way Huggins will wind up going.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The 2021-22 Mountaineer men’s basketball team will roll out the carpet at the WVU Coliseum at 7 p.m. Friday for the Gold/Blue Debut.

The public is welcome, and admission is free. An officiated scrimmage will highlight the evening. There will also be an introductory speech by coach Bob Huggins, and the activities will conclude with an autograph session on the Coliseum floor. Everyone entering the Coliseum or seeking autographs must wear a mask.

The Gold/Blue Debut is the first opportunity the public will have to see this year’s squad.

The guy who has seen this team a great deal the past couple months is its head coach, and Huggins, always a tough critic, likes some of what he’s seen but also is quick to point out concerns.

“We just don’t have veteran guys that have played a lot of minutes coming back,” explained Huggins, whose team was 19-10 last season. “Taz (Sherman) didn’t play that many minutes until the end (of the 2020-21 season). Sean (McNeil) didn’t either, and those are pretty much our most experienced guys. That’s a whole lot different than having Deuce (McBride) back and Derek (Culver) back, or before having J.C. (Jevon Carter) and Dax (Miles) back. There are a lot of unknowns.”

One of the knowns for West Virginia would seem to be its ability to shoot from the perimeter.

Sherman (47 of 131 from 3-point range last year for 35.9%) and McNeil (69 of 178, 38.8%) were two of the top 3-point shooters in the Big 12 last year, and Jalen Bridges (27 of 66, 40.9%) also was a threat from beyond the arc. Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman who missed all but 10 games last year after suffering a torn Achilles, is expected to step outside and knock down shots as well.

“I was really surprised this summer,” Huggins said of Cottrell’s relatively quick return from a serious injury. “I thought this summer he would be ginger with it, but he was out there running up and down, playing, running and jumping. He has not shown any sign of favoring it.

“He’s shot the ball well from the perimeter,” Huggins added. “He shot a couple yesterday that didn’t move the net from three. He’s got to rebound it better and do some of those things, but he’s really shot the ball well.

“With Isaiah’s ability to go out there and make shots, it’s really going to spread defenses.”

West Virginia’s offensive output was second in the Big 12 last season, averaging 77.3 points per game, though its defense was an un-Huggins-like eighth (72.0). The coach still has worries about his team’s ability to defend.

“We suck; we don’t guard very well,” said WVU’s straight-shooting veteran coach. “We’re putting a lot of time in to do a better job of guarding the ball and doing a better job of guarding without fouling. But we don’t make rotations the way we need to. We have a tendency to stand and watch rather than moving. It has to be so reactive, and we’re not doing that.”

Right now Huggins sees a team with offensive strengths but also defensive questions.

“I think it’s fair to say they can make up for bad defense in how they shoot the ball,” acknowledged the coach.

The departure of McBride to the NBA has left West Virginia without an experienced point guard.

Kedrian Johnson, a former third-team junior college All-American who is in his second season at WVU, and Malik Curry, a graduate transfer from Old Dominion, have been competing to replace McBride in the Mountaineers’ starting lineup, though freshman Kobe Johnson also is in the mix.

“Kedrian has played well. He’s shot the ball better than what he shot it a year ago, and his ball security is a lot better,” noted Huggins, who holds a career head coaching record of 900-381. “Kobe’s ball security might be the best of all of them. He’s a freshman, but when you play at Canton McKinley (High School, Kobe’s alma mater in Ohio), you play pretty good competition.

“Malik just had his molars pulled,” said Huggins of Curry, who has missed practice time recently because of the dental procedure. “He and Kedrian were going at it pretty good earlier, but then he had problems with the molars. I don’t know how much longer (he’ll be out). It used to make me mad when they didn’t practice, but we have 15 guys, so I don’t know what to do with them all anyway.”

Besides Curry, a second Mountaineer currently sidelined is freshman James Okonkwo, who is dealing with a foot injury.

“In the beginning, they said five to six weeks for it to heal,” Huggins explained on the predicted rehab time for the 6-foot-8 forward. “The way he was playing before he got hurt, he was going to play (this season). He’s quicker off the floor than our other guys.

“The plan all along had been to redshirt him. That’s what his dad wants, and that was his mindset going in. He shocked me, because he was a lot better than I saw on film.”

With Okonkwo’s injury, it seems likely WVU will revert to the original plan and redshirt the Maidenhead, England, native.

Following Friday’s Gold/Blue Debut, the next time the Mountaineers will have a chance to perform in public will be Friday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. when they host Akron in a charity exhibition game.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Multiple sources have refuted an online report that West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown lied to the media Tuesday when he said that defensive back Kerry Martin Jr. was sick.

Martin Jr., entered the transfer portal Wednesday morning, which was after Brown’s Tuesday press conference with the media. The online report quoted former Tennessee and WVU defensive lineman Darel Middleton as saying, “Don’t believe this stuff about Kerry being sick. He’s in the transfer portal with me.”

The report went on to say that Brown “flat-out lied,” which the sources strongly disagree with. They indicated that Brown did not know Martin Jr. was going to enter the portal when Brown met with the media at noon Tuesday.

Martin Jr., according to the sources, practiced last Monday and then reported in as sick Tuesday through Friday of last week and did not practice on those days. He did not travel with the team to Waco, Texas, for its game against Baylor this past Saturday.

Middleton, for his part, also entered the portal on Wednesday morning. In a social media statement, he indicated he had no problem with West Virginia or its coaches since transferring from Tennessee this summer. However, the same sources noted that Middleton was late on several occasions during his brief time at WVU and also missed multiple days of practice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Big 12 has announced its 2021-22 men's basketball preseason awards and team as voted by the head coaches. Kansas' Remy Martin was selected Preseason Player of the Year while Texas' Marcus Carr picked up Newcomer of the Year and Baylor's Kendall Brown was named Freshman of the Year.

Martin and Carr were joined on the Preseason All-Big 12 Team by Baylor's Matthew Mayer, Kansas' Ochai Agbaji and David McCormack, along with Texas Tech's Terrence Shannon, Jr. Three of the selections were honored on the 2020-21 All-Big 12 teams as McCormick was a second-team pick while Shannon was on the third team and Agbaji was honorable mention.

Honorable mention spots went to James Akinjo (Baylor), Avery Anderson (Oklahoma State), Moussa Cisse (Oklahoma State), Mike Miles (TCU), Andrew Jones (Texas), Tre Mitchell (Texas) and Taz Sherman (West Virginia).

The Big 12 Preseason Poll will be announced Thursday.

Women's Soccer

NO. 21 WVU WELCOMES NO. 11 TCU TO MORGANTOWN: Thursday’s match marks the 14th meeting all-time between West Virginia (8-3-2) and TCU (11-2-1), as the Mountaineers hold a 9-2-2 lead in the series.

In last season’s contest, TCU beat WVU, 1-0, on Nov. 6, to clinch the Big 12 regular-season title. West Virginia has scored multiple goals in nine of 14 contests, including five consecutive multiple-goal matches from 2014-17.

Additionally, WVU has never lost to TCU in Morgantown, holding a 4-0 advantage all-time.

“We’re excited to get back home this week to face a very good TCU team,” WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “They have it all, and they’re not lacking in any department. We will have our hands full on Thursday, that’s for sure. It’s going to be a great match, and we’re excited for it.”

Traveling to Lawrence, Kan., on Oct. 10, for its second contest of a two-match road swing, WVU fell, 2-1, in double overtime at Kansas. For the second straight contest, WVU was on the board early, but allowed an opposing tally just minutes later. Senior forward Lauren Segalla netted her sixth goal of the season in the seventh minute, but Kansas added a score of its own in the 14th.

In the remainder of the match, neither team managed to find the back of the net, sending it to overtime. The game remained tied until the 110th minute, when the Jayhawks tallied the go-ahead and game-winning score. Despite the loss, West Virginia once again held distinct advantages in shots (18-7) and corner kicks (8-1), while the squad narrowly edged KU in shots on goal (5-4).

TCU is coming off a 3-0 victory over Oklahoma State on Oct. 10. Junior forward Grace Collins leads the Horned Frogs’ offense in goals (8), assists (7) and points (23), while senior Messiah Bright leads the team with 55 shots on the year. Sophomore Lauren Kellett leads the team in goal, starting all 14 matches with 53 saves and a 0.53 goals-against average.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University’s rifle team is off to a hot start in the first half of the 2021-22 season, having posted three of the top four aggregate scores in the nation in the early going of the season on the way to a 3-0 record.

The Mountaineers posted a 4733 score in a win over Mississippi on Oct. 2 and backed that up with a 4725 showing against Murray State the next day. WVU was a bit off that pace a week later, but still fired a very good 4718 score in downing Memphis at home last Saturday.

Rifle, head coach Jon Hammond notes, is different from most other sports in that there is no defense played and no control exerted over one’s opponent. (In that regard, it’s most similar to golf.) Therefore, the scores posted by each team are self-contained and form the basis of polls and selection for the NCAA Championships. By way of comparison, Kentucky took last year’s NCAA title with a score of 4731, with TCU finishing second at 4722. The Mountaineers were fourth at 4704.

Defending national champion Kentucky, along with Mississippi and TCU, were all expected to be at the top of the NCAA rankings this year, and there’s nothing to suggest they won’t be there again. The Horned Frogs own the third- and fifth-best aggregate scores of the young season, and Ole Miss also has two aggregate team scores in the Top 10. (Kentucky did not field either of its Olympic medalists in its single match to date, and still put up a score of 4680.)

The Mountaineers, though, have been a bit stronger than expected, with solid scores up and down the five-member counting squads in both smallbore and air rifle. Sophomore Tal Engler has been the leader so far, setting career highs in both smallbore (591) and air rifle (598) this fall. She has topped the 1180 aggregate mark in all three of her matches to date.

Malori Brown, Jared Eddy, Akihito Shimizu, Verena Zaisberger and Calista Smoyer have joined as regular counters to help propel West Virginia to early-season success, but without question far more difficult challenges await. The Mountaineers still have dual matches remaining with TCU and Kentucky, along with N.C. State this Saturday on the road in Raleigh, North Carolina. It will be vital for WVU to continue to post solid scores from all five team members to have a chance at postseason titles.

Another bit of good news about WVU’s early-season high scores is that they give the Mountaineers a great base for making the NCAA Championships again. Selections for that event are based on a combination of the scores shot in a qualifying match at the end of the season and a team’s three highest scores at three different venues. WVU, with three scores well north of 4700, are in good shape to build an excellent qualifying score. The Mountaineers are scheduled for their NCAA Qualifier at their home range, competing alongside VMI and North Georgia, on Feb. 19.

The Mountaineers won five consecutive national titles from 2013-17, but Kentucky (2018, 2021) and TCU (2019) have won the last three. The 2020 Championship was canceled due to Covid.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Two Mountaineer football players announced via Twitter on Wednesday that they are entering the transfer portal with the intent of leaving WVU and moving to another school.

Sophomore safety K.J. Martin and senior defensive lineman Darel Middleton each made Twitter statements about their impending transfer.

“Giving thanks to all those that I was fortunate to cross paths with, my brothers, coaches, support staff, and those who has (sic) believed in me to this point,” tweeted Martin, a native of Charleston. “I will never forgot (sic) the bonds we created, the lessons learned or the adversities experienced. With that said I have decided it’s in my best interest to enter the NCAA transfer portal. I’m looking forward to new opportunities. And ready to compete and get back to doing what I love.”

A Capital High graduate, Martin enrolled at WVU in January 2019 and earned playing time that fall as a true freshman at safety. He played in all 12 games for the Mountaineers in ‘19, starting four late in the season. He had a total of 50 tackles and five pass breakups that year. Martin opted out of the 2020 season but regained a spot as a backup at cat safety behind Sean Mahone this past spring. Martin’s playing time for the first half of the 2021 season was mainly limited to special teams action, though. He did not make the trips to Oklahoma or Baylor but saw snaps in WVU’s other four games. He was credited with three tackles.

Middleton transferred from Tennessee to West Virginia this past summer with the hope of gaining a regular role in the Mountaineers’ defensive front. That hope hadn’t yet emerged for the 6-foot-7, 305-pound native of Knoxville, Tennessee, though, as he saw action in just three games this year, recording two tackles.

Now his time at WVU is over.

“Many of you will be shocked, and the ones who (sic) not, are probably the ones waiting for some flames to go up to add more gasoline,” read Middleton’s tweet. “I feel as if I am loyal to the ones I love, trust, or feel have my best interest at heart. I have battled with a lot of things many DON’T know about: mentally, physically and emotionally. It’s been hard leaving my family, friends, community, home, and long-time brothers that can never be replaced. I am not asking for sympathy or forgiveness. I entered the transfer portal due to lack of maturity, accountability, and uncertainty. When I transferred to West Virginia, I thought it was the best move. I thought it was the best opportunity in a small window of time I have to land a position and be on the field in the fall. Things have been great here at West Virginia, but due to unforeseen circumstances, they couldn’t find a permanent role for me. I am disappointed, but I have the utmost respect for the people at West Virginia. I WANT TO THANK Coach Neal and his staff for giving me the opportunity. I Want to Thank Coach Mike Joseph because you made me realize what I’ve been doing. You are an amazing man in general and the best Strength Coach I’ve been involved with. I ALSO WANT TO THANK the academic staff, the fans, the community for welcoming me with open arms. Lastly, thank you to my brothers for welcoming me with open arms as well (GreenyGang ForEver!)

“I have a year left of eligibility, graduation date is the end of spring semester ’22,” continued Middleton’s tweet. “I will be opting out the rest of the season, and I will be focusing on graduating and working on my physical and mental health. While that is going on and in preparation of graduation, I will begin the process of finding a home for the remaining of my eligibility and pursuit of my graduate program – D99 Out”

At his weekly press conference Tuesday, WVU head coach Neal Brown had indicated Middleton was leaving the program, though he said at the time that Martin’s absence at Baylor was due to an illness.

“Middleton, I would say at this point is no longer with us,” said Brown. “Kerry was sick. He practiced Monday last week but didn’t practice anytime after that.”

Neither Middleton nor Martin are now listed on WVU’s official online roster. Middleton will have one season of college eligibility remaining, while Martin will have three.

Two other former Mountaineer scholarship players also are transferring out, a WVU representative confirmed. Linebacker James Thomas and bandit Eddie Watkins also have each recently been removed from West Virginia’s roster.

A native of Evergreen, Alabama, Watkins arrived at WVU in the summer of 2020 but did not see any game action last fall. He played in two contests this season (LIU and VT) and was credited with one tackle.

Thomas also was a member of West Virginia’s recruiting class of 2020. The Baconton, Georgia, native played in four games as a true freshman, though he did not record a tackle. He had not seen any game action this year, and now he will look to find playing time at another college.

Both Thomas and Watkins will have four years of college eligibility remaining.

Martin, Middleton, Thomas and Watkins are the first four Mountaineer scholarship players to leave the football program since the 2021 season began. Last year, WVU saw 16 scholarship football players enter the transfer portal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — With an open date on the West Virginia football schedule this coming Saturday, Mountaineer coach Neal Brown said this is a good time for his 2-4 squad to “reflect, repair and readjust.”

Having dropped to 0-3 in the Big 12 Conference, the latest loss being a 45-20 blowout at Baylor, WVU’s coach admitted during his weekly press conference on Tuesday that changes need to be made to bring future success, but he also wasn’t about to alter his core beliefs.

“There are some things I believe are non-negotiable from a program standpoint and a schematic principle standpoint in each phase of the game. We’re not getting off that,” stated WVU’s third-year head coach. “I’m not sitting here hitting the panic button. I haven’t lost belief in our players, and I haven’t lost belief in our staff.

* * * * * *

West Virginia will spend the open week concentrating on self-improvement before it heads back to Texas for an Oct. 23 meeting with TCU at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.

“I think the bye week comes at a good time,” Brown noted on Tuesday. “Physically we’re beat up, and emotionally we’re spent. We gave (the players) Sunday and Monday off. This afternoon will be the first time I’ve seen the team (since Saturday). I met with the staff this morning; we were out recruiting yesterday. Everybody in this building is frustrated. Nobody likes losing; that’s obvious.

“We’re inconsistent,” he added. “We do some things well, and then out of the blue, the same thing we did well, two plays later we’ll make a mistake on it. That part of it is very frustrating.”

* * * * * *

Brown was asked Tuesday about players who normally have seen action but did not make the trip to Baylor Saturday.

He said on Saturday after the game that safety Scottie Young was dealing with a health issue.

Defensive lineman Darel Middleton and safety K.J. Martin also were absent in Waco, and Brown addressed both situations at his weekly press conference Tuesday.

“Middleton, I would say at this point, is no longer with us,” said Brown, indicating the transfer from Tennessee has left the WVU squad. “Kerry was sick. He practiced Monday last week but didn’t practice anytime after that.”

With two weeks before WVU’s next game, the hope is that both Young and Martin will be available for West Virginia’s contest at TCU.

* * * * * *

With the 2021 season now at its midpoint, the Mountaineers’ head coach admits that there have been obvious problems, but he stated he’s not ready to fold.

“I know our fans are frustrated,” Brown said. “This is the way I think about it, right or wrong, but we’re the entertainment business — that’s what we are — and when the product is not good, the people have an opportunity to complain. That’s probably what they’re doing, and I don’t blame them. It’s no different than when you go to a restaurant and the food is not good, or if you go to a movie and it’s not good, or however you get your entertainment, when the product is not good, you get complaints. But it’s not entertainment for us, the people in this building each and every day. It’s our job to get it fixed. You can’t be reactionary. I think that’s the world we live in; everything wants to be reactionary now. Well, can’t actually be that once you’re in it. You have to find ways to fix it.

“We have to use this bye week to not only reflect on what’s been good and bad, and I think you do it from each phase of the game,” he explained. “You repair what you can fix. That’s a big piece of it. You have to repair what you can repair. Then the last thing is you have to readjust the plan moving forward. That’s where we’re at — reflect, repair and readjust.

“We have a lot of football left. We have half a season left. Everything is doom and gloom right now, but I don’t think you approach it like that. From where I’m sitting, and when I sit in front of the team here at 2:45 this afternoon, I’m not going to be miserable. I think right now is the time to lead. It’s easy to lead when things are going well. It’s hard to lead when things are going poorly, and our performance on Saturday was poor. Right now is when we need leadership, not only from myself but also from our assistant coaches and the leaders we have on our team.

“I think now is the time you lock in and focus on your people,” Brown concluded. “We’ve got to pour into our people and meet it head-on. It is what it is. We had a bad performance. I don’t think you avoid it. You meet it head-on, and we go about your work. It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s doable. We’ve played better football, and we will play better football.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Neal Brown wasted little time getting right to the point as he opened his weekly media session on Tuesday of a much-needed bye week, coming in the midst of a three-game losing streak that included a pair of gut-wrenching defeats followed by a total collapse at Baylor.

“This is not a funeral,” he said as an attention-getter. “Let’s cut the ice with that.”

