West Virginia football’s road record in 2020 left a bad taste in Neal Brown’s mouth. The Mountaineers will start 2021 on the road, and he hopes the team’s performance it will act as a sort of mouth wash.
“I like the fact we are playing on the road because it’s something we want to get check marked, for lack of a better term, is hey we can go on the road and win,” he added.
The Mountaineers went 6-4 in 2020. All of the losses came away from Milan Puskar Stadium. While it was a disappointment for the program, it did face some tough opponents on the road, including three inside the top-25 in Oklahoma State, Texas and Iowa State.
After having a whole offseason to digest when went wrong, the head coach believes the caliber of the away opponents did play a big factor, but so did his team’s lack of execution in the crucial moments. In fact, three of the four road losses last season came by two touchdowns or less.
“We just didn’t play very well at the conclusion of games. I don’t there is any magic pill for it. I don’t think it was our routine, don’t think it was the hotel. We just have to execute better. Last year was unique because there weren’t large crowds, so they weren’t a factor,” Brown said in an exclusive interview for Mountaineer GameDay. “We had a young team last year. We are a little bit older so I am hoping we will accept that challenge. We tried to play it up as ‘hey it’s us against everybody else when you go on the road’ and my belief is we will play better.”
In 2019, Brown’s Mountaineers finished 3-3 on the road, taking losses from Mizzou, No. 5 Oklahoma and at No. 12 Baylor. In Waco, WVU was in it until the very end. The three wins came at Kansas, Kansas State and TCU, and those contests were decided by five points or less.
“We played our best football on the road in ’19, winning at Kansas State and at TCU,” Brown said. “I don’t think it’s an issue, but we still have to go out and win on the road which we didn’t a year ago.”
So, Neal Brown may only have three road victories on his resume as the head coach here in Morgantown, but as WVU football radio sideline analyst Jed Drenning recalls, away games are a staple of Brown’s programs.
“Historically, when you think of Neal and the guys surrounding him on this staff, not only did we win some big ones in 2019, but when he was at Troy, he made his name going on the road and playing good football — the win in Baton Rouge, in Lincoln, Nebraska, almost knocked off Clemson on the road. I think this is a staff that understands what it takes to win on the road,” Drenning said in an exclusive interview for the Neal Brown Show.
With the exception of Brown’s first season at Troy, he led his program to four or more wins away from home. It was only two W’s in 2015, but 2017 saw five in that category. Brown and his staff know what it takes to win on the road, and with a more experienced team here in 2021, they believe they have the players that know what it takes, too.
“I think that’s a sign of a championship-level team and championship-level program if you can win on the road in hostile environments,” Brown said.
And a hostile environment is exactly what Brown is expecting on Saturday. He believes a large WVU presence will be contributing to it, as well.
When the depth chart was released for Saturday’s came, a number of freshman and newcomers to the program were featured on the two-deep. Now, that was the case last year but it was that aforementioned hostile environment that was missing. Brown says for that reason, this season-opener will provide a totally different experience.
“We played our first game with no one here against Eastern Kentucky, so maybe they were able to get into the flow, maybe not as many nerves as there may have been. I don’t know what they said the percentage was at Oklahoma State, but there was a pretty good crowd there, and that’s the way it was for most of the games last year. You had a feel, even though it wasn’t as many people there, there was stadium noise or whatever,” Brown said. “It is going to be different for the Wyatt Milums and Kaden Prathers, just thinking on offense. Their first college football experience is going to be a lot different than Zach Frazier’s was last year playing in an empty stadium against Eastern Kentucky.”