Neal Brown has a lot to feel good about with his football team. Four games in, the Mountaineers have a much-improved rushing attack, a group of willing young players stepping up in their roles, and most importantly, a 3-1 record.
There is still some work to do before the Texas Longhorns run onto the field at Milan Puskar Stadium, though. First, while their attack is improving, they have a long way to go if they want to live up to the moniker of a Big 12 offense.
“We didn’t have enough explosive plays, we’ve got to be able to get explosive plays,” Brown said of his team’s performance at Kansas. “We’ve got to be able to generate explosive plays as we get into our league schedule.”
West Virginia will likely be the underdog for much of the rest of this season, which means they could have to garner some big plays to get an edge. Although they’ve made strides on the offensive side of the ball, they still sit at the bottom of the conference in yards per play (4.7) and total offense (1304 yards).
They have shown big play capability, especially with Sam James. The redshirt freshman did make some explosive plays in the Mountaineers’ win over NC State, including a 20-yard touchdown catch in which he shed multiple tacklers en route to the end zone. Even in their wins, though, these plays are few and far between.
Piggy-backing off of that, Brown also says his team needs to improve on consistently moving the ball forward.
“We had too many negative yardage plays, something that we really cleaned up against North Carolina State,” he said. “But, we came out this week — I think we had 20-25 yards of negative yardage.”
In fact, the Mountaineers had 8 negative yardage plays against Kansas for 33 yards, including a trio of sacks. While WVU’s offensive line troubles are well-documented this year, the young guys on the line have shown that they can step up.
Most importantly, though, Brown says WVU needs to improve on finishing their drives. While Evan Staley has gone 6-for-9 from the field this season, his coach would prefer to end a drive with a touchdown rather than a field goal.
“We’ve gotta score touchdowns in the red zone,” he said. “Evan had a good day kicking field goals…but we need to score six there rather than settling for three.”
The focus will be on West Virginia this bye week, but it’s tough to not look ahead to Texas. With two full weeks between games, the Mountaineers have some time to get these issues straightened out, with a tough opponent at the end in the Longhorns.
That tough opponent has struggled on the defense, though, which gives the Mountaineers a good chance to test any improvements out. The Longhorns sit dead last in nearly every defensive statistic including total defense and pass defense.
But as that game is still more than a week away, the focus stays in Morgantown.
“I’m gonna say [to the team], ‘Hey listen, here’s the deal: we won the game, and I’m fortunate and I’m proud of you for winning the game, and this is why we won the game,'” Brown said. “But this is also why we didn’t play our best. If we continue at this rate, we’re not gonna be successful for the rest of the season.'”