While there had been numerous obituaries written, mostly on social media, Brown clearly wanted to pick up where he left off on Monday during the Big 12 Coaches Conference call when, without prompting from the media, he offered up this observation of the Mountaineers’ current situation, which is not only that three-game losing streak but a 2-4 overall record and last place in the conference at 0-3.

“Throughout our careers as a staff and my career as a head coach, we’ve had to overcome adversity — this is no different,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul. There’s probably not any quick fixes, but we’ll play better as we maneuver through it. We knew this was going to take some time and go through some rough patches, but we’re disappointed, not discouraged. I believe in our long-term future.”

That was strong stuff, and it cried out to be expanded upon, which he was willing to do when it was brought up on Tuesday. He stressed that he believed in the path he and his staff were following and said he wasn’t going to change the basics either of his approach or his system.

“I knew this wasn’t going to be quick,” he said of coming in and replacing Dana Holgorsen. “Now, did I think we’d win some games in the fourth quarter? Yeah. Did I think we’d be 2-4 right now? No.”

But, on the other end of that spectrum, he had no false beliefs that it would be easy.

“Did I think we were going to be 6-0? Probably not, either,” Brown said.

The truth was, Brown knew his football team was not of championship caliber two-and-a-half years into his tenure, especially with all the turmoil that comes with COVID, the transfer portal and the uncertainty surrounding the conference itself.

“I did feel like we’d play better and be able to close out some of these games that we simply have not. I knew this was going to be a process,” he admitted.

There have been ups and downs, ins and outs. Two steps forward, one back and sometimes vice versa.

“Let me give you an example defensively,” he went on. “Tony Fields was a difference maker for us last year. He erased some of our issues. Josh Chandler is now playing really good football, but he’s not an eraser with his speed that Tony Fields was.”

It is things like that which contribute to what is happening.

“Did I think we’d be sitting here with a better record than 2-4? Absolutely. Did I think we would arrive in Year 3 and be at the top of the league? No.”

In other words, they are disappointing but hardly a lost cause.

Neal Brown says he, his staff and his players are not giving up.

“Do I believe with all my heart we’ll get [to the top of the league]? Absolutely, I do.” he said.

He stresses that he doesn’t believe he should be reactive to what is going on with his team and around it.

“There’s things that are non-negotiable that we believe in from a program standpoint and from a schematic principle from each phase of the game. We’re not getting off that. We’re not sitting here hitting the panic button. I’m not freaking out. I haven’t lost belief in our players. I haven’t lost belief in our staff.

“What we do have to do is reflect on where we made mistakes. The positives, how do we continue to build on them and what needs to be fixed? Or maybe more importantly, how do we hide what our deficiencies are better? I think what everybody wants to know is where do we readjust, because you can’t do the same things if they are not working.

“That’s what the process of this off week is all about. How do we diminish our deficiencies. Are there some young guys that give us a better opportunity? But the basics and the tenets of our program are not changing.”

Monday, October 11, 2021

West Virginia coach Neal Brown has been through tough stretches before. At Troy, in his first year leading the program in 2015, the Trojans got off to a 1-5 start, and won just three more games the remainder of the season — none consecutively — to finish 4-8.

Brown then executed a massive turnaround, winning 31 games over the next three seasons, which positioned him for his hiring at West Virginia in 2019, where he now faces something of a similar situation, in that his team is 2-4 overall with three consecutive losses.

The difference, of course, is that this rough stretch comes in his third season in charge at WVU — a dip that has a number of observers restless, to say the least.

And while Brown might be able to draw some comfort from the fact that he has built programs and gotten them out of situations like this, he notes that there is not a cookie-cutter approach that works all the time that can be simply reheated and served again.

“Each situation is different, and you approach them all differently,” Brown said on Monday. “We have to reassess and readjust. Last week was our worst performance to go along with the first half against Texas Tech, and some of that had to do with Baylor. We were not very good in any of the three phases (of play).

“We have had to overcome adversity, all of us in our coaching careers.” West Virginia’s third-year coach said of the experience of both himself and his staff in clawing out of downward arcs and losing streaks. “We are in this for the long haul. We knew this would take some time. We are disappointed but not discouraged. The bye week comes at a good time. We are out recruiting today and putting together our plan for moving forward.”

Without question, the Bears were sharp, with their stars performing well. WVU did not get the same level of play from its leaders.

“Offensively (quarterback Gerry) Bohanon played extremely efficient, and schematically they did a good job getting into one on ones,” Brown said of what sparked the Bears to 525 yards of offense “They did as good a job as anybody in two years of blocking us. (Jalen) Petrie is in discussion of being best defensive player in our league, and I thought they did a nice job of matching up with us.”

On his side, Brown had emphasized the need to get off to a good start, or at least a more enthusiastic one, after the lifeless showing in the first 30 minutes against Texas Tech. Outside a couple of defensive plays and one drive, that didn’t happen.

“We have a tackle for no gain on first down [on a perimeter run] then we align incorrectly and miss two tackles on the next play and they take it the distance. I don’t know if you can say what went wrong there. On offense we came back and scored on the first drive, but it’s fair to say they started faster than we did, especially their offense vs. our defense.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — What happened to West Virginia Saturday as it was slapped around mercilessly by Baylor on Saturday afternoon by a 45-20 score?

Well, I’m going to lay it on the line for you right now, and the choice of words there is intentional.

To sum up this game — and certainly Baylor dominated every statistic except most miles traveled to get to the stadium — Baylor’s offensive line was overpowering and West Virginia’s offensive line was underpowering.

Put another way, Baylor’s offensive line allowed it to do whatever it wanted offensively and West Virginia’s offensive line allowed Baylor to do whatever it wanted defensively.

How good was the Baylor front?

“They did as good a job as anyone we have played in two years of blocking us,” WVU coach Neal Brown said.

PFF, which is a grading service, put it this way in naming Baylor the offensive line of the week for the third time this season:

The Bears are significantly helped by a Jeff Grimes scheme that really limits their true pass set opportunities, but allowing zero pressures and losing only three reps combined on 31 pass-block snaps is still quite impressive. They made an even larger impact in the run game, too: The running back room saw 4.5 yards before contact per attempt on average, which was one of the five highest marks among Power Five offenses in Week 6.

And they didn’t do this against a bunch of chumps on the WVU defensive front. In fact, WVU considered its defensive line the best unit on the team, yet.

The Mountaineer notes told this story heading into the Baylor game:

“The Mountaineer defense has registered 7 sacks this season, averaging 3.4 per game. That number is No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 12 nationally.”

Then they played the game and WVU not only did not get a sack on Gerry Bohanon, it did not get a hurry.

Meanwhile, the Baylor defensive front was pouring through the WVU offensive line like water coming through a strainer ... except it didn’t look there was anyone straining on the offensive line as there were six sacks and any number of scary scrambles to get the ball off for Jarret Doege.

When I asked Brown about the play of his offensive line on Saturday, his answer reminded me of one of former USC and Tampa Bay coach John McKay’s anwers when asked about shoddy play by his special teams.

“I’m sick and tired of people booing me. I wish they’d boo the people who can’t block.”

Considering the reaction of the fans following the Baylor loss it fit all too well, especially since McKay was a native West Virginian.

Brown did not skirt the issue.

“We’re not doing very well,” Brown said. “We’re not playing very well up there. You go through and watch that game from the coaches’ copy, there’s a couple of plays where we do the correct footwork and do our job, but also we’ll have plays where we completely don’t do the right thing.”

Brown, however, wasn’t going to just lay it the front line, especially when it came to the pass protection, noting that the backup RBs — not counting Leddie Brown, who actually has become Doege’s guardian angel back there — missed two blocks that led to two sacks and also identified the wrong pass rusher on a couple of occassions.

“In the running game, we’re just not doing a very good job of creating space,” he added, coach-speak for the blockers allowing defenders to do pretty much as they please.

Making fixes won’t be easy, either.

“We are limited in functional bodies,” Brown said. “It’s not going to be a function of playing of different people because the ones we played are the ones capable of playing at this point.

“We’ve been been here three years and done some things with the younger players, given them the opportunity, and I’ve been saying this from the get-go ... I said it in the spring, we’re probably a year away from where we feel decent about it.”

WACO, Texas — It’s time.

West Virginia’s meltdown against Baylor could trigger a number of changes, or at least a thorough review, of the entire Mountaineer football program during its open date week, but there’s one change that needs to be made. Garrett Greene should get the start against TCU, and should get to play the entire game, barring an epic collapse of the sort that most of the team suffered against the Bears, to see what he can do.

This course of action is not made lightly. Quarterbacks get more of the credit and more of the blame for wins and losses than anyone other than the head coach, and calls for replacement are as common as advertisements for betting services. This also shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of what Jarret Doege has done, or hasn’t done, in his time as the starter. WVU coach Neal Brown is correct in noting that Doege has done a number of good things, and that West Virginia has many more problems than some off-target passes.

“We’ve got a lot of issues to fix,” he stated simply and truthfully after the Baylor debacle.

Sometimes, though, a change is needed just to proide a spark, to shake things up. There’s no guarantee that giving Greene a full-blown chance will produce that, but it’s also undeniable that when he’s in the game, and especially when he’s running the ball, there a bit more zip, a bit more electricity in the Mountaineer attack.

Again, there’s no guarantee of success with this move. It might make West Virginia’s offense even more one-dimensional. And it is definitely not a panacea for all that ails the Mountaineers. But after six weeks of limited offensive success, it may be one of the few moves left to make. And if, as Brown also said, “Everything is on the table,” then personnel changes, even at this most critical of positions, have to be considered.

Lack of effort was noticeable on a number of snaps for WVU in Waco, particularly in the open field where the view is uncrowded. Some defenders gave up on pursuit or were noticeably slower on some snaps. Wide receivers weren’t paragons either, as three or four half-hearted attempts at catches stood out. If, as Dante Stills, Winston Wright and Sam James said after the game, that the players will have to rededicate themselves through practice and hard work during the next 12 days before the TCU game, it’s fair to wonder if that message is being received, and more importantly, taken to heart, but the majority of team members.

West Virginia’s offensive line performance has at best flatlined, and at worst deteriorated some, over the past couple of games. Some of that can be attributed to execution, but against Baylor communication seemed to be lacking. On multiple snaps, WVU would have more than one pass protector on one Bear, while another had an open path into the backfield.

Of course, there are times when double teams are assigned, or a lineman without a rusher over him can move to assist elsewhere. That wasn’t the case on a number of these plays, though, and as a result, the Bears picked up six sacks on the afternoon. It wasn’t all on the offensive line either – a couple of missed assignments/pickups by running backs also contributed.

All of this played into the lack of consistency that reached a peak on the sunny hot, afternoon.

“I don’t know if there was a time we blocked them for two plays in a row,” Brown noted.

That obviously makes it difficult to string plays together for lengthy drives, which is about the only way the Mountaineers have managed to score this year.

WVU also continued to show a lack of mental discipline in the game, and it went way beyond another first down timeout when the team was starting a drive. Brown clearly was blaming officials for starting the play clock early on this one, so we’ll leave that for The Film Room, but a number of other errors were apparent.

Chief among those were continued illegal procedure and offside calls, which, while only five yards apiece, often served as important sequences in extending Baylor drives or putting the Mountaineers behind the chains.

Even more embarrassing? WVU set up its punt protection shield on one play some 2-3 yards off-line, forcing punter Tyler Sumpter to wave them over into their correct position. Those sorts of plays aren’t devastating in the long run, but they do show where concentration and mental discipline reside at the moment, and it’s not in a good place.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Buckhannon-Upshur boys soccer fought to a 0-0 draw with University on Saturday afternoon in Buckhannon. Both teams had several shots on goal, but B-U’s Dalton Auvil and University’s Connor Montgomery were rock solid in goal with seven and eight saves, respectively.

“Today was a great match with what’s been building into a great respectful rivalry over the best few years,” Buccaneer coach Mike Donato wrote in an email. “Since we’ve been in the same sectional we’ve always had great and entertaining games. Coach Smith has a young and scrappy team and came out and tested us right from the start.”

The Bucs will play their regular season finale at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday against Elkins. The Hawks have two games remaining, beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Bridgeport.

“I told our guys after this game that we’ve really started to play great soccer of the past two games and we can start piecing things together in our final game we should be ready to make a good playoff push,” Donato wrote.

No. 4 WVU Suffers First Setback at NIU

The No. 4-ranked West Virginia University men’s soccer team fell to Northern Illinois, 2-0, on Saturday afternoon at the NIU Soccer Complex in DeKalb, Illinois.

The Mountaineers conceded a 35th-minute goal before the Huskies added a second in the final minutes of the fixture, handing WVU its first loss of the 2021 campaign. It marked the club’s first setback since April 7 at Akron.

WVU Concludes Road Stand at Kansas

The No.9-ranked West Virginia University women’s soccer team concludes its two-game road swing through the Sunflower State with a match at Kansas on Sunday. Kickoff at KU’s Rock Chalk Park is tabbed for 2 p.m.

Sunday’s match will be streamed live on Big 12 Now on ESPN+, with live stats at WVUsports.com.

WACO, TEXAS — West Virginia’s offense has struggled through most of the two and a half seasons Neal Brown has served as the Mountaineers’ head coach.

WVU is averaging 22.8 points per game against FBS opponents so far this season, and it hasn’t exceeded 27 points against any of them.

Typically, though, West Virginia’s defense has been able to step up and at least keep the Mountaineers close, as their three previous losses this year had come by six points to Maryland (30-24), three of Oklahoma (16-13) and three of Texas Tech (23-20).

But Saturday at Baylor, even WVU’s defense collapsed in a 45-20 beatdown at the hands of the Bears.

West Virginia gave up six plays of at least 20 yards, including a 78-yard catch-and-run on the second play of the game for a quick BU scoring strike. Things didn’t really get any better for WVU after that, as the Bears had receptions of 44 yards, 22 yards and 58 yards to build a 28-7 lead before the game was 21 minutes old. They never looked back from there.

“It definitely surprised me,” admitted WVU defensive tackle Dante Stills of the Mountaineers’ defensive struggles at Baylor. “That’s two weeks in a row (after trailing Texas Tech last Saturday, 17-0, at halftime) we did not come to play right away. That hurts us.”

BU expanded its lead to 28-10 by halftime and it kept going from there, recording the 25-point victory.

“If a team gets up 25, 28 points by the half, it’s very hard to come back,” acknowledged Stills, who had two tackles, including one for a loss Saturday in Waco. “That’s the second week in a row it’s happened. We have a bye week coming up now, so we have to rest our bodies, watch film and just get better.

“It happened so fast. We were down 28-7 quickly,” added Stills. “We have to move past the last bad play and worry about the next drive. We had emotions going through our head, and it caused us to be all out of whack.”

The Bears gained 525 total yards on WVU, including 354 through the air. BU quarterback Gerry Bohanon had 336 of those passing yards as he connected on 18 of 29 throws. Eight of those completions went to Tyquan Thornton, who finished the afternoon with 187 yards and two TDs.

“We got exposed a little bit,” said WVU coach Neal Brown. “Defensively we’ve struggled with coverage."

This was the best game of the season both for Bohanon, whose previous high was 269 passing yards, and Thornton, who had a 2021 best of 103 yards against Texas Southern but no more than 52 yards against BU’s other previous five opponents.

“We knew they were going to take shots on us early to try to get a big lead. Coming into this game, they had been mainly run,” said Stills of a Bear offense that averaged 209.8 rushing yards and 238.2 passing yards per game previously this season.

It had 171 rushing yards against WVU, 75 of them in the first half, to go along with the 354 passing yards.

“They are a big, heavy run team,” noted Stills. “I thought we did a decent job against that, though obviously not the best. But the pass game is where we really struggled today. We didn’t get to the quarterback much, and we had trouble defending.”

WVU’s defense never generated any real pressure on Bohanon and didn’t record a sack.

“It wasn’t a good enough performance by myself or anyone else,” admitted Stills. “We just didn’t play our game.

“Everybody in the locker room needs to evaluate where they’re at, mentally and physically. We have to come back Tuesday and work. That’s all we can do; come to practice and work.”

With a 2-4 record at the midpoint of the season, West Virginia now gets an off week in which it hopes it can regroup. It doesn’t play again until visiting TCU on Oct. 23.

“We definitely need this bye week,” stated Stills. “We’re hurting, and a lot of people are banged up. We need everybody to be healthy.

“All we need to do is play our game,” concluded the junior defensive lineman from Fairmont. “You see in parts of the game we can do this. If we just play our game, I promise you no one will score on us. Lack of energy and lack of effort has hurt us, though.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It would be easy, on a day when West Virginia's defense gave up 45 points to Baylor in a 45-20 loss, when it gave up 525 total yards, 354 of them through the air, to jump down the defense's throat.

Certainly, the defense would never argue that its performance in this game that dropped WVU to 2-4 at the halfway point of the season was a good one ... but it is going to get a pass based on the fact that the problem with West Virginia football currently is not found on the defensive side of the ball.

The fact of the matter is that the root of the Mountaineers' problems is — and has been since the coaching change from Dana Holgorsen to Neal Brown — an offensive problem.

Do not, however, read that as a bring back Dana plea, for what he left behind is at the root of the problem that has burdened Neal Brown since he walked on campus.

The offense has been, shall we say, offensive.

Or, if you prefer, terrible.

In fact, it has been consistently terrible to the point that it is almost accepted as the norm.

We're not talking just this year. We're talking last year. We're talking, too, the year before that.

For as long as I can remember, WVU's game notes have carried a segment entitled "30 Is Enough."

This week, that segment read this way:

"Since 1980, West Virginia is 203-22-1 when scoring 30 or more points in a game. During the 1990s, West Virginia was 43-4 when scoring 30 or more points in a contest and were 40-2-1 in the ‘80s when reaching that mark. WVU is 122-18 since 2000 when scoring 30 points or more in a contest."

Sounds like the tradition is that the Mountaineers will have a pretty good year if they can consistently score 30 points in a game, which isn't as much to ask as you may think. Just four touchdowns and a field goal.

Well, facing major competition under Neal Brown over the past 21 games, WVU has scored 30 or more points — DRUM ROLL, PLEASE — twice. That's five games this year, nine last year and the final seven games of 2019.

That's right, in 19 of those 21 games, the Mountaineers were held to fewer than 30 points. In fact, only in victories over Kansas and Kansas State did they top 30 points.

It's been more common to score in the teens, having scored 17 or fewer in nine of those games.

That is an anemic offense no matter how you want to look at it.

There was a time when a 1,000-yard rusher was as common in West Virginia as coal miners.

No more. Leddie Brown got there last season, but halfway through this season he has but 422, despite the fact that he has no real backup to take carries from him.

Without a running threat, you need a special quarterback and special receivers to make an offense potent. But Holgorsen left Brown neither, so that's been paddling upstream without a paddle.

Most of all, though, to make an offense work you need a hard-blocking, working in unison, mistake-free offensive line ... and as Baylor showed on Saturday, WVU doesn't have that.

If Neal Brown had one major complaint, it was that they blocked no one.

"We didn't block them, in particular our right side," he said. "It didn't matter, run or pass. If you are going to lose one-on-one battles over and over again, it's going to be hard to do anything."

This wasn't just every so often. It was always.

"I don't know if there was a time we blocked them for two plays in a row," he said.

Part of the problem was that freshman Wyatt Milum was out with an injury.

"Wyatt was hurt and did not play. He wasn't 100%, and it wouldn't be fair to put him out there in that position," Brown said. "If you do, you lose a player's confidence, and I wasn't going to do that with him. He was probably 75-80%. He would have helped us, but that's not fair to him.

"It's a long-term deal. He's going to start on this offensive line for a long time, and it wouldn't have been fair to him."

Would it have made much of a difference? Probably not, because nothing much has made much of a difference.

Brown recently said he believes the route to success at WVU is on defense, and he's probably right. But with a bye week up next, it's time that he take his offense apart and piece it back together to fit the parts he has on hand, or it's just going to be more of the same over and over.

WACO, TEXAS — The Mountaineers were mauled by Baylor on Saturday, getting blown out 45-20 at McLane Stadium.

With the loss, West Virginia fell to 2-4 on the season and will now try to regroup during an open week before visiting TCU on Oct. 23. Baylor improved to 5-1 and will host future Big 12 member BYU next Saturday.

Atmosphere: This time, Mother Nature overdid it. After wonderful weather for each of WVU’s first five games this season, morning in Waco broke picture perfect. But the sun kept baking central Texas, and the temperature topped out at an oppressive 91 degrees by game’s end.

Baylor’s McLane Stadium is the smallest facility in the Big 12 (capacity 45,140), but it is also the newest (opening in 2014) and, along with TCU's, arguably the nicest in the league. Sitting on the banks of the Brazos, the setting for McLane is outstanding, but Bear fans usually don’t pack the place, and they never have when West Virginia has come to Waco.

Don’t fully believe the announced attendance of 43,569; BU, like most schools, including WVU, lists attendance as tickets sold and not the actual number through the gates. More than a third of the seats were unoccupied at McLane Stadium on Saturday. Grade: C+

Offense: West Virginia’s offense was far from great, but it actually moved the ball with some success. It posted 362 yards of total offense (272 passing and 90 rushing), but Mountaineer receivers failed to adjust their routes a couple times, and those kept WVU from getting big plays on each. One of those Baylor actually turned into an interception.

On a team that has offensive issues, every missed opportunity has big consequences. West Virginia also badly needs to generate some explosive plays. Against BU, it had only one longer than 25 yards — a 53-yard catch by Sam James. Grade: D+

Defense: Baylor receivers spent most of the first half running by Mountaineer defensive backs like it was a track meet matching Olympians against high schoolers. The Bears scored four touchdowns on their first five possessions, jumping out to a 28-7 lead early in the second quarter as BU quarterback Gerry Bohanon connected on passes of 78, 44, 22 and 58 yards in the first half. That was part of his 12 of 17 performance in the first 30 minutes for 272 passing yards and three touchdowns.

West Virginia’s defense didn’t give up more than 250 passing yards in any game last year, but it allowed BU to exceed that mark in the first half alone Saturday. For the game, the Bears end up with 525 total yards (354 passing and 171 rushing).

Unfortunately for WVU, its poor pass defense has been a problem all season, as all five FBS quarterbacks the Mountaineers have faced in 2021 have thrown for at least 220 yards, and four of them have gone over 255. It’s a bad trend for something that was a strength last year. The only positive for West Virginia’s defense is that after a horrendous start, it did respond and get a few stops afterward. It was way too little, way too late, though. Grade: F

Special teams: West Virginia’s special teams didn’t make any major miscues, other than fair catching a punt at the nine-yard line. But it didn’t create any big plays, either. Baylor’s kicking game didn’t allow WVU’s returners many opportunities, but on a squad that is searching for any type of big play, the Mountaineer special teams need to provide one or two in order for WVU to have a chance.

An onside try in the third quarter came close, but in the end, it too failed to provide West Virginia with the big play it badly needed in Waco. Grade: C

Coaching: The disturbing theme is that for the second straight game, West Virginia fell behind big in the early going. The Mountaineer defense in particular was gashed, apparently blind to the fact that Baylor’s big-play receivers were capable of — hey, guess what — big plays. WVU’s coverage usually was soft and porous.

Offensively, the numbers were OK, but the need to use a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty on WVU’s very first offensive play was an especially bad sign considering the Mountaineers’ clock management issues in other games this season. After the loss, WVU head coach Neal Brown said he was very upset with the referees in that situation, but still, it was an awful way to start, no matter who was at fault.

Another bad West Virginia trend that the coaches need to rectify is penalties. WVU had eight for 70 yards against Baylor, and many of those were costly. Again, the Mountaineers just are not good enough to overcome mistakes, every one of which is magnified. Grade: F

WACO, TEXAS — Baylor jumped out to a 28-7 lead in the early moments of the second quarter and never looked back en route to a 45-20 victory over West Virginia on Saturday afternoon at McLane Stadium.

Bear quarterback Gerry Bohanon threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns in allowing 5-1 BU to avenge last year’s 27-21 double-overtime loss to the Mountaineers.

WVU QB Jarret Doege completed 20 of 31 passes for 237 and backup quarterback Garrett Greene also saw action, throwing for 35 yards and rushing for another 55.

Overall, though, the Mountaineers continued their struggles running the ball (90 yards on 38 attempts), which didn’t allow them to keep up with a BU squad that had three completions of longer than 40 yards in the first half alone.

The Mountaineers (2-4) get some time to rest and rehab this coming week, as they have an open date next Saturday. Their next game will be in Texas as well, as they play at TCU on Oct. 23.

Friday, October 08, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Of West Virginia’s offensive woes so far this season, its inability to consistently run the football tops — or bottoms — the list.

Through their first five contests of 2021, the Mountaineers are averaging just 112.0 rushing yards per game. That figure is last in the 10-team Big 12 and 109th of the 130 FBS programs in the NCAA. Their average of 3.39 yards per carry also is 10th in the league and 109th in the FBS.

“We’re got to be more detail-oriented,” WVU coach Neal Brown said in regards to the Mountaineers’ ground game. “At times when we’ve done what we’ve needed to do from a run-game footwork standpoint and how we’re IDing that, we’ve had success. But we haven’t been consistent with our footwork, and our run reads have not been as good as they need to be.

“I think early in the year not having Mike (O’Laughlin because of injury) at tight end hurt us. Since he’s been back, he’s blocked the edge much better. Then when Garrett (Greene) is in the game (at quarterback), he’s got to read it. He missed several of those in the drive he had (against Texas Tech) in the first half.

“I think it’s a combination of everybody, but it mainly goes back to those details in our footwork, where our eyes are supposed to be and doing that on a consistent basis.

“Can we run the football better than we have? Yes. I think if we’re detail-oriented and do a better job with our footwork, I think we can run the football,” stated WVU’s coach. “It’s not destined that we can’t do it.”

Though West Virginia’s ability to run has not been a strong suit in Brown’s three seasons at the helm (73.2 ypg in 2019, 132.6 in 2020 and 112.0 so far in 2021), that ground game remains vital to the Mountaineers’ overall success.

WVU is 2-0 this year when it runs for at least 100 yards in a game and 0-3 when under that mark. In 2020, it was 5-0 when exceeding 100 yards on the ground and 1-4 when below that. In 2019, it was 2-0 when bettering 100 yards and 3-7 when under it. Add it all up, and West Virginia is 9-0 in the Brown era when rushing for at least 100 yards and 4-14 when under that figure.

“You can’t say it’s good enough, but our efficiency numbers are better in the run game, which sometimes can get skewed,” noted WVU’s second-year offensive coordinator, Gerad Parker. “We’ve got to find ways to create more explosive plays to be better in the run game.

“We wouldn’t say we’re pleased with where we’re at in the run game by any means,” continued Parker. “We’ve got to grow there. There’s no better time to start than this week and then step into the off week to improve it and get ready for the second half of our season.”

In comparative terms, West Virginia’s ability to throw the football has been much better than its ability to run. WVU is third in the Big 12 and 43rd in the FBS in passing yards, averaging 264.6 per game. Among Big 12 schools, just Texas Tech (294.0 ypg) and Oklahoma (278.4 ypg) average more through the air, while Iowa State (258.6 ypg) is the only other conference squad that averages more than 240 passing yards per game.

“We’ve got a do a better job with our outside zone,” explained Brown of WVU’s run scheme. “We’re a good inside zone team, but teams do some things to take that away. We’ve had some opportunities for big runs on the outside zone, but we’re just not executing at a high enough level.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The most pressing question in what may be the most pivotal game in Coach Neal Brown's third season at West Virginia is whether the Mountaineers and their quarterback Jarret Doege turned the corner offensively in the second half of last week's 23-20 crushing home loss to Texas Tech.

If their rally behind a resurgent Doege from a 17-0 halftime deficit to push the Red Raiders into needing a last possession field goal built more on a prayer than a wing to claim victory wasn't a mirage, then they may be able to salvage what is left of the year.

"If we play like we did in the second half we can play with anybody," Doege said during Tuesday's media session previewing Saturday's noon road engagement with a 4-1 Baylor team that is being shown on FS1.

The game was typical of the inconsistency shown from WVU's offense all season, sleepwalking through the first half before putting everything together in the second, Doege completing 19 of 25 second-half passes for 276 yards.

Doege finally laid claim to the offense speaking up loud and clear in the locker room at halftime, then backed up his word.

"I said a few words at halftime just to get our guys going. We did what we had to do when we came out and that was to tie it or get it close. We had to have a response when we came out," he said. "I think we just woke up. I don't know, we came out flat. You can't do that against a Big 12 opponent, come out and get shut out in the first half."

The inconsistency has troubled Brown more than anything else.

“We are a 2-3 football team, and we lack consistency, and we have to play better and we have to do so for a full game,” he said.

There's no doubt that Doege has been taking a lot of heat from WVU fans, the social media onslaught spilling over onto Brown for continuing to start Doege over Garrett Greene, whom they view as the future signal caller.

It's something Doege had not experienced before transferring, so it probably only added to the pressure he was under, doing nothing to improve his performance.

"At Bowling Green, you don't have that kind of noise, being such a small school," he said. "It's different when you get here. You are held to a very high standard. I know that standard and I want to hold myself to that standard. You have to tune it out and stay off social media for a little bit.

"Everyone is entitled his own opinion. I know what goes on in this building, how much we put into this game. You just have to go back to work and keep playing."

This being the first of consecutive road games, TCU awaiting next week, the importance of the game is obvious and Baylor comes in off its first loss of the season to Oklahoma State, looking to get back on track.

Baylor will challenge one of WVU's biggest strengths, its run defense, led by a talented front line of Dante Stills, Akheem Mesidor and Taj Alston with Josh Chandler-Semedo cleaning up the tackles out of the middle linebacker slot.

“They want to run the ball,” Brown said. “I think the running backs are both playing well, and I think they complement each other.”

Senior Abram Smith owns 510 rushing yards with six touchdowns while another senior, Trestan Ebner, has rushed for 348 yards.

The passing game is complementary to the run, not overdoing it but being effective.

“The passes they do throw are high percentage type of throws for them,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “If you get a little greedy and try to take it away is when they throw it 70 yards over your head.”

WVU had that happen last week on Texas Tech's winning drive that put them into field goal range.

Meanwhile, WVU has to rediscover running back Leddie Brown, who hasn't had much room to operate in lately as teams have kept a tight rein on him in the running and passing game.

“We just have to find a way to create more explosive plays to be better in the run game," offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “In many ways our efficiency is better. We have to continue to work on our second and third runs to make us better and more multi-dimensional. We wouldn’t say we are pleased where we are at in the run game by any means, we have to grow there. No better time to start with that than this week.”

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Is the Baylor game a must-win for West Virginia? It certainly feels like it.

While some fans have already thrown in the towel on the 2021 football season, WVU can still have a year that could be judged as successful, but it has to get some wins over teams that it was packed together with in the preseason, and with which it will be competing for potential postseason play.

The Mountaineers already put themselves behind the 8-ball by gifting Maryland with a win in the season opener, and buried itself near the bottom of the Big 12 standings with the Texas Tech loss.

The question is, does that matter to the team at this point? That’s not an overreaction, but an honest question sparked by the listless effort shown in the first half of the Texas Tech game. If beating a team that has dominated you the past two years doesn’t spark a reaction, what will? Or is this just the way the majority of players are today?

One other thought – this team has not been a big rah-rah type in any of its pregame warm-ups thus far. Observing from the field, the demeanor has been more business-like. That’s not necessarily a negative – some very successful squads aren’t jumping around and hollering all the time – but it is difficult to get a read on just how emotionally invested the team is each week.

As the Mountaineers have been either tied or held a lead in the fourth quarter of every game they have played this year, ‘finishing’, has become a topic du jour.

In many ways, that’s a nebulous concept. What goes into finishing other than continuing to play well, or not considering the job already done? More importantly, how is that practiced or achieved?

Head coach Neal Brown noted that some changeups to practice were in the works to emphasize that concept. Included will be pushed to finish individual drills strongly, and to provide attention to detail through the last rep.

“We are going to search as a staff,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker added. “When you give it more attention, sometimes it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continuing to push our guys to be a fourth-quarter team is a mentality, and then structurally, changing some things in practice to send a message that ‘Hey, this is the fourth quarter. Let’s finish the game.'”

* * * * * *

Baylor has gotten a level of play from quarterback Gerry Bohanon that was unexpected — at least outside the program. Prior to the Oklahoma State game, his QB efficiency rating was through the roof, owing mostly to his seven touchdowns to zero interceptions ratio. Those efficiency ratings often overemphasize touchdown passes (does it really matter how a team scores?) but zero picks are a big deal.

Bohanon then ran into the Cowboys, who are going to make a lot of passers look pedestrian this year. While he still avoided a pick, he completed just 13 of 27 attempts (48%) and was sacked three times. Can West Virginia’s defensive front generate the kind of pressure that the Pokes did and force similar numbers?

* * * * * *

West Virginia’s coaches have noted the need to get a few more players into games over the past couple of weeks, either for reasons of development (offensive line, linebacker) or to prevent wearing down of stalwarts (running back).

However, that hasn’t been evident to a great extent. WVU’s back runners have made only token appearances with next to no touches, and the line moves of the past weekend were partially due to injury (Wyatt Milum). That leaves a couple of items to watch and think about at those positions. Are there backups close enough in ability to play without causing a significant drop-off? Will we see different players (Jordan White) get more snaps on the line? Does the speed of linebackers Lance Dixon and Deshawn Stevens equate to a few more plays at linebacker?

Road games, with their more limited player availability, are often more helpful in answering questions like this, so a watch of who makes the trip to Waco is an indicator as to which of that group (or others) are in the plans for playing time.

* * * * * *

COVID AND COLLATERAL NOTES

Each week we’ll provide notes and tips on health precautions, travel advisories and more for the upcoming game in this space.

Like WVU, Baylor is requiring facemasks in its on-campus buildings, but that does not include McLane Stadium. BU is also requiring bi-weekly testing for all of its students, faculty and staff through Oct 15. That does not extend to those attending athletic contests.

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Minus the LIU game, WVU is averaging 21 points per contest. Baylor, minus the Texas Southern blowout, is putting up almost 29 per outing. Much of that can be attributed to the Bears’ 9-4 turnover margin advantage.

* * * * * *

Neither team is afraid to go for it on fourth down, so conversions there and the resulting extensions of drives could be an important factor in the game. Baylor is 9-12 this year, which ranks 16th nationally in success rate (75%) and seventh in total conversions.

WVU is right behind with eight successful tries in 11 attempts, ranking 10th in conversions and 22nd in success rate among the 130 Division I teams.

WVU Gameday Weather Waco, TX

Baylor and West Virginia might use more motion, misdirection and multiple formations than any other teams in the Big 12. Part to emphasize strengths and hide deficiencies, and part to hone execution of a few plays over the random utilization of many, the Bears are leading the Big 12 in yards per play, yards per rush and fewest sacks, while standing second in total offense and rushing offense.

Those tactics are only part of the reason for BU’s offensive showing. Two offensive line transfers (Jacob Gall and Grant Miller), with a season’s worth of starts at their former schools, have been vital links on a line that piled up 964 rushing yards in its first three games of the year. The rushing numbers did drop to 123 and 107 against Iowa State and Oklahoma State, so there is still some question as to just where the Bear offense ranks in terms of overall strength in the league. This week should give a better indication of that.

* * * * * *

The Bears begin an October homestand against WVU, playing three games in McLane Stadium over the next four weeks, including the last Big 12 non-conference game of the year against BYU next Saturday. With wins the next two weeks, the Bears would be bowl-eligible – a plateau that few forecast for them this season.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Is the Baylor game a must-win game for West Virginia? It certainly feels like it. While some fans have already thrown in the towel on the season, WVU can still have a year that could be judged as successful, but it has to get some wins over teams that it was packed together with in the preseason, the teams with which it will be competing for potential postseason play.

The Mountaineers already put themselves behind the 8-ball by gifting Maryland with a win in the season opener and buried themselves near the bottom of the Big 12 standings with the Texas Tech loss.

The question is, does that matter to the team at this point? That’s not an overreaction, but an honest question sparked by the listless effort shown in the first half of the Texas Tech game. If beating a team that has dominated you the past two years doesn’t spark a reaction, what will? Or is this just the way the majority of players are today?

One other thought — this team has not been a big rah-rah type in any of its pregame warm-ups thus far. Observing from the field, the demeanor has been more business-like. That’s not necessarily a negative — some very successful squads aren’t jumping around and hollering all the time — but it is difficult to get a read on just how emotionally invested the team is each week.

As the Mountaineers have been either tied or held a lead in the fourth quarter of every game they have played this year, ‘finishing’ has become a topic du jour.

In many ways, that’s a nebulous concept. What goes into finishing other than continuing to play well, or not considering the job already done? More importantly, how is that practiced or achieved?

Head coach Neal Brown noted that some changeups to practice were in the works to emphasize that concept. Included will be pushes to finish individual drills strongly and to provide attention to detail through the last rep.

“We are going to search as a staff,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker added. “When you give it more attention, sometimes it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Continuing to push our guys to be a fourth-quarter team is a mentality, and then structurally, changing some things in practice to send a message that ‘Hey, this is the fourth quarter. Let’s finish the game.'”

* * * * * *

Baylor has gotten a level of play from quarterback Gerry Bohanon that was unexpected — at least outside the program. Prior to last week's Oklahoma State game, his QB efficiency rating was through the roof, owing mostly to his seven touchdown to zero interception ratio. Those efficiency ratings often overemphasize touchdown passes (does it really matter how a team scores?), but zero picks is a big deal.

Bohanon then ran into the Cowboys, who are going to make a lot of passers look pedestrian this year. While he still avoided a pick, he completed just 13 of 27 attempts (48%) and was sacked three times. Can West Virginia’s defensive front generate the kind of pressure that the Pokes did and force similar numbers?

* * * * * *

West Virginia’s coaches have noted the need to get a few more players into games over the past couple weeks, either for reasons of development (offensive line, linebacker) or to prevent wearing down of stalwarts (running back).

However, that hasn’t been evident to a great extent. WVU’s back runners have made only token appearances with next to no touches, and the line moves of the past weekend were partially due to injury (Wyatt Milum). That leaves a couple of items to watch and think about at those positions. Are there backups close enough in ability to play without causing a significant drop-off? Will we see different players (Jordan White) get more snaps on the line? Does the speed of linebackers Lance Dixon and Deshawn Stevens equate to a few more plays at linebacker?

Road games, with their more limited player availability, are often more helpful in answering questions like this, so a watch of who makes the trip to Waco is an indicator as to which of that group (or others) are in the plans for playing time.

* * * * * *

COVID AND COLLATERAL NOTES: Each week, we’ll provide notes and tips on health precautions, travel advisories and more for the upcoming game in this space.

Like WVU, Baylor is requiring facemasks in its on-campus buildings, but that does not include McLane Stadium. BU is also requiring bi-weekly testing for all of its students, faculty and staff through Oct 15. That does not extend to those attending athletic contests.

Minus the Long Island game, WVU is averaging 21 points per contest. Baylor, minus the Texas Southern blowout, is putting up almost 29 per outing. Much of that can be attributed to the Bears’ 9-4 turnover margin advantage, which includes zero interceptions thrown to date.

* * * * * *

Neither team is afraid to go for it on fourth down, so conversions there and the resulting extensions of drives could be an important factor in the game. Baylor is 9-12 this year, which ranks 16th in success rate (75%) and seventh in total conversions.

WVU is right behind with eight successful tries in 11 attempts, ranking 10th in conversions and 22nd in success rate.

Baylor and West Virginia might use more motion, misdirection and multiple formations than any other teams in the Big 12. Part to emphasize strengths and hide deficiencies, and part to hone execution of a few plays over the random utilization of many, the Bears are leading the Big 12 in yards per play, yards per rush and fewest sacks, while standing second in total offense and rushing offense.

Those tactics are only part of the reason for BU’s offensive showing. Two offensive line transfers (Jacob Gall and Grant Miller), with a season’s worth of starts at their former schools, have been vital links on a line that piled up 964 rushing yards in its first three games of the year. The rushing numbers did drop to 123 and 107 against Iowa State and Oklahoma State, so there is still some question as to just where the Bear offense ranks in terms of overall strength in the league. This week should give an even better indication of that.

* * * * * *

The Bears begin an October homestand against WVU, playing three games in McLane Stadium over the next four weeks, including the Big 12's last non-conference game of the year against BYU next Saturday. With wins the next two weeks, the Bears would be bowl-eligible — a plateau that few forecast for them this season.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — If one were to sit down and do an analysis of the West Virginia football situation as it readies itself to go on the road to face a 4-1 Baylor team this Saturday, he would surmise that the strength of the Mountaineers lies with its defense.

That is where the numbers seem to lead you, but you might reach a different conclusion if you look at what has transpired this season to date through the eyes of defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. This became apparent on Tuesday afternoon when he was asked what he looks at as the most important factors in the moments after a game has ended.

"Start fast and finish," he said. "If you want to put a third one on there, it's make routine plays in key situations."

The problem is WVU's disappointing 2-3 start can be translated into its failures in those three areas.

Think back to their three losses to Power 5 opponents, each a loss that was difficult to swallow, each a loss in which they gave up a late score to beat them after starting slowly and rallying to put themselves to be in a position to win.

It ended up being three losses by a total of 12 points.

In the Maryland game, the Mountaineers fell behind 17-7 in the first half, rallied to take the lead, then eventually gave up a fourth-quarter TD pass that sealed their fate.

In the Oklahoma game, WVU took the opening kickoff, used up nearly 0 minutes driving to score, then allowed the Sooners on their first possession to go down the field and score. WVU eventually built a three-point cushion before giving up a tying field goal and then a drive for the winning kick as time expired.

In the Texas Tech game, WVU was dreadful both offensively and defensively while falling behind 17-0 at the half, came back to tie the game with 4:34 left only to give up a long pass and drive for the winning field goal with 18 seconds to play.

Each was exactly the scenario that Lesley said was most important to avoid.

"Oklahoma and Texas Tech, same scenario, two different drives," Lesley said, referring to the losses in each of the past two weeks. "I'll give Oklahoma credit. They came out and were really, really patient, which they really weren't in the middle of the game until they found out what we were doing to them.

"They gave us a couple of things on the last drive that we really had to adjust to on the fly. We committed a couple of errors, like the second-down offsides," he said. "That was a huge one. That was a self-inflicted gut shot. That led to a made third down that got them into field-goal range.

"That's not an excuse. That's just how that one played out."

Texas Tech was different on the last drive.

"Saturday, we get a decent stop on first down, then Texas Tech takes a shot. They throw a 50-50 ball. Either team can catch it (as it was underthrown), that's why they call it a 50-50 ball but we were on the wrong side of the 50," Lesley said.

The catch gave the Red Raiders good field position.

"They were right at field goal range," he said. "Then we miss a check on the next play, a run, and we can't stop the clock and they kick the winning field goal."

The players know what happened. Dante Stills, for example, had one of his best games, but on the key pass, he made a minor mistake in technique that cost dearly. Stills put a hard rush on Henry Colombi, but came up inches short of getting the sack.

"We were really close. It's not a negative, it's a simple little coaching point. I'll tell you how small the margin for error is. We had a twist on the D-line set up for Dante Stills. If Dante runs with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage and sees the lane, he probably gets home and affects the throw.

"He's turned a little too much, it carries him two steps outside and he ends up just a little from it. You look at the tape, and if you had played like you should have back in the first quarter nobody ever finds that half a foot. We were right there even though max protected, running just a three-man route.

"It would be different story if I blitzed nine, but I can't do that. We were close, but that's football."

"We aren't supposed to rush past the quarterback's shoulder. When you do that, he can escape," Stills said.

He did and a loss grew out of it.

"It hurts," Stills said. "I hate losing. I just don't like it. We got to bounce back and work. We can't do anything about it now."

It came out of a slow start in the game and a small mistake, the kind that is completely overlooked if you had given yourself a cushion early.

It comes, he says, with maturity.

"You look at maturity, it's understanding every single play in a close game can make the difference so don't waste them. That's what we have to understand because we don't have that margin for error right now," Lesley said.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — We bandy the word "love" around far too loosely.

We use it when we mean we like something, such as "I love pistachio nuts" or when we mean admire, such as when we say "I love Pat White."

If we really meant love every time we used it our divorce rate wouldn't be so high and the transfer rate in college sports would be far lower.

That is not to say love isn't a real and powerful emotion, as West Virginia defensive end Tajih Alston proves on a daily basis.

When Alston says he loves football, he means it.

If he didn't, he wouldn't still be playing the game, a game that saw him suffer through a pair of knee injuries that wound up sending him to surgery and a torn Achilles tendon, all of it causing him pain and suffering beyond most people's tolerance levels. That was followed by long, tedious and often painful rehabilitations aimed at allowing him to carry on the love affair he has with the game.

"I just had to dig deep and (understand) that (playing football) is what I wanted to do," Alston explained Tuesday afternoon. "I love the game, and I wasn't going to let an injury determine my career."

He makes no pretenses about it. It isn't the fame or the adulation from fans, not whatever perks there are in being a college football player that has driven him through it all.

“What kept me going is that I love the game of football and I know I can play at this level," he said. "I just kept that mindset every single day. I just worked as hard as I could and I just controlled what I could control.”

The problem with that is you soon find out that you can't control nearly as much as you may think you can.

Fate is a real thing and sometimes it deals you a bum hand ... or knee ... or ankle.

Football is a game of sacrifice, starting in pee wee leagues and up into high school and then college. You work hard on the field and off, give up much of what is a normal life to feed whatever it is that causes this football fever.

You know it is dangerous, yet you drive forward.

Alston wanted to be a Power 5 player, a potential NFL player. He saw it as more than an extra-curricular activity, more than a career. He saw it as a way of life as he headed to college, playing at East Carolina, which is where the knee blew out for the first time.

He had the doctors put it back together, rehabbed it, transferred to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Wesson, Mississippi, with an eye of getting to that Power 5 school he coveted.

That is what he would accomplish, being recruited at WVU, the knee holding together well enough for him to get into the 2019 opener against Missouri, when the knee went down again, a devastating blow.

"That one really messed with me," he admitted. "I just had to dig deep."

He fought through that into 2020 when, as he continued to get himself into game shape, the Achilles tendon went pop while in the weight room.

"I remember last summer the day he got hurt, and I've been around some kids that have had bad injuries and they can go in a really bad spot, but Taijh didn't blink an eye," defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. "That says a lot about him."

Certainly, that much bad luck can get into your head, make you wonder if you should find something a little safer to do with your life, like defusing bombs, but Alston was all in.

“That thought did come into my head but I just had to dig deep and know this is what I wanted to do," he said.

So once again he arched is back and went after it, got himself a full spring and summer and has become one of the most productive defenders on what is one of college football's top defensive lines with Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor.

"I think the thing that separates Taijh from other guys playing at this level is Taijh is really, really hungry," he said. "It really bothers him that he's lost a lot of time in his career — a key time in his career coming from a transfer situation – and it motivates him."

Lesley prefers the word motivates to bothers for a reason.

"Motivate is probably a better word, not bother, and you can see that in everything he does," Lesley said.

At 6-foot-4, 245-pounds, Alston has the size. He has rehabilitated so successfully that he has the strength, speed and explosiveness to make him one of the most productive players in the league. He has recorded at least one tackle for a loss in all five games, has eight tackles for losses, which tops the Mountaineers and the Big 12 while ranking ninth in the nation.

"I feel like my explosiveness has come back," Alston said. "During these two years rehabbing and working out a lot, I feel like I'm more explosive off the ball, and it's helped me a lot."

The better he gets, the more he loves the sport he plays.

"Before my injuries, I would just go through a practice," Alston said. "But now I actually enjoy practice because I know it can all be taken away. I just try and have fun and make the most out of it and be thankful. I feel like I've got a lot of football left in me.

"Now that I know how to take care of my body, stay on rehab and do the things I need to do, I feel like I will be in good position to keep playing this game."

Sounds like true love.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.(WV News) — Junior forward Esmery Martinez of West Virginia was named to the all-Big 12 Women’s Basketball Preseason first team on Wednesday.

Martinez, a junior from Hato Mayor Del Rey, Dominican Republic, averaged a double-double last season with 13.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game.

Named honorable mention from West Virginia were forward Kari Niblack and guard KK Deans.

Baylor’s NaLyssa Smith was voted Big 12 Women’s Basketball Preseason Player of the Year for a second-straight season, while teammate Jordan Lewis was picked as Preseason Newcomer of the Year and Texas’ Aaliyah Moore took Preseason Freshman of the Year honors.

Smith, the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year and WBCA National Player of the Year, was a unanimous All-Big 12 First Team selection and received an All-America honors by five different entities after the 2021 season. The power forward ranked in the NCAA Top 25 in the top six offensive categories, while leading the Bears in average points, rebounds, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Smith is the seventh BU player to earn Preseason Player of the Year, the fourth Bear to receive it more than once, and the sixth player in Big 12 history to earn it two or more times.

Baylor also picks up the newcomer award for the second-straight season after Te’a Cooper received the award in 2020. An Alabama graduate transfer, Lewis put up career numbers her senior season, averaging 17.0 points and 4.2 assists per game. She was named to the 2017 SEC All-Freshman Team, received the 2017 SEC Newcomer of the Year from the Associated Press, and earned 2021 All-SEC Second Team honors. Lewis also participated in the 2019 USA Basketball 3x3 National Championships in Las Vegas. She becomes the sixth Baylor player to receive the newcomer award.

A McDonald’s All-American and one of five finalists for the Naismith Trophy National Girls High School Player of the Year, Moore was rated as the No. 5 prospect in the Class of 2021 by Prospects Nation and No. 6 nationally by ESPN. A two-time Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Oklahoma, Moore averaged 25.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots as a senior at Moore (Oklahoma) High School.

Smith was tabbed as a unanimous Preseason All-Big 12 selection while Lewis received an honorable mention. Six other Big 12 players join Smith as consensus choices on the preseason squad in Ashley Joens (Iowa State), Ayoka Lee (K-State), Madi Williams (Oklahoma), Lauren Heard (TCU), Vivian Gray (Texas Tech) and Esmery Martinez (WVU). Queen Egbo (Baylor), Lexi Donarski (Iowa State), Holly Kersgieter (KU), Taylor Robertson (Oklahoma) and Joanne Allen Taylor (Texas) round out the rest of the list.

2021 all-Big 12 Preseason

Women's Basketball Team

Preseason Player of the Year

NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, F, 6-2, Sr., Converse, Texas

Preseason Newcomer of the Year

Jordan Lewis, Baylor, G, 5-7, Gr., Windermere, Fla.

Preseason Freshman of the Year

Aaliyah Moore, Texas, F, 6-1, Fr., Moore, Okla.

Preseason All-Big 12 Team

*NaLyssa Smith, Baylor, F, 6-2, Sr., Converse, Texas

*Ashley Joens, Iowa State, G/F, 6-0 Sr., Iowa City, Iowa

*Ayoka Lee, K-State, C, 6-6, Jr., Byron, Minn.

*Madi Williams, Oklahoma, G/F, 5-11, Sr., Fort Worth, Texas

*Lauren Heard, TCU, G, 5-9, Gr., Denton, Texas

*Vivian Gray, Texas Tech, G, 6-1, Sr., Argyle, Texas

*Esmery Martinez, West Virginia, F, 6-2, Jr., Hato Mayor Del Rey, Dominican Republic

Queen Egbo, Baylor, C, 6-3, Sr., Houston, Texas

Joanne Allen Taylor, Texas, G, 5-8, Jr., Houston, Texas

Lexi Donarski, Iowa State, G, 6-0, So., LaCrosse, Wis.

Holly Kersgieter, Kansas, G, 5-10, Jr., Sand Springs, Okla.

Taylor Robertson, Oklahoma, G, 5-11, Sr., McPherson, Kan.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — For those wanting (demanding?) explanations for West Virginia’s up-and-down offensive performance in its 2-3 start to the 2021 football season, head coach Neal Brown provided one Tuesday afternoon. It might not have been one of the hit-you-over-the-head variety, which may be what a certain percentage of the vocal minority needs, but it was there nonetheless.

“Everything you do,” Brown said as he took questions on his offense’s performance, “is based on what your quarterback and offensive line are capable of doing.”

That single declaration was part of a longer answer, but it’s the key issue facing the Mountaineer coaching staff this year — and really, ever since Brown took the job in 2019. It can be misleading to focus too much on one statement, or parse every single utterance from players and coaches in the search for answers, but this one looks to be very on target.

Jarret Doege’s strengths and weaknesses as a quarterback are well-known at this point. The line, a bit more hidden from view, also has things it has been good or respectable at (interior run blocking and pass protection at times) but also has struggled with the outside zone (a focus for improvement since the spring). Results in the run game are a major indicator there.

“At every position there is much room for improvement. We are still trying to develop depth, and there are still individual battles going on,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker admitted of line play.

Before proceeding further, it should also be noted that these items aren’t the sole reason for WVU’s spotty offensive play. Drops by receivers, lack of depth at some positions and yes, coaching issues such as play clock management have also played significant roles. Brown has taken responsibility for a number of those, so it also should be pointed out that he isn’t throwing players under the bus — another common reaction when coaches speak honestly about their team.

Yet, the capability of players has effects right from the start of the week, when game planning gets underway. Coaches know what their players can and can’t do, and more granularly, know what they have the best of chance of success with. They’ll craft game plans with that in mind, trying to pit their strengths against opponents’ weaknesses, but also take into account the likelihood of success.

For example, WVU isn’t going to put a number of quarterback sweeps in the game plan for Jarret Doege, and it’s not going to have too many pass plays with three or four reads in them for Garrett Greene, even if the foe doesn’t defend perimeter runs particularly well or has issues with covering five wide receiver sets. That doesn’t mean one or two shots in that particular play phase won’t occur, but it does mean that a big part of the game plan will be based there.

This can be, of course, frustrating to watch. Those who want to throw the ball more downfield might not get their wish, as protection issues from the line, combined with accuracy problems on deep balls, might lower the chance of success on such plays. Of course, opposing defenses know those tendencies and strengths too, and adjust their tactics accordingly. Offenses respond with window dressing — motion and different formations to try to distract the defense — sometimes with good success.

This game planning, and the calling of plays during the contest, boils down to some simple, albeit very tough, choices. Run more of what your team is good at, even if it’s not producing at a high level? Or take more chances at things that it doesn’t excel at in the hopes that they will take the opponent by surprise or hit a big result or two?

A number of observers would opt for the latter, under the assumption that what has been used so far hasn’t worked, but that ignores the fact that the Mountaineers truly are very close to being 4-1 and were just a play or two short in each of the past two weeks of making that a reality.

Unfortunately, those didn’t happen, and the fact that WVU was close can’t be used as an excuse. Brown was quick to note that his team is 2-3, evoking memories of Bill Parcells’ famous statement that ‘You are what your record says you are.’ He has owned that, and doesn’t duck it.

At this point, though, are wins close enough to keep pushing with what the team does best and work for that bit of improvement that makes the difference, or make tactical changes that might not be supported by the team’s talent level?

As with many such decisions, there’s no way to know the right or wrong one in advance.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — First, Mike O'Laughlin was a tight end caught up in a Chicago area high school wide receiver's body.

Then, when he got to West Virginia and turned loose as the tight end within him, he discovered that was what he was all along and has begun making his presence felt with his blocking and pass receiving.

See, tight end isn't so much a position as it is a mentality.

Just what is that mentality? He tipped it off on Tuesday in this week's pre-Baylor media interviews when asked if he liked catching a first down pass or knocking someone on their posterior with a block more.

"I get more satisfaction putting someone on their back than catching a first down pass. Putting someone on their back against their will is one of the best feelings on the planet," he said.

This isn't just O'Laughlin speaking, even though he is the one voicing the words.

He is speaking for all tight ends.

See, he has spent a lot of his time watching today's star tight ends in action ... the likes of Ron Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and George Kittle.

"Everyone sees touchdowns but when I look at them, I see guys who love to play football and that's the key to success in this game. If you love this game, you will put yourself in positions to do well," O'Laughlin said. "So, watching them, I saw a clip of Kittle putting someone on his back in the end one and he's laughing right after the play. That's just pure joy and excitement of playing the game.

"That's what I want to emulate because it is a game and should be treated like a game. It's fun."

You find that tight ends are football versions of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde, split personalities who seem quite contradictory but who play off each other.

"It's a mindset," he said. "On the field you have to be a little nasty but off the field you can be whoever you want. That's a choice. I just like to enjoy life. I'm usually an optimistic person, but when I'm on the gridiron I do everything I can to get it done."

He is trying to bring that type of attitude into the tight end room, where there are a number of promising young prospects, just as O'Laughlin was.

"They have a lot of potential. One thing I'm focused on right now is setting a good example and setting a culture within our position room that we're ruthless ... that we're going to go get you," he said.

"Trevon Wesco did it and I kind of learned from that. Now, being in a leadership position I want to bring that back, that mindset."

He spent much of last season learning the position, grew into it so that he was a force in the Liberty Bowl victory over Army, setting off high expectations for this year.

But before camp could open he suffered a foot injury, a stress problem that had grown over the year, which kept him from practicing and out of action for the first two games.

"It was frustrating. It was difficult when I found out I was going to miss maybe the first two games. When that happens you have to put your head down, work as hard as you can and help the guys around you who are going to be at that position," he said.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — For the second year in a row, West Virginia University fifth-year senior Mark Goetz shot a career-low on the final day to win his second consecutive Mountaineer Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club.

The native of Greensburg, Pa., shot a career-low 63, one shy of the school record, on the final day. His 9-under-par today was the lowest round in school history in relation to par. Logan Perkins shot a school-record 62 on a par-70 course in 2020.

Goetz’s three-day total of 202 (69-70-63=202) for 14-under-par was the lowest three-round total in school history, breaking Etienne Papineau’s 203 total in 2019. Goetz had 19 birdies and just five bogeys in the 54-hole event. It was the second win of Goetz’s collegiate career.

“Mark was pretty impressive,” coach Sean Covich said. “It has been impressive to watch what he has done the last two seasons for us and his development from his freshman season to now. Mark means a lot to our team, but the team means a lot to Mark. He wants the team to do well, he’s a leader, he’s a coach and I couldn’t be happier for him.”

West Virginia tied the school record for 18 holes with a final round score of 13-under-par. The Mountaineers finished second in the event at 8-under-par with scores of 297-284-275=856, one shot behind No. 8 NC State (290-280-285=855) at 9-under-par. West Virginia finished ahead of Penn State (-7), Drexel (+4), Marshall (+18), Eastern Michigan (+20), Maryland (+20), George Mason (+23), Xavier (+30), Bowling Green (+34), Ohio (+49) and Eastern Kentucky (+55).

“It was a great field,” Covich said. “The first round was not our best effort, but I was so pleased on how we bounced back. We talked about getting off to a hot start to put pressure on NC State, and we did that. I’m so proud of the guys. All of them posted a lot of red numbers and that was great to see.”

Senior Kurtis Grant tied for 18th at 3-over-par with rounds of 78-71-70=219. Fifth-year senior Logan Perkins tied for 25th at 5-over-par with rounds of 79-67-75=221. Junior Trent Tipton finished tied for 29th at 6-over-par with rounds of 74-76-72=222, while sophomore Jackson Davenport finished tied for 43rd at 10-over-par with rounds of 76-80-70=226.

Entered as individuals, sophomore Olivier Ménard tied for 13th at even par with rounds of 73-73-70=216, while freshman Max Green tied for 15th at 1-over-par with rounds of 73-72-72=217. Sophomore Will Stakel tied for 46th at 11-over-par with rounds of 74-77-76=227, and freshman Todd Duncan shot 89-78-73=240 to tie for 69th place at 24-over-par.

The Mountaineers will return to action next Monday at the Big 12 Match Play Championship in Hockley, Texas.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Mountaineer football team has suffered a pair of gut-punch losses the past two weeks, falling on last-second field goals to Oklahoma (16-13) and Texas Tech (23-20).

According to West Virginia coach Neal Brown, the key to getting over the top in such tight games is consistency — consistency in effort, consistency in attention to detail, consistency in preparation.

“We’re a 2-3 football team because we lack consistency. I think that’s been pretty clear,” stated WVU’s third-year head coach. “At times this season, we’ve played really good football in all three phases. I think you can go back and look at times in which we’ve played well, but we’ve not put a whole game together.”

After falling behind by 17 points on Saturday, the Mountaineers stormed back to tie the game 17-17 by the end of the third quarter. While West Virginia’s offense showed some spark in the second half, it also had to settle for a pair of short field goals after it had driven into the red zone. Obviously, sevens rather than threes could ultimately have made a huge difference in the outcome.

“Offensively in the first half it was just a lack of execution,” explained Brown. “Those execution errors also plagued us in the red zone in the second half, too, when we had to settle for field goals.”

WVU doesn’t publicly announce award winners after a loss, but in his weekly press conference Tuesday, Brown did point out a number of players. Defensively, he said West Virginia’s three starting D-linemen — Dante Stills, Akheem Mesidor and Taijh Alston — each played well. On offense, he lauded tight end Mike O’Laughlin, wide receiver Isaiah Esdale, slot receiver Winston Wright, quarterback Jarret Doege and center Zach Frazier.

Since Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech, Brown has readily admitted that his team lacked energy in the first half, which allowed the Red Raiders to put WVU in a 17-0 hole by the midway point.

“I’m so pissed at how we played at the beginning of the game,” emphasized West Virginia’s coach. “In other sports I can understand (coming out flat), because you have all these games. But in football you get 12. How the hell do you not get ready to play one game a week?! I don’t get it.

“It hadn’t been an issue before. We started fast offensively in every game before this one. Defensively, not as fast. We did a good job on defense early against Virginia Tech, but other than that, we’ve struggled on the first drive defensively.

“We’re going to switch up some things. You have to acknowledge that it’s an issue. It’s been more of an issue for us defensively than offensively, but offensively, it was a terrible start the other day. You have to acknowledge it. We have to start better defensively, and we have to finish on both sides of the ball in the fourth quarter. You have to acknowledge the issue, and then you have to go to work fixing it.”

The Mountaineers’ next game will take them to Waco, Texas, where they’ll face 4-1 Baylor this coming Saturday in a contest that kicks off at noon on Fox Sports 1.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for (BU’s second-year coach) Dave Aranda and his staff,” said Brown. “Both their running backs (Trestan Ebner and Abram Smith) are playing well. They’ve got big-play threats on the outside, and their quarterback, (Gerry) Bohanon, is playing well and taking care of the football (no interceptions in 116 pass attempts this season).

“Defensively, they are multiple and get a lot of pressures,” added Brown. “I think they have two of the best defenders in our league (will linebacker Terrel Bernard and star safety Jalen Pitre). I don’t think, I know. If you’re not playing against them, they’re fun to watch.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The only thing that’s been consistent about the West Virginia offense this season has been its inconsistency, and that is driving head coach Neal Brown and his offensive staff crazy as they get into preparations for Saturday’s game at Baylor.

How does Brown go about getting things to click, not just in the first half, not just in the second, but throughout a game?

“Everything you do is based on what your quarterback and offensive line are capable of doing,” he explained, as he went back to Football 101 at his weekly press conference.

“I think what we’re doing schematically is sound. If you ask me what a well-coached team looks like when it’s prepared, then I’d tell you it’s not asking your players to do something they can’t do.”

He feels that’s the approach they have been taking.

“I feel confident in all three phases we’re not asking our players to not go out and do something they can’t do,” he said.

That has led to a rather conservative approach, such as was used against Oklahoma.

“Are we built right now to go out and outscore everybody in our league? No, we’re not,” he said. “Would we like to be more explosive? Absolutely. But have some limitations ... a lot of teams do.”

Still, the Mountaineers have had their moments, such as in the second half Saturday against Texas Tech when they finally stopped sleepwalking through the plays.

What was the difference?

“The first thing was we were much more aggressive from a player’s standpoint, meaning we had more energy, we competed harder,” Brown said. “But also, we completed the fundamentals of play better and we made some plays, like Winston Wright went on a crossing route on third and 11, a great man route. Jarrett Doege had a couple of plays where he scrambled when pressured and got six and got 11.

“Right now, the way we’re built, we play good defense, we have to be able to run the ball better and we have to be efficient with our pass game. We turned the ball over and it became seven points and the difference in the game.”

It isn’t that the plays have no chance to work, it’s just that they haven’t been able to fundamentally execute them when they are there.

“If you go back and look at it, we got guys open, we got guys in the run game, we got one-on-one with the safeties. I think from a schematic standpoint what we are doing is sound,” Brown said. “Can we always do better? Yeah. Trust me, I’d like to come in here and say you know we got to do this, this and this, but if we’re schematically sound, we have to get better at executing.”

Sometimes the problems don’t jump up and scream that something is wrong. It just is.

“The one area we can evaluate is we have to do better on second and long in the red zone. Look at it the other day, the two we had to kick field goals on. We had second and 6 and got a procedure penalty to make it second and 11,” Brown said. “Those are the minute things that don’t catch the big headlines, but those are the plays that make a huge difference. How do you get it to third and 4 rather than to be third and 11 inside the 20?”

Now here’s something for Brown and other coaches, as well as fans, to ponder.

WVU has run the ball 165 times and thrown it 168 times. That’s just about 50-50, but it has gained 715 rushing yards, 3.4 per attempt. Passing it has gained 1,323 yards, 7.9 per attempt. That’s almost twice as many total yards throwing and more than twice the yards per try.

So, why does WVU not throw more than it runs?

“It goes back to the way it has always been done. There’s less that can go wrong when you run the ball than when you throw it,” Brown said. “You will get more yards per attempt when you pass it and our yards per attempt were good the other day. We did a better job of running after the catch.”

But it’s riskier, as the lone interception showed.

“We’re not particularly looking for balance,” Brown said. “For us, we have to do a better job of manipulating extra hitters and using some run-action pass stuff, while at the same time, we have to get better distribution through our wideouts.”

It’s a never-ending challenge that probably will take the entire season to work out to everyone’s satisfaction.

Monday, October 04, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Funny thing about coaches, no matter who they are, no matter what their sport.

They’re never happy, and West Virginia’s Mike Carey knows he’s typical of the breed.

How many years now have injuries plagued his women’s basketball team, cutting back on his numbers, especially on the inside?

Well, this year, due to the COVID rules changes, he has 16 players ... and he finally is loaded on the inside.

So what’s he say?

“I’m a typical coach. I didn’t have numbers and I complained about it. Now I have numbers and I’m complaining about that,” he said. “This is the deepest we’ve been. We brought in a lot of size and will be deeper in the post than we’ve ever been.”

This will give him a potentially different look than he had last year when he finished second in the Big I2 and went to the second round of March Madness, even though he has four starters returning.

That team leaned heavily on Kysre Gondrezick, a first-round draft pick as an outside shooter.

“We need to score inside. We cannot afford to have our guards to try and make up Kysre’s scoring. We don’t need to have one guard make up 20 points. We have to find other ways to score. We can get that from the inside.”

It means Carey will be doing a lot of preseason experimenting with combinations.

It will change people’s roles, like Kari Niblick, who was undersized but had to play the 5 position, mostly with her back to the basket. Now he’s probably be able to play her at the 4, a power forward spot, and she’s excited about that.

Then there’s Esmery Martinez, who may move to the 3 spot.

“I may move Esmery to the 3 and go big,” Carey said. “I like what some of our big players are doing. I can’t teach 6-6.”

If Carey does decide his best bet to play to his bigs, it will impact the way his guards approach the game.

“We may have to play more inside-out, which means the guards are going to have to change their mindsets,” he said.

In other words, players will have different roles.

“If ever everyone needed to know their role it’s this year. That’s going to be very important,” Carey said.

“It’s all about keeping them happy. Everybody has to have a role because not everybody can score a bunch of points, not everybody can do the same thing. People coming off the bench will be coming into the game to play their role.

“Let’s be honest. It’s going to be hard to get certain people a lot of reps with I6 people. They will get frustrated.”

Those players who are expected to play key roles include point guard Madisen Smith along with guards KK Deans and Jasmine Carson and front court players Jayla Hemingway, Yemiyah Morris, Xavier transfer Ari Gray, Isis Beh and Jeanna Cunningham.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Thoughts from West Virginia’s frustrating 23-20 loss to Texas Tech on Saturday:

Isaiah Esdale is West Virginia’s go-to receiver, and not just because he had career highs of six catches for 113 yards and a score.

He has shown the most dependable hands on the team, and despite not possessing top-end speed, has shown the ability to get open and maximize yardage after the catch.

Add in his performance on punt returns, where he’s been solid in catching the ball and getting a few yards when available, and he might be WVU’s most dependable offensive player this side of Leddie Brown.

West Virginia’s plans to incorporate tight ends more in its passing attack took one, albeit small, step forward with Mike O’Laughlin’s five catches against the Red Raiders. None were for big yardage (the long was for 11 out of a total of 35), but they should force opponents to account for him when he heads out of the backfield.

The next, and more important, step would be to get him, or T.J. Banks, downfield on more vertical routes.

Those don’t need to be overwhelmingly deep or frequent, but a move off the horizontal breaks and short outs they have been making into a vertical seam could be a way of attacking defenses that are breaking quickly on West Virginia’s underneath routes, screens and swing passes..

Leddie Brown had 17 carries against the Red Raiders.

On 14 of them, he was contacted within two yards of the line of scrimmage, and on a decent percentage of those he faced opponents right at the line.

That illustrates, to some degree, the lack of room in which he has had to operate in this year.

Granted, not every carry is going to be like the perfectly-blocked 80-yard run he had against Virginia Tech, and no observer expects that.

However, runs where he gets a good gap and hits it with some space in front of him have been few and far between — he’s had just one other run of 20 yards or more (a rush of exactly that length against Oklahoma) — and was held to longs of seven yards against Tech and nine against LIU.

To his credit, he has run hard, fighting through contact to gain very tough yards, which have helped keep his average per carry at 4.6 per tote.

Take away that 80-yarder, though, and his average drops a full yard to 3.6. None of that, from this viewpoint, is his fault.

Texas Tech was 8-14 on third-down conversions, and the reason for its success was no mystery – for the most part, the yardage they required to convert them was manageable.

The Red Raiders started out with a string of five straight successful attempts, and they required a total of just 15 yards, including a pair of third-and-ones to flip the down marker.

That resulted in two touchdowns for the visitors, and only the ill-considered heave on a trick play on their first possession, which resulted in a Sean Mahone interception, kept WVU’s deficit from being three TDs instead of two after the first quarter.

Only once did Tech convert a third down of more than six yards, and its ability to put up positive yardage on first and second did a lot to help it keep the chains moving.

West Virginia’s offensive line issues continue to bedevil its chances to fashion a solid conventional ground attack. Leddie Brown (see above item) was held to 3.4 yards per carry against a defense that was gashed for 336 rushing yards the week before.

The line has been better, though certainly not without issues, in pass protection.

Often receiving protection help from Brown or a tight end, WVU showed that it can move the ball through the air, as it did in the second half. However, none of this, as head coach Neal Brown noted after the game, is going to be good enough to win in the Big 12.

WVU continued to shuffle linemen on the right side during the game, partly due to injury, and partly apparently due to performance.

Wyatt Milum started at right tackle, but Parker Moorer was quickly subbed in, and Milum was eventually sidelined with an injury, but that alternating tactic has been present for much of the season. Doug Nester started at guard, but Jordan White got appreciable playing time in his place.

These don’t appear to be situations where the backups are earning time with good play while the starters in front of them are also performing well, but more of a continuation of the search for consistent play from the spots up front.

Neal Brown’s defense of quarterback Jarret Doege’s second-half performance was valid. The Mountaineer QB had a very good final 30 minutes, going 19-25 for 276 yards and a touchdown in helping lead the Mountaineers back from a 17-0 deficit. Credit is definitely deserved there.

However, negative plays in key situations continue to plague Doege, and one in each half — the second-quarter fumble that led to Tech’s second TD, and the fourth quarter miss of a very open Leddie Brown in the end zone – were huge.

To be fair, it is easy to pick out negative plays by someone who touches the ball on every offensive snap. No QB is immune to them.

That is, though, the nature of the position, and often defines the difference between good and great.

BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — West Virginia University fifth-year senior Mark Goetz shot 5-under-par on Monday during the first day of the Mountaineer Invitational at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, West Virginia.

Goetz enters Tuesday’s final round in second place, just one shot behind Patrick Sheehan of Penn State. Goetz shot 69-70=139 on the par-72 course to lead the Mountaineers on Monday.

Round two was called due to darkness with one group needing to play No. 13. Those four golfers (two from Drexel and two from Xavier) will tee off at 8 a.m. Tuesday to complete round two. Round three will begin at approximately 8:30 a.m.

Fellow fifth-year senior Logan Perkins shot a 5-under-par 67 in round two to tie for 17th place entering Tuesday’s final round. Perkins is 2-over-par with a 79-67=146.

Senior Kurtis Grant shot 1-under-par in round two (78-71=149) to rank tied for 27th at 5-over-par. Junior Trent Tipton recorded rounds of 74-76=150 to tie for 34th at 6-over-par. Sophomore Jackson Davenport shot rounds of 76-80=156 to tie for 59th place.

Entered as individuals, freshman Max Green shot 73-72=145 to tie for 13th at 1-over-par, while sophomore Olivier Ménard is tied for 17th with rounds of 73-73=146 at 2-over-par. Sophomore Will Stakel is 7-over-par with rounds of 74-77=151, tying for 37th place. Freshman Todd Duncan recorded rounds of 89 and 78 for the Mountaineers on Monday.

West Virginia is third after the second round in the team scoring at 5-over-par by shooting 4-under-par in round two (297-284=581). No. 8 NC State leads the team scoring at 6-under-par, followed by Penn State at 4-under-par in the 12-team field.

The third round is slated to begin with tee times set for 8:30 a.m. with the last group going off at 9:50 a.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Did Jarret Doege put an end to “The Two-Headed Quarterback” experiment at West Virginia with his huge second-half performance in Saturday’s gut-wrenching, 23-20, home loss to Texas Tech or did his inability to translate it in a victory leave the door ajar enough to allow coach Neal Brown to continue mixing and matching him with Garrett Greene?

That is the big question besieged coach Brown will be answering during his weekly meeting with the media on Tuesday.

Certainly, it won’t be the only question as there are many others that a fan base that is rapidly becoming disgruntled as evidenced by the boos that cascaded upon the field all to often Saturday indicated.

Why did the team come out listless on Homecoming?

Should Brown have gone on fourth down when at the 4 midways through the final quarter instead of settling for a game-tying field goal?

Where is the running game?

But the problem seems to stem from the uncertainty at quarterback, where Brown has been trying to merge the best assets of Doege, the thrower, and Garrett Greene, the runner, into something neither is. While the idea on paper seems to make sense, it hasn’t translated onto the field.

However, a 20-point second half after being down 17-0 at halftime during which Brown turned the club over to Doege, even in situations he had previously ceded to Greene, indicated that the coach has finally made his decision.

Before we go any further, let us understand that if this is the case, it was not the fans displeasure with the situation that forced this upon Brown, it was that Doege’s play in the second half of the Texas Tech game and his teammates reaction to it screamed out for such a decision to be made.

This was put best in post-game interviews when wide receiver Isaiah Esdale, who had a magnificent game with six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown on which he sacrificed his body to score, made a telling remark about what transpired at halftime.

“Jarret was the one in the locker room that stood up first,” Esdale said. “He stood up in front of everybody and said ‘Let’s go. Let’s get the energy up. Let’s get it right.’ We all listened to him. He’s our quarterback. He’s our leader.”

That last part speaks volumes:

“He’s our quarterback. He’s our leader.”

The coach has to read something into that, for once turned loose on the field on Saturdays, football becomes a game of follow the leader and except in very rare situations is that leader anyone but the quarterback,

Whatever nerve was hit at halftime, it changed everything. The defense stiffened and the offense began making plays, enough to plays to be in a position to win the game in the fourth as Doege authored a 19 of 25 second-half passing for 276 yards.

“If people want to get pissed at me, that’s fine,” Brown said. “I’m fine with that, but that kid played well in the second half. He played well. I mean, what is he? He’s 25-of-33 for 318 yards [for the entire game]. Most of that was in the second half. He gave us a chance.”

Brown admitted that “there might have been one or two he’d like to have back”, but that is true in every game for every quarterback.

It’s not unusual, either that in every close game that is lost, one such play is the key play in the game.

So it was on Saturday when WVU was faced with third and goal at the 4 and Doege missed running back Leddie Brown when he broke open for what would have been the go-ahead touchdown.

“We had a good play, then missed the throw,” Brown said.

That happens.

They still had a chance to try for a TD, but Brown settled for a tying field goal, a decision he would second guess.

“You always kind of question yourself after the fact, but I felt like we had really good answers. We played well in the second half offensively. We kept them off balance, but we needed to score a touchdown,” he said. “That’s the one play. You’re down by three, so you’re rolling the dice, but the thought goes through your mind. We kicked a field goal and tied it. Then they went 80 yards on us.”

To rub salt in the wound, the key play in the drive to the winning field goal for Texas Tech was a badly underthrown deep pass by quarterback Henry Colombi that wound up having the receiver come back five yards to make the grab.

Without that, WVU probably wins the game in overtime, the crowd now rocking and rolling, and Brown’s decision being looked at in a different light and fans clamoring that he sticks with Doege to see what he can make out of this season.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

MORGANTOWN. W.Va. (WV News) — Since the later portion of the 2019 season, most of the success the Mountaineer football team has experienced has come by virtue of a strong defense.

But Saturday against Texas Tech, West Virginia’s defense was part of the problem, not the solution … at least in the first half.

The Red Raiders posted 207 total first-half yards on WVU and held a 17-0 halftime lead. The Mountaineers couldn’t get off the field on third down during that stretch, as Tech converted seven of nine third-down situations en route to their 17-point bulge.

“Our first half, our defense didn’t come out too hot,” admitted WVU junior defensive tackle Dante Stills. “We let them score 17 points right off the bat, and that’s a big deficit.

“It was more us than them,” he explained. “We were sluggish at the beginning, were moving slow.”

Texas Tech didn’t have a play longer than 18 yards in the first half, but it was very efficient. TTU quarterback Henry Colombi completed 18 of 27 passes for 163 yards in the first 30 minutes. The Red Raiders also added 44 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns to their first-half total.

WVU coach Neal Brown and many of his players said after the loss that the Mountaineers simply didn’t come out with a lot of fire, which was especially odd since Texas Tech had defeated West Virginia in both 2019 and 2020.

“The coaches harped on coming out with energy this week,” noted WVU safety Sean Mason. “They even showed us reminders of them beating us the last two years. We had to be ready, including myself, but we just weren’t ready in the first half.”

The Mountaineer offense and defense each spurted through the first half, but they both got better in the second. Offensively WVU totaled 315 yards and scored 20 points in the third and fourth quarters. This from a West Virginia squad that had been limited to just three second-half points in each of its previous three games against FBS opponents this season.

Defensively, the Mountaineers also buckled down and limited Tech to only 139 yards and six points in the second half. That allowed WVU to come back and tie the game at 20-20 with 4:34 remaining.

“We just started being aggressive. We weren’t aggressive the first half, but we were the second,” said Stills, who finished the game with four tackles, three TFLs and two sacks.

After WVU kicked a field goal to tie the contest late in the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders took possession at their own 16-yard line following the ensuing kickoff. From there, the visitors put together an eight-play, 70-yard march that ended in a 32-yard Jonathan Garibay field goal. A 42-yard catch on an underthrown Colombi pass by TTU receiver Kaylon Geiger was the biggest play in the game-deciding drive. Garibay drilled the 32-yarder six plays later, giving the visitors a 23-20 lead with just 19 seconds remaining, not enough time for the Mountaineer offense to respond.

“Our thought process before that last drive was, ‘Don’t let them score, make them earn the yardage,’” said Stills. “That big play hurt us really bad. It’s football, though, and that happens. We have to execute better.

“The second half we fought our way back, but it didn’t work out in the end,” added the fourth-year junior from Fairmont Senior. “The second half we gave ourselves a chance to win the game. It just didn’t work out in the end. We’ve just got to move on to next week against Baylor.”

For the Mountaineers, the task doesn’t get any easier in the weeks ahead, as they now go on the road for their next two games — at Baylor on Oct. 9 and at TCU on Oct. 23.

“Coach said don’t let this game define the rest of our season,” stated Stills in regards to Brown’s locker-room speech. “It hurts. I hate losing. I just don’t like it, but we have to bounce back and work. There’s nothing we can do about it now. All we can do is put our heads down and work.”

Stills wasn’t the only Mountaineer who said the team has to look forward, not backward.

“This is not a good feeling,” said Mahone after the loss. “We know what we can do. The first half, that wasn’t West Virginia. The second half, we started playing for real. We have to start fast. We can’t beat ourselves.

“It’s a new week,” concluded Mahone, who had a team-high 10 tackles as well as an interception on Saturday. “We have to learn from our mistakes. You have to have a short memory because we still have seven more opportunities. This one hurts, but we have to move on.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia fought back from a 17-0 halftime deficit, but in the end, Saturday’s outcome against Texas Tech was a whole lot like the one at Oklahoma the week before.

Just like the Sooners, the Red Raiders drove the length of the field in the final minutes in a tie with the Mountaineers and kicked a game-winning field goal with 19 seconds left, lifting Tech to a 23-20 victory.

With the loss, WVU fell to 2-3.

Atmosphere: Five for five in 2021.

It was 73 degrees at kickoff, and while the skies were mostly cloudy, it was still a very nice fall day for football. Mother Nature has smiled on WVU for each of its football games this season, as the weather has been wonderful for all five, home or away.

It was Stripe the Stadium day at Mountaineer Field, meaning the sections alternated between blue and gold. West Virginia fans have gotten very good at following the instructions in terms of what color to wear according to their seat, and they certainly did so again very well on Saturday.

It was a disappointment that the stadium wasn’t full, as the attendance was announced at 54,090. It wasn’t a bad crowd, but considering the nice weather and the fact that WVU’s next home game won’t happen until Oct. 30, those fans who did not show up missed an excellent opportunity to enjoy the glorious elements. The crowd that was there lost a little juice as WVU fell behind in the first half, but came alive as the Mountaineers mounted their second-half comeback. Grade: B+

Offense: The first half was about as bad as it gets for the Mountaineer offense. It managed just 109 total yards and no points in the opening 30 minutes. It also turned the ball over once when Tech’s pass rush knocked the pigskin from Jarret Doege. That gave the Red Raiders possession at the WVU 34, and the visitors capitalized with a short touchdown drive that was part of a 17-0 Tech halftime lead.

The second half was a much different story for West Virginia’s offense, as it put together 20 points and 315 total yards, 276 of them through the air. Doege wasn’t able to accomplish much in the first half, as he completed six of eight passes for 42 yards and was sacked twice in that stretch. The second half was a different story for Doege, though, as he completed 19 of 25 attempts for 276 yards. His one off-target throw in the half was a critical one, though, as he missed an open Leddie Brown in the end zone on third down from the TTU 11 with 4:40 left in the game.

Instead of a touchdown, which would have given WVU a 24-20 lead, the Mountaineers had to settle for a field goal and a 20-20 tie. That left the door open for the Red Raiders, who needed only three for the win rather than seven. Grade: D+

Defense: The Mountaineer defense had been very good the past two games, but it was ripped apart in the first half by Texas Tech, which put together a couple lengthy drives en route to a 17-0 lead at the midway point.

The Red Raiders were especially efficient on third down, converting in both short- and long-yardage situations. West Virginia’s D simply couldn’t get off the field, as Tech converted on seven of nine third downs in the first half.

Like its offense, WVU’s defense was much better in the second half. It allowed Texas Tech to convert just one of five third downs in the second half, and the Red Raiders managed only 139 yards of offense in that time. Seventy of those yards for Tech came on its final, game-winning field goal drive, though. The Mountaineers just couldn’t make the play when they desperately needed it. That was true for the defense just like it was for the offense. Grade: D+

Special teams: West Virginia didn’t get much out of its special teams against Texas Tech. Its punting and kickoffs were subpar, and Winston Wright’s kickoff returns were severely limited in comparison to previous games. There weren’t many horrible moments for WVU’s special teams, but there weren’t any great ones either. Grade: C-

Coaching: The theme from Neal Brown on down after the loss to TTU was that the Mountaineers lacked energy throughout the first half, which they blamed for allowing Texas Tech to sprint out to a 17-0 halftime lead. WVU did dig out of the hole to tie the game, but that early deficit also meant West Virginia had to play error-free in the second half to complete the comeback.

The Mountaineers were good in the second half, but there were mistakes on both sides of the ball that allowed the Red Raiders to pull out the win. It all started with a lack of energy, and the coaches have to own that. Grade: D

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — It happened again.

Honest.

Two straight weeks, two straight last-second losses.

First Oklahoma. OK, that happens.

But now Texas Tech, 23-20.

Oklahoma was a game West Virginia could have won.

Texas Tech was a game it SHOULD HAVE won.

This season, born in hope, now is on the brink of disaster.

The Homecoming crowd of 54,090 saw the Mountaineers at their worst in the first half and at their best in the second half, right up until they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone from the Tech 4.

The worst surely was the first half that ended with Texas Tech on top 17-0.

"The way we played in the first half was inexcusable," coach Neal Brown would say.

The fans were booing and the players were embarrassed, for Texas Tech, which had beaten them two straight years, was doing it again despite playing back up quarterback Henry Colombi along with a backup running back, wide receiver, center and three defensive backs.

There was dissatisfaction with the two quarterbacks and virtually anyone in a WVU uniform save for the band and the cheerleaders.

But they came out of the locker room a different group in the second half, Doege looking like Tom Brady and the offense and defense in full bloom. In fact, by the time they added up the stats for the day WVU had 424 yards to 346 for Tech, led in rushing yards, passing yards, average yards per play, time of possession, first downs, sacks, tackles for losses and average beers per fan.

Yet they lost the game.

It came down to the final minutes, first when Doege drove the team into position to win the game as part of a second half that saw him complete 19 of 25 second-half passes for 276 yards.

But his final throw, aimed at an open Leddie Brown in the end zone from the 4, missed, forcing a game tying field goal from Casey Legg.

"What it came down to was we didn't score a touchdown and had to kick a field goal. Then we weren't good enough on the last drive," Brown said.

Brown said he had the wrong personnel group on the field for the pass to Brown.

"We had a good play but we missed the throw," Brown said.

He admits he considered an all-or-nothing fourth down try for the touchdown.

"Maybe we should have gone on fourth down. You always question yourself but I felt like we had really good answers and had played well in the second half," he explained.

He got a good kickoff after the field goal, Tech taking over at its own 19. He felt good about that, the way the defense was playing.

But then came the game's key moment, a 42-yard pass from Henry Colombi to Kaylon Geiger on a freaky play in which the pass was underthrown badly.

"That ball bounces funny ways," coach Brown said. "It was badly thrown, probably five yards behind him and he comes back and makes the play."

From there Texas Tech just marched into field goal range and got the winning kick that ruined what was supposed to be a festive day.

WVU was out of timeouts so Texas Tech ran all but 22 seconds of the clock before kicking the field goal and giving Doege one last try at a miracle.

But he completed one long pass, then tried to get one more to get into field goal range, but he didn't come close, throwing his last hope far out of bounds.

For the day he completed 25 of 33 for 318 yards and a touchdown. He had a pair of 100-yard receivers in Winston Wright Jr. with nine for 106 yards and Isaiah Esdale with six for 113 yards.

Leddie Brown rushed for 57 yards and caught four passes for 31 yards while Mike O'Laughlin caught five for 35 yards.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The No. 12-ranked West Virginia University women’s soccer team dominated possession and scored a pair of goals in the second half to tally a 2-0 win over Oklahoma, on Saturday afternoon at Dick Dlesk Soccer Stadium in Morgantown.

Despite both teams going scoreless in the first half, freshman forward Dilary Heredia-Beltran earned the game winner just 20 minutes into the second period, off an assist form junior defender Gabrielle Robinson.

Sophomore midfielder Lilly McCarthy added a second goal for the Mountaineers, while freshman forward Lisa Schöppl recorded her first points of the season, earning credit for the helper on McCarthy’s score

“I thought the team really came together in the second half,” WVU coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. “I thought everybody really recognized where we had to make some adjustments. We were able to find the win, and it was a big win for us because Oklahoma has a very good side.”

The first half saw a lot of back-and-forth action from both teams, as only five total shots were recorded in the first 45 minutes.

The Mountaineers’ biggest chance of the half came when a shot from junior forward/defender Julianne Vallerand drew the keeper away from the net, leaving the Sooners’ defense to make the team save.

However, WVU couldn’t convert on the empty net opportunity, and the teams played on.

Despite WVU’s trio of corner kicks inside the final 20 minutes, the two teams went into the locker room knotted at 0-0.

In the second half, the West Virginia offense took control, dominating possession and making the Sooner defense fend of several Mountaineer opportunities.

However, the Mountaineers continued to struggle to find the finish, despite forcing OU keeper Nikki Panas to make a pair of saves.

WVU finally found the back of the net in the 64th minute when Robinson found Heredia-Beltran up the far side.

The Wichita, Kansas, native weaved in and out of OU traffic, before sending a shot from just outside the box and into the goal.

From there, the Mountaineers seemed to find their rhythm, fending off any chance the Sooners had to take the ball to their attacking third.

In the 76th minute, WVU got fancy in front of the net, passing the ball in and out of the penalty area.

Eventually, Schöppl found McCarthy at the top, who squared up and sent it in for the insurance score to give WVU the 2-0 victory.

West Virginia dominated every statistical category, leading the Sooners 16-2 in shots, as well as 7-1 in shots on goal.

The Mountaineers earned four corner kick opportunities on the afternoon, while they didn’t allow the OU offense to earn any, marking the third time this season the WVU defense has held its opponent to zero corner kicks.

West Virginia also tallied its sixth clean sheet of the year, as junior goalkeeper Kayza Massey added one routine save in the contest.

With the victory, West Virginia improves to 12-0-1 in the series with the Sooners, as well as 34-4-2 all-time in home, Big 12 matches.

Next up, the Mountaineers travel to Manhattan, Kansas, for their first road test of the Big 12 Conference season, as they take on Kansas State on Thursday, Oct. 7. Kickoff at KSU’s Buser Family Park is tabbed for 8 p.m.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Their paths were crossing on a sunbathed Saturday afternoon, two West Virginia football players, decades apart on the time scale, each thrust into a similar situation.

One had built his career and reputation to the highest level, the one named Darryl Talley, who on this day was receiving the greatest honor a Mountaineer football player could receive, having his No. 90 jersey number retired by the school.

The other, Akheem Mesidor, was in the process of making his mark on Mountaineer football, involved in a game against Texas Tech on a WVU team caught in the midst of a rebuilding phase under a coach trying to make his mark.

What tied them together was the uniform number. He, too, wears, No. 90.

Talley made it famous during his career at West Virginia, now Mesidor would be the last to wear it as it will go into retirement after his career; a career that has gotten off to magnificent start, a career that promises to do justice to Talley himself and to his number.

Talley, of course, was there to help transition WVU into a winning era under coach Don Nehlen in a brand new stadium. Likewise, Mesidor is a key figure in Neal Brown's rebuilding program in the same stadium, although Talley would have trouble recognizing it as it stands in its renovated spendor.

Talley remembered the first day they played in the stadium against Cincinnati in 1980.

"We had to walk through the mud to get in," he recalled.

Landscaping would come later.

They thought it was a palace back then, so much so that when Talley was recruited out of east Cleveland by Gary Stevens, they would whisk recruits by old Mountaineer Field and bring them to the site of the under-construction new stadium, selling a dream, not a memory.

When asked about the recruiting trip and then playing in the stadium, he offered this up to WVU historian John Antonik as to the emotion of the day.

"I said, 'OK.' No big deal. It's a new stadium. But when they finally opened the place and John Denver was in there singing 'Country Roads' … to this day, there are only two other things that give me chill bumps on my arms," Talley admitted to WVU historian John Antonik. "One was playing in my very first Super Bowl and the other was when my two kids were born."

Talley went become one of, if not the, greatest linebacker at a school known for its great linebacking, from Sam Huff, who defined the position of middle linebacker, to Chuck Howley, who won one Super Bowl MVP and probably should have had two, and Grant Wiley being three of the four who make up WVU's linebacking Mount Rushmore.

He finished his career with 484 tackles, a record that lasted two decades at the school until Wiley broke it, then went on to Buffalo for the bulk of his NFL career, one that saw him play on four Super Bowl teams, all of them — sadly for Talley and his teammates — losing efforts.

Talley's signature game ended in a narrow three-point, 16-13 defeat to arch-rival Pitt, but the testimony to its greatness — and his — is in that is remembered and talked about today.

Pitt, of course, was a different animal then, a national contender with a Hall of Fame quarterback in Dan Marino.

But Talley was a different animal, too. He was a dangerous animal they nicknamed Spiderman.

This was what Antonik wrote about Talley's performance that day.

Talley lined up at nine of the 11 defensive positions, made an interception covering the slot receiver, harassed Dan Marino all afternoon, blocked a punts for a touchdown and darn-near beat those Panthers all by himself.

It was the long-time WVU assistant Bill Kirelawich who put it best.

"The problem with that game was we had one Darryl Talley and they had about six or seven," he said.

Pitt had been No. 1 in the nation at the time and Talley's play had put the Mountaineers into a 13-0 lead, which Marino eventually evaporated.

Talley had gone from an under-recruited prospect who played only 10 high school games due to injuries as a junior and senior to a top NFL draft pick who would play in four frustrating Super Bowls ... each a defeat.

But you ask him his top memory of the Super Bowl and it is one that casts a glimpse into his inner soul.

"My most meaningful memory was of the first one in 1991," he said. "The country was at war and here we are playing a football game in front of millions of people all over the world. We are the show. We're it. Imagine. Whitney Houston knocked the National anthem out of the park. Blackhawk helicopters are flying overhead.

"I get goosebumps just thinking about it. What else could we do then to bring some peace and harmony to the world. When the jets flew over in the "missing man formation", that was unbelievable."

Now, Talley has added another page to his memory book as his number was retired at WVU, but again he was thinking not only of himself, but of the young man named Mesidor who would be the last to wear it at WVU.

"I told him, 'Congratulations on wearing the number' and look, back in the day they had a thing called a rotary telephone and just remember, I'm the last two numbers of the phone 9-0. So if you ever need anything, call me. I believe I can help guys.

"I can teach them what they need to know and teach them some of the things I believe in."

Talley has looked carefully at the player wearing his number.

"He appears to have the world on a string right now," Talley went on. "All he has to do is work at it. His talents will translate to the next level if he works at it. If he continues to do what he's doing, the sky is the limit for him."

But here's the thing this shows. Our heroes of yesterday get only better with time, never leaving but, instead, simply moving aside to make room for new stars who follow. If Huff or Howley was there before Talley, Wiley or Mesidor would follow.

There never really is a void or a vacuum. It is a living, breathing progression from year to year, decade to decade, generation to generation.

Friday, October 01, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown is nothing if not organized. He has a plan for nearly everything, and he started to formulate his concept about how best to build the Mountaineer program basically since the moment he stepped on the WVU campus in 2019.

Though he cut his teeth as a young coach on the offensive side of the ball, including stints as the offensive coordinator at Troy (2008-09), Texas Tech (2010-12) and Kentucky (2013-14), he thought from the beginning that defense could be the strength that led the Mountaineers to long-term success.

“We formed our philosophy our first spring here in looking historically at our league, where we were going to recruit, what kind of kids we could get, how do you build,” explained Brown, who is now in his third season with WVU. “We knew it was going to be a bit of a longer-term deal, so how do you build to be competitive? There have been people who just tried to outscore everybody — not necessarily here but the league in general. I think that’s a tough formula when you’re playing the Oklahomas of the world. So, we felt like if we can play great defense and special teams, and be really efficient on offense, we could be successful.

“We do have to recruit some difference makers, which I think we have a couple,” added WVU’s coach. “We just have to continue to grow them and mature them and get them in situations where they can be explosive. That’s the formula.”

It took a little while for West Virginia’s defense to start to live up to Brown’s vision. In 2019, the former Troy coach’s first year at the Mountaineer helm, WVU gave up an average of 32.1 points per game through its first nine contests, losing six of those. Though it defeated James Madison (20-13), N.C. State (44-27) and Kansas (29-24) in three of the first four outings of the Brown era, West Virginia’s defense did struggle that season in losing to Missouri (38-7), Texas (42-31), Iowa State (38-14), Oklahoma (52-14) and Texas Tech (38-17). A hard-fought, 17-14 defeat at Baylor was the brightest spot in the midst of a five-game losing streak through October and early November.

A Nov. 9 beatdown at the hands of an eventual 4-8 Texas Tech squad, which held a 35-10 lead at halftime at Mountaineer Field en route to its 21-point win, was the low moment. From there, West Virginia’s defense began to find its footing. It gave up just 19.0 per game in going 2-1 over the final weeks of 2019 with wins at No. 24 Kansas State (24-20) and TCU (20-17), as well as a 20-13 loss to No. 22 Oklahoma State.

The Mountaineer defense has been solid most outings ever since. Last season, it finished first in the Big 12 in points allowed (20.5 per game), and through four games in 2021, it’s giving up just 16.8 points per contest, which is third in the conference but just a single point behind the league leader, Baylor (15.8).

“There have been a few games where our defense didn’t play well — the Texas Tech game a year ago (a 34-27 Red Raider win), the Maryland game this year (a 30-24 Terp win) and the Iowa State game last year (a 42-6 Cyclone win), we really played poorly,” admitted Brown. “But other than that, our defense has played pretty well since after the Tech game in the 2019 season. We’ve set a standard of how we play defense. We laid a big egg against Tech in ‘19, played poorly and didn’t represent ourselves well. But from that point forward, going to Kansas State (in 2019), back here against Oklahoma State and then on the road to beat TCU and all of last year minus the ones we talked about, we’ve set a standard for how we want to play.”

The Mountaineer D indeed set a high bar in 2020, as it was not only first in the Big 12 in points allowed, but also first in yards allowed (291.4 per game) and passing yards allowed (159.6) and fourth in rushing yards allowed (131.8).

West Virginia’s ‘20 and ‘21 defensive models feature five of the same starters, but as much as personnel, it’s about philosophy.

“They are similar in the fact of what we view as important, what our standards are, how we approach each week,” explained WVU’s second-year defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley when asked to compare last year’s defense to this year’s. “That’s something we’re trying to build as our standard of play.”

Most of the Mountaineers’ current defensive statistics don’t rate quite as high as last year. Besides residing third in points allowed, they are fourth in the Big 12 in total yards allowed (308.3), fifth in rushing yards allowed (90.5) and fourth in passing yards allowed (217.8). But it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, said their head coach.

“Last year, we played well on defense, but we got some fortunate breaks, too, in when we caught people with backup quarterbacks and things like that,” admitted Brown, whose ‘20 squad not only faced a few depleted opponents but also didn’t have to meet Oklahoma at all, as the WVU-OU game was canceled because of COVID issues.

Last year, Oklahoma (43.4 points per game) and Texas (42.7) were the only two Big 12 offenses that averaged more than 33 points per game. Of this year’s first three Mountaineer FBS opponents, who combined hold an 11-1 record, Oklahoma (38.8) and Maryland (37.2) are both over that mark, and while Virginia Tech is averaging just 23.5 points per game, the Hokies are 3-1 with their only loss being to WVU, 27-21.

“This year we’ve played Maryland, who is proven, still undefeated, has a quality quarterback, a couple quality receivers and a running back who really hurt us,” stated Brown. “Virginia Tech is a challenge because their quarterback (Braxton Burmeister) can really run. And then Oklahoma is Oklahoma. They are always talented.”

In the 16-13 loss to the Sooners, WVU held OU to its lowest totals in the Lincoln Riley era in terms of points and rushing yards (57).

“We’re different on defense than we were a year ago. As a group, we have a chance to be as good or better,” Brown said. “The schedule is more challenging for us just because of who we play.

“I like how our guys are playing. I didn’t like how they played Week 1, and I didn’t like how they played at points in Week 2, but in weeks three and four, boy, they really played at a high level,” added Brown. “We’ve got to continue to maintain that. We’ve had a chance to make plays on balls that we didn’t make, but if we can do that, we have a chance to be special.”

Admittedly, West Virginia’s offense, which has averaged 21.3 points per game against its three FBS opponents this season, has got to become more productive if the Mountaineers want to achieve overall success. Also, the defense will continue to be severely tested, as challenges against Texas (46.8 points per game), Baylor (42.8), Texas Tech (38.8), TCU (37.7), Kansas State (28.3), Iowa State (27.5), Oklahoma State (25.8) and Kansas (19.8) — OK, maybe not Kansas so much — await over the next two months.

Still, this is the type of defense Brown plans on building his Mountaineer football program around for the long term.

“I think there is a formula for us to win big here, and I think that is built around playing great defense. I think that fits us,” WVU’s head coach said. “We do have to get more explosive on offense, and we have to continue to make strides on defense. We’ve got to get deeper on defense, but we’re creating a standard that we are going to play defense at a high level.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Normally, when you play a Big 12 schedule you consider the big games of the year to be against Oklahoma, Texas and, most recently, Iowa State, but for West Virginia it is becoming Texas Tech, especially this year.

While the Red Raiders are not considered among the elite in the conference, they have been every bit as troublesome as anyone for Coach Neal Brown’s Mountaineers in each of his two prior seasons since replacing Dana Holgorsen before the 2019 season.

Until the Mountaineers can figure out how to handle Texas Tech, it seems a bit absurd thinking about winning conference championships and there’s no time like the present to make that jump as coach Matt Wells brings an angry group of Red Raiders into Mountaineer Field at 3:30 p.m. today for a Homecoming battle with WVU, which will be shown on ESPN2.

They are angry because they come to town after being manhandled by a resurgent Texas team, 70-35, the Longhorns scoring 10 touchdowns.

The day features not only the Homecoming festivities, but the ceremony in which all-time Mountaineer great linebacker Darryl Talley’s No. 90 will be retired between the first and second quarter.

Talley is one of two WVU greats having their numbers retired this season. Major Harris is to be honored similarly in a couple of weeks.

Brown’s Mountaineers not only haven’t beaten Texas Tech yet, they have been mistreated by them to the tune of 38-17 and 34-27 scores.

“Texas Tech has had our number for two years in a row,” Brown said during his Tuesday press conference. “I think if you’re looking for keys to why they’ve won and why we have not, I think there are three of them. The two that stick out are rushing yardage and turnovers, and the third one would be the red zone if you just look over a two-year window.”

From the way WVU has struggled to run the football this season, one would not expect them to outrush Texas Tech this time around.

SaRodorick Thompson is back from injury to torment WVU on the ground as he has in the past two years, scoring three touchdowns. He now regains the starting assignment from sophomore Tahj Brooks, who had taken over and averaged 8.1 yards a carry with four TDs on just 35 attempts before being injured against Texas.

Yet another injury in that game which might have seemed to be good news for WVU was anything but as starting quarterback Tyler Shough, a transfer from Oregon, has been declared out of this game.

Before there’s any assumption that the injury benefits the Mountaineers, consider his replacement is Henry Colombi.

If the name is familiar, it should be for he was pressed into duty due to injury last year and led Tech to victory, passing for one TD, running for another and generally keeping the Mountaineer defense off balance with his improvisation on broken plays.

“Last year, he really hurt us extending plays, especially on third down,” Brown said. “He was able to extend some broken plays, found some open receivers and they were able to convert and keep drives alive. He played well in relief last week against Texas. He had three big, explosive pass plays in the second half and he’s a challenge for us.”

Last year he completed 22 of 28 passes against the Mountaineers for 169 yards while rushing for 40 yards.

“I think it helps that we played him last year,” Brown said. “I don’t know if it’ll help when he starts scrambling around. That’s where we needed help last year. He’s done a good job and they obviously feel really comfortable with him.”

Against Texas last week, he came on and completed 17 of 23 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite being whipped badly by Texas, the Red Raiders bring a 3-1 record into the game while WVU needs a victory to go above .500.

The Mountaineers want to avoid a letdown after the narrow defeat in an emotionally charged game at Oklahoma.

“We need a tremendous atmosphere on Saturday,” Brown said. “I thought our guys went out to Norman and played Oklahoma toe-to-toe and just came up a little bit short. We played tough and we played physical; they strained ever snap and I think it’s a group that really deserves the backing of Mountaineer Nation.”

Brown will be trying to get Leddie Brown untracked while working out the wrinkles in the two-quarterback system he has installed with Jarret Doege, the passer, and running threat Garrett Greene.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Comparative scores can often lead one astray in analyzing future matchups, and nowhere would that be more evident than in this week’s WVU-Texas Tech contest. The Red Raiders gave up 70 points to Texas last week, resulting in a number of predictions for a high point total for the Mountaineers this week.

While Tech is definitely not a defensive powerhouse, WVU might not be well-equipped to take advantage of that, at least in the form of big plays and drive completion. Tech, under former WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson (2012-13), frequently drops seven or even eight defenders into coverage, trying to negate big plays and create a sense of desperation as opposing offenses attempt to keep up with the Red Raiders’ own resurgent offense. That can lead to turnovers if offenses attempt to force the ball into coverage or get impatient.

Tech has racked up 23 explosive plays (gains of 20 or more yards from scrimmage), while WVU has 20. That gap doesn’t appear too big, but nearly half of the Mountaineers' long plays came against Long Island. Six of Tech’s came against Texas, with another six against Houston, and the Red Raiders have racked up a lot more yardage on theirs, with a nation’s best nine of at least 50 yards.

Even more illustrative, and perhaps the most important area to watch, is in drive completion. Tech has 22 offensive scoring drives this year, and 19 of them have resulted in touchdowns. WVU is close on the total with 21, but includes six field goals in that count.

This sets up a two-way battle: West Virginia’s stingy red zone defense vs. Tech’s finishing power, and WVU’s offensive inconsistency vs. a leaky Tech defense, which is yielding 377.5 yards per game. Can West Virginia be consistent enough to forge five or six scoring drives, with the majority of those being touchdowns? Can its offense, averaging 3.4 yards per rushing attempt, expect to approach the 334 rushing yards Texas hung on Tech?

WVU’s upfield mode of attack on defense will be tested by Tech’s offense, which not only gets the ball out quickly on short and mid-range routes, but protects fairly well on longer passes. Tech rushers, meanwhile, have lost only 25 yards on ground attempts this year, although the Red Raiders are allowing more than six tackles for loss this season.

WVU continues to disrupt opposing offenses, recording 37 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including 14 sacks. The TFL total is first in the Big 12, fifth nationally, and without question, part of a critical battle in the game.

And if WVU can’t get home against Tech QB Henry Columbi, who will get the start in the absence of the injured Tyler Shough? The Mountaineers do have to contain him in the pocket, as he hurt them last year in the Red Raiders’ 34-27 win, but they also have to execute better in getting their hands up on the pass rush when they don’t get home. That’s an area in which WVU has been decidedly spotty in recent years.

“It’s timing. Just knowing where his throwing lanes are and his tendencies,” WVU defensive lineman Dante Stills said of the keys to making it happen.

That, and just getting ones’ hands up in the first place.

* * * * * *

COVID AND COLLATERAL NOTES: Each week we’ll provide notes and tips on health precautions, travel advisories and more for the upcoming game in this space.

There aren’t any changes to WVU’s Covid requirements for this game. Masks are recommended, but not required.

Fans traveling north on Interstate 79 to Morgantown for the game should be extra careful in the construction zones at various points in Marion County, and also on the return trip south. While two lanes remain open, they are sharply winding, bumpy and very unsafe. One minor wiggle can send vehicles bouncing off the retaining walls and shut down traffic for hours, as it did nine days ago. Forty miles per hour is pushing it through these areas.

For realtime updates, the Waze app or the @WVInterstate79 Twitter account is recommended.

Scoring has been a tale of opposing strengths and weaknesses for the two teams this year. Texas Tech has been outscored 42-8 in the first quarter so far, while the Mountaineers have regressed from 93 first half points to 37 in the second half (and only 10 in the fourth quarter) this season.

Some of WVU’s lower output has to do with the way its games played out, as it tried to slow the pace against Virginia Tech and Oklahoma and was merely playing out the string against LIU. However, it’s not difficult to think that the team that overcomes its scoring issues in its half of struggle will gain a good advantage in the contest.

* * * * * *

Tech wide receiver Erik Ezukanma already has a healthy lead in the Big 12 receiving yards race this season. With 406 yards — 89 clear of second-place R.J. Sneed of Baylor — the first-team All-Big 12 pick is trying to lap the field.

While Tech can get receiving productivity from a variety of pass catchers, tracking Ezukanma would be advisable for Mountaineer fans — not to mention the WVU defense. A bit of extra attention, with a safety over the top in some situations and a bracketing pair of defenders in others are two of the tactics West Virginia may use to try to slow the Fort Worth, Texas, native.

West Virginia’s coaches continue to note that they need to get a second running back more snaps in order to keep starter Leddie Brown’s pitch count low. The trouble is, none of the other backs have earned enough trust to fill that role. Dropped passes and missed assignments, while not numerous, have contributed to that, and the raw truth is that none are yet close to Brown in terms of receiving, blocking, blitz pickup or any of the other myriad duties a back has in addition to just toting the rock.

The problem coaches face in this situation is finding a time in which a backup can play without it critically affecting the team. It might be a bit easier on defense, but it’s still tough to pull a star off the field for long. Until one of WVU’s backups shows he can be trusted consistently, spot substitutions will continue to be the order of the day.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Sometimes facts can be distorted into something they are not, but as West Virginia readies itself for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. Homecoming game with Texas Tech, there are two key facts to consider:

No. 1: Texas rushed 52 times for 336 yards while scoring 70 points on 10 touchdowns against the Red Raiders last Saturday.

No. 2: West Virginia rushed 29 times for 47 net yards in scoring 13 points on one touchdown against Oklahoma last Saturday.

That leads to a perplexing game planning situation for coach Neal Brown and his staff — Texas Tech is vulnerable to the running game, but WVU has shown no signs of being able to take advantage of it.

Take away WVU's rushing performance against a badly outmanned FCS opponent in Long Island, and WVU has gained a net 268 rushing yards against three FBS opponents — Maryland, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma.

That is 89 yards per game.

That will not cut it, and even against LIU, WVU's run game was hardly dominant, with 198 yards on 55 carries — just 3.6 yards a try.

Ask Mountaineer offensive coordinator Gerad Parker about it, and you get an honest answer, but one that tries to soften the meaning behind what is happening.

"Like anything, stats are stats. You have to look at them all, find out what's up and fix it. Then you have to try to sustain what's right," Parker said. "We played a formidable opponent in Oklahoma that creates a lot of havoc up front."

The result was there in the numbers, although Parker maintains that in one way you are looking into a fun house mirror when you look at them, noting that 21 negative yards came via a bad snap late in the game.

The reflection, he says, was distorted, and things were better than they looked.

"As the tape would tell it, we suffered a big loss in rush yardage at the end of the game, so what happened on the ground doesn't really look as bad, to be honest," he said. "I'm very proud of our guys on how they handled movement. It was a big point of emphasis, how they handled stunts and movement. If you analyze it fairly, you can say they played very physically and had a lot of movement."

The problem was that the movement wasn't forward on the ground.

"Of course, you want more," Parker admitted. "Some of that involves us making guys miss. Some of it missed by just this much. Those things are real."

What they are looking for is consistency in the running game, and not the kind of consistency they have produced to date.

"You want to see us make steps to where we find a way to run the ball better and finish games, i.e. the Virginia Tech game where we have the ball in a four-minute setting and keep pushing," Parker said. "We are taking those steps, and those steps are real."

The running game begins and ends with running back Leddie Brown, who last year in an abbreviated season gained 1,000 yards.

"Leddie Brown is no secret, last year to this year," Parker said. "We have to continue to game plan for him to find creases and then give ourselves some air. We have the ability to use the two quarterback system, and that helps us so we don't have some of the struggles we had last year."

But what is really hurting is that they have not uncovered anyone to do any damage to opponents as a backup to Leddie Brown.

Brown has 321 rushing yards in four games and all but 22 of the running back carries this season.

"We have to get a No. 2 guy at that position. He's getting his touches, but I think he's having to play too many snaps," Neal Brown said. "He's not as fresh late as he needs to be."

“The honest answer is that we are in the process of finding that,” Parker said of the search for a backup. “We are going to have to work week by week and day by day to see who that is and who it can be consistently. I would say they are all in the process of doing it.”

The hope was that by setting up a number of plays for Garrett Greene, the young running quarterback, a new dimension would be added to the running game. But until Greene shows himself to be a passing threat, the defense can sell out against the run.

WVU is hoping that its young offensive line will improve as the season unfolds and that that will take care of the problems, but that doesn't provide this week's answers.

"If the process is the truth, the work and the result, then we are going to get there," Parker said. "I think we are pushing our kids that way and, as a sidebar, I think that was the first time since I've been here that I saw our offensive and defensive guys hurt together, really care about each other at a tough time in a tough loss.

"They had a chance to win that Oklahoma football game because they were together. I think it needs to be said, and I think it tells you what we are growing here. Now we need to take another step so it ends up in celebration."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The next second-half touchdown West Virginia scores against a Power Five opponent this season will be its first of the year.

Forget about Long Island University-Post. Doesn't count.

We're not talking about bullying some third grader out of his lunch money on the way to the school cafeteria. We're talking, instead, of picking on someone your own size.

The last time WVU banged the ball into the end zone against a major opponent was New Year's Eve last year when Austin Kendall threw 21 yards to T.J. Simmons with 5:01 to play to beat Army in the Liberty Bowl.

In three second-halves this year against Maryland, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma has produced exactly nine points ... one field goal in each game.

No matter how you slice it, that ain't gonna cut it.

Coach Neal Brown understands that but isn't sure it's as bad as it looks.

"If you look at it, we've had really good drives on the first drives of the second half. We just had to kick field goals," Brown said. "It's fair (to say there was a problem) Maryland-wise and it's fair Virginia Tech-wise. Virginia Tech we kind of took the air out of it. You can argue we did it too early but it was 27-7 and we thought we were one score from putting it away."

Brown sees such judgement as harsh considering the way the Oklahoma game played out.

"Last week we only had three second-half possessions and that kind of got lost," he said. "Two of those drives were productive."

The first one got the Mountaineers to the Sooner 1-yard line before a false start stalled it and they settled for a field goal.

The second got them in position to kick a field goal or score a TD that could have won the game, but that was when a mistimed snap led to a 21-yard loss killed the drive.

Interestingly, the first halves have been fine — WVU scoring 93 first-half points to 37 in the second half. There has been great success with scripted first drives of the game.

"It's repetition," Brown said, referring to do it over and over in practice during the week. "We script the second half, too. It's really been early in the fourth when we have really dried up, late in the third, early fourth."

The result is clearly displayed in the statistics. WVU has run 102 first-half plays for 613 yards while running 85 second-half plays for 318 yards.

You can't talk such stats away.

"We have to figure out ways to get more explosive plays," Brown said. "We were able to hold onto the ball but you have to find a way to score touchdowns to win those games. When you get in the red zone you can't make mistakes that hurt you."

It's something Brown has given a lot of thought to.

“I think you have to do a few things. You have to save some things,” Brown said. “You maybe carry a little bit more into a game and save it for the second half. That’s a piece of it. There are some other things you can do as far as adjusting on some plays. We tried that against Oklahoma and to some success.

“We ran a lot of the same plays because they were giving us the same plays. But we adjusted and gave them different looks at it. I think that is something we can continue to do. But we have to get better. That’s the truth of it. We have to score more in the second half.”

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) -- It is fitting, perhaps, that this Saturday, when Texas Tech comes to Mountaineer Field to face West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. as WVU tries to move forward from last week's disheartening 16-13 loss to Oklahoma, that the Mountaineers will honor their great linebacker Darryl Talley by retiring his No. 90 uniform.

Fitting, we say, because they themselves are currently caught up in a similar rebirth for the program, just as they were under the Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, who used Talley as the central figure on defense as he built the WVU credibility.

You see, after 2 1/3 years of rebuilding the program, coach Neal Brown has learned that winning at West Virginia is built upon the very same defensive philosophies that Nehlen established then

"I think there's a formula for us to be able to win big here," Brown said on Tuesday after holding Oklahoma's always-productive offense to just one touchdown in 60 minutes of football. "We have to build around playing great defense.

"I think that fits us. Up to this point, I think we’ve established a standard that we are going to play defense on a high level,” Brown continued. “I think that’s important. I think there’s a formula for us to be able to win big here. I think that’s built around playing great defense.”

It's the one lesson that his predecessor, Dana Holgorsen, never learned.

He was about offensive football, riding a one-way train toward games that produced 70-63 victories or 59-56 losses.

Not that 16-13 losses are any easier to swallow, but they don't usually come down to having to outgun everyone in college football for the "glamour" teams in the sport have always been able to collect the most offensive talent.

Oklahoma has dominated WVU since the Mountaineers came into the Big 12 Conference because it collected Heisman Trophy winners at quarterback the way kids of a bygone era collected baseball cards, something WVU never could do.

It hasn't been because of a lack of trying to take home the best of the prep recruits at the position, but with the inability to bring them to Morgantown. The result was that WVU got an inconsistency over the years of players at the skill positions.

Even now, Brown admits "We have to get more explosive on offense."

Rather chase an uncatchable dream, Brown has decided that he will base his dream on the attainable.

"The philosophy was kind of formatted from the first spring we were here," Brown explained. "It came from looking at the history of our league, of what kind of kids we could get and how do you build ... how do you build where we can be even better.

"There have been people who tried to outscore everybody," Brown continued, claiming he wasn't just singling out the WVU program. "I'm talking about our league in general and I think that's a tough formula when you are playing the Oklahomas of the world.

"We felt if we established great defense, played great special teams, was really efficient on offense and continue to recruit some difference-makers, which I think we do, we will be all right. We just have to continue to recruit them, grow them and put them in positions where they can be explosive, then that's the formula."

The Oklahoma game last week Brown saw as confirmation of where they are heading.

"it wasn't acceptable, but schematically we have a have a really good feel for where we are," he concluded.

You look at WVU's best players who have been at WVU recently and the names that leap out at you are Darius and Dante Stills, David Long Jr., Tony Fields, Tykee Smith, Ahkeem Mesidor ... defenders all.

Mesidor, by the way, wears Talley's No. 90 and will continue to do so through his career.

What WVU has done is built a versatile defensive system around recruiting athletes in a wider recruiting next that has stretched into Canada and Europe looking for athletes, then fit in players like Mesidor and Alonzo Addae along with underrecruited players who can grow into the roles that are envisioned for them.

The parts are often interchangeable, which helps depth, allowing coaches to do more with fewer athletes.

Defense allows you to always be in games buys time for the offense, which takes more time to recruit to, install and which is so dependent on having that one special player at quarterback, a spot that often takes time to fill and develop.

So, when you begin thinking about how WVU will take the next step forward under Brown, remember that the way you spell success at the school begins with the letter D as in Don Nehlen, Darryl Talley and in Defense.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) -- About a month ago, they listed the preseason Heisman Trophy Top Ten odds this way at Caesar's Sportsbook:

Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma 11-2

D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson 7-1

Bryce Young, Alabama 9-1

C.J. Stroud, Ohio State 10-1

JT Daniels, Georgia 12-1

Sam Howell, North Carolina 15-1

D'Eriq King, Miami 18-1

Kedon Slovis, USC 20-1

Matt Corral, Ole Miss 20-1

Bijan Robinson, Texas 25-1

Only Robinson, a running back, is not a quarterback.

No wide receivers in the group.

What's more, no defenders, perish the thought.

The Heisman is supposed to go to the best player in college football. Usually it does, as long as he is on the offensive side of the ball.

In the history of the award, however, only one primarily defensive player has taken home a Heisman and that was ... who? Let's wait awhile before offering that up, even though true football fans do know the answer.

See, here's the thing. The odds have taken a beating in the past month. Many of the top candidates have had problems, including Rattler and Uiagalelei, the top picks, opening maybe a route to a defensive player to sneak in.

It becomes important at West Virginia because the Mountaineers have never had a Heisman winner and have put a strong emphasis on building on defense under Neal Brown. While none of today's players seem ready for a Heisman campaign, it could happen in the future if someone would beat down the door for defenders to be serious contenders in the Heisman voting.

The Heisman Trophy isn't really for the best player, even if it set out to be that way.

"It's unfortunate, to be honest with you, because it's really become the running back/quarterback best player award," Brown said. "You have an occasional receiver like last year with DeVonta Smith, but it's become an offensive skill award.

"It's not fair," Brown continued. "but that is what it has become."

WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley understands and accepts that.

"It's the guy that gets credit more than he should and the guy who gets the blame more than he should -- the quarterback ," Lesley said.

He then offered up the answer to the question we posed earlier.

"The quarterback is the standard in the game. Who was the last defender to win the Heisman, Charles Woodson?" Lesley said.

He was the last ... and the only defensive player. In 1997 while a cornerback at Michigan, Woodson beat out quarterback Peyton Manning of Tennessee for the Heisman as he led the Wolverines to a share of the national championship.

But even Woodson was something more than a defensive player, starring on return teams and taking some offensive snaps.

"A lot of his were return game," Lesley said. "He scored touchdowns."

During the '97 season at Michigan, Woodson caught 11 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns while rushing three times for 15 yards and another score.

"I don't know you'll ever see that again. Just watch the SportsCenter highlights. You see more touchdowns and offensive plays and touchdowns. It's just the nature of the game."

The question one would ask is if the nature of the game might not be changing now.

WVU and Oklahoma playing a 16-13 game after the winning team in their last four games had scored more than 50 points could possibly indicate that ... and it certainly didn't detract from the excitement of higher scoring games.

Defensive games tend to be close, they tend to be hard hitting, they tend to be more strategic and to produce just as many highlights as do offensive games, where the highlights often are not so much offensive highlights as defensive blunders.

Certainly, over the years there have been defenders who could have and maybe should have won Heisman Trophies, beginning with Chuck Bednarik at Penn back when players went both ways, Dick Butkus at Illinois, Hugh Green at Pitt, Deion Sanders at Florida State and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh.

Could the day of the defensive Heisman Trophy winner be coming?

It could, if SportsCenter would offer up a Top Ten defensive plays to go with a Top Ten offensive plays.

MONROE, La. (WV News) — Former West Virginia University football coach Rich Rodriguez' son is home recuperating after a lung injury suffered in his college football game on Saturday.

Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Rhett Rodriguez was in intensive care following the injury that occurred during Saturday's game against Troy.

Rhett Rodriguez suffered a collapsed lung and chest trauma, and had been placed on a ventilator.

Rich Rodriguez told ESPN it was "an amazing recovery." He alluded that his son may have been injured on the first play of the game. Rhett Rodriguez completed 10 of 16 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the Warhawks' 29-16 win against Troy.

"He's a tough guy," Rodriguez told ESPN.

Rich Rodriguez is the Warhawks' associate head coach and offensive coordinator under coach Terry Bowden. He formerly was head coach at Salem College, Glenville State and West Virginia University in his native state, as well as Michigan and Arizona.

Rhett Rodriguez is a graduate transfer from Arizona. Named the starter at ULM this summer, he has two years of eligibility remaining.

He is the son of Rich Rodriguez, who is a native of Marion County, and Rita Setliff Rodriguez of Lewis County.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — West Virginia had a chance Saturday for its first-ever road win over an opponent ranked in the top eight nationally, but it came up short at No. 4 Oklahoma, falling 16-13 on a last-second Sooner field goal.

The Mountaineers are now 0-33 all-time against top-eight opponents on the road, while holding a 5-20 record at home and a 2-5 mark in neutral-site games against those top-eight foes.

“We’re an improving football team, but we’ve got to take the next step and win those football games,” stated WVU head coach Neal Brown, whose squad fell to 2-2 on the season with the loss to the Sooners. “Oklahoma is a good football team; they’re talented. But we were good enough on that night to win, and we’ve got to get over the hump and do that.

“I thought we played tough and physical, but we just made too many critical mistakes to win the game,” he added.

“On offense, we had a good plan, and we really battled up front. Their D-line is very good, but our guys battled. Both our quarterbacks did some good things, and (WVU’s receivers) won against man coverage.

“Our defense played very, very well for three quarters. We ran to the ball, tackled well, we were physical. We were great on first down, and that’s a stat that gets lost. We prevented all but one deep ball, but I think we got tired late. Their last two drives went 16 plays and 14 plays. I thought we wore down a little bit then. From a coaching perspective, we’ve got to rotate our d-line maybe a little bit more.”

West Virginia certainly had a chance to leave Norman with its first-ever victory over the Sooners — home or away — since joining the Big 12 in 2012.

Three Mountaineer miscues in the second half proved critical in keeping WVU from adding to its 10-7 halftime lead.

“We had three possessions in the second half,” recalled Brown. “The first one we drove down and got a procedure penalty on the one when it was second down. I felt like we really had a chance to make a statement there, but we didn’t get it in (settling for a field goal and a 13-10 lead). The second one, after we got the fourth-down stop, we missed a throw on third down. The third one, we were in really good position. We drove down to their 27-yard line with 5:50 to go.”

At that point, WVU freshman center Zach Frazier had miscues on back-to-back plays, getting flagged for a snap infraction and then sailing a snap wide of quarterback Jarret Doege, resulting in a 21-yard loss. Suddenly a promising drive was halted, and West Virginia was forced to punt with the score tied at 13-13. The Mountaineer offense would never get the ball back, as Oklahoma took possession at its own eight-yard line and marched 80 yards over the final 3:39 to set up Gabe Brkic’s game-winning 30-yard field goal.

“Here’s what it comes down to — we got the ball to the 27-yard line, and then we got a false start when it was second-and-seven. Then we had a bad snap,” explained Brown, who is 13-13 overall and 2-8 against ranked opponents since becoming WVU’s head coach in 2019. “The thing is Zach Frazier played his ass off — I may not be able to say that on live radio. He did; he played well. Zach Frazier, if he’s not our hardest worker, he’s in the conversation, not to hurt anyone else’s feelings. He’s the most prepared and is one of our hardest workers in practice. He does everything to give himself an opportunity to play well on Saturday night. I think we had 63 countable snaps, and 59 of those were pretty good (for Frazier), even though he was playing against two guys who are very good. I thought he did a great job, but he had two bad plays. There’s not much we’ll correct. He only had one other bad snap the whole game. He thought the quarterback asked for the ball, though he didn’t. That’s kind of what it is. I’ll say this, Zach Frazier, over the course of the next three-and-a-half years, I’ll take him in that situation every single time. He’ll learn from it and move on.”

West Virginia purposely tried to slow the pace Saturday in an attempt to keep the ball out of the hands of the normally dynamic Sooner offense.

West Virginia won the time-of-possession battle 33:00 to 27:00, though that ultimately wasn’t enough to win the war.

While Brown was happy to keep the time-of-possession balance on his side, he would have liked to have seen the Mountaineers make more explosive plays.

“I’ve got to do a better job of getting us in some successful shot plays. We called them, but we didn’t have them open. That’s on me at the end of the day,” said WVU’s head coach.

“We have to figure out ways to get more explosive plays. We were able to hold on to the football quite a bit, but we have to score touchdowns to win those games. You wanted to minimize possessions against them. If you look at Oklahoma, they haven’t lost very many shootouts. So, you want to minimize possessions, but when you do that, you’re not going to get many shots, so when you get in the red zone, you’ve got to score touchdowns. And you can’t make mistakes that hurt you. At the end of the day, that’s what we did.”

West Virginia had just two plays of 20 yards or longer at OU — a 28-yard pass from Doege to Winston Wright and a 20-yard run by Leddie Brown. In WVU’s three games prior to facing Oklahoma, the Mountaineers had 18 gains of 20 yards or more.

“Going into the Oklahoma contest, we were first or second in the league in explosive plays,” noted Brown. “I think we were three of eight on down-the-field throws (against OU). You’re a little limited because you have to be careful protection-wise against that group that Oklahoma has. So, we were three of eight with a drop. That’s 50%, which isn’t bad, but we’ve got to get the ball 20+ yards on those explosive plays. That’s where, schematically, we have to do a better job against those type of people, that type of pass rush. We have to do some different things protection-wise to allow us to hold on to the ball a little longer so we can get the ball down the field.”

The Mountaineers’ loss at Oklahoma was the continuation of a troubling second-half trend. In its three games against FBS foes this year, WVU has been limited to a single second-half field goal in each.

In its 30-24 loss at Maryland in the season opener, West Virginia’s only second-half points came on a fourth-quarter field goal with 2:53 left in the game. Against Virginia Tech, WVU got a field goal on its first drive of the second half to push its lead to 27-7 but went scoreless after that, forcing it to scratch and claw in holding on for a 27-21 win. Then Saturday at Oklahoma, the Mountaineers again got a field goal on their first possession of the second half, increasing their lead to 13-10 at the time. WVU failed to score after that, though, allowing room for the Sooners’ comeback.

Though the second-half scoring was identical in each game, Brown said the circumstances were different, at least in this most recent one.

“We have to get better; that’s the truth of it. We have to score more in the second half,” admitted Brown.

“We’ve had really good drives to start the second half every time, but we just had to kick field goals,” he continued. “(The criticism) is fair for Maryland and is fair for Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech, we kind of took the air out of it, and we probably did that too early. It was 27-7, and we thought we were one score from putting that away. Maryland was fair too, but this last week, not as much. We only had three (second half) possessions, and we had productive drives on two of them. We should have scored a touchdown on one but had to settle for a field goal. Then we were in position on another. It was fair Virginia Tech and Maryland but not as much this past week.”

WVU now turns its attention to Texas Tech (3-1), which is coming off a 70-35 loss at Texas this past weekend.

The Red Raiders started the season with three straight wins over Houston (38-21), Stephen F. Austin (28-22) and FIU (54-21) before being brought back to earth in Austin.

West Virginia leads the all-time series against TTU 6-4, which includes a five-game win streak from 2014-18. But Tech coach Matt Wells’ crew has found a way to upend Brown’s Mountaineers in each of the last two seasons — 38-17 in Morgantown in 2019 and 34-27 in Lubbock in 2020.

“Texas Tech has had our number the past two years. Everybody knows that,” stated Brown. “We haven’t played well against them. They beat us, but we haven’t played well.”

WVU is currently a seven-point favorite for Saturday’s contest at Mountaineer Field, which will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and be televised on ESPN2.

“We’re glad to be home, Stripe the Stadium,” said Brown. “I think it’s important to note that (former West Virginia All-American linebacker) Darryl Talley is getting his number (90) retired. I’ve enjoyed getting to know him the past few years. He’s as good a defensive player who has ever played here. He’s special.”