Not a whole lot of people expected West Virginia to be 2-3 through the first five games of the 2021 season, but here we are. The three losses are of a combined 12 points. WVU had an opportunity to win each of those games but for different reasons, failed to get the job done.
There are several things that Neal Brown needs to address for the Mountaineers to salvage their season but a few, in particular, must take place for WVU to finish the year strong.
Develop a rushing attack
West Virginia ranks dead last in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game, averaging just 116.2 yards per contest. Texas Tech ranks 9th yet averages nearly 30 more yards per game. The Mountaineers are in their own class here and it's not the one you want to brag about. The biggest question is how is it that a team that has Leddie Brown on the roster rank last in the conference in rushing? According to Neal Brown, it's a culmination of things.
"I think we've got to be better detail-oriented. At times, we've done what we needed to do from a run game footwork standpoint. We've had success but we haven't been consistent enough with our footwork. Our run reads have not been as good as they need to be. I think early in the year not having Mike [O'Laughlin] did hurt us. Since he's been back, he's blocked the edge much better. And then when Garrett [Greene] is in the game, he's got to read it. He missed several of those in the drive he had in the first half. Really, it's a combination of everybody. Can we run the football better than we have? Yes. I'm not destined that we can't do it."
Also, I want to point out that it feels like Leddie Brown disappears in the 2nd half way too often. I understand the coaching staff wants to protect him from injury by not overusing him but the offense must run through No. 4. If he needs a breather, sub in Tony Mathis or Justin Johnson. Getting those guys in the game is the only way they are going to improve. Even worse, you don't want to go into next season without Leddie Brown and have absolutely no experience in the backfield. When you have average quarterback play, you have to be able to run the ball with some sort of efficiency. When you don't, you get exactly what you've seen from this West Virginia offense - not much.
Better game management/discipline
Two weeks in a row, Neal Brown used up precious timeouts on offense in the 2nd half due to having the wrong personnel on the field, getting the call in too late, and several other reasons. Brown addressed the issue during Tuesday's press conference.
"There were two instances where we had to use offensive timeouts on Saturday which should never occur. If you go back and look at the history, seven years of doing this, we traditionally never use our timeouts on offense. We had to use two the other day. The one was a total MA [missed assignment] on the one where we came out of our little sugar huddle. That was a MA where we had a guy that just forgot what to do. There's no excuse on that. The first one was totally my fault. The way we're doing this is I've got a script for Garrett and I've got a play bank for Jarret and I had the wrong one. I put Garrett in and it's totally my fault. I called a Doege play for Garrett which that's on me."
The biggest problem I have with this is if a player doesn't know what he's supposed to do, why is he on the field? I place the blame on the coaching staff for something like that. It's the coaching staff's job to have their guys ready and know what their responsibilities are for each given play, package, or formation. Secondly, the timeout being called because Brown called the wrong thing is a big red flag. Attention to detail doesn't just pertain to the players, but the coaches as well. In a moment like that where you're trailing by 17, you can't have mental blips like that. What made it even worse is that it was on 1st and goal. If Greene is on the field, it's one of two things - read-option left or read-option right. It would make no sense to insert Greene to have him throw the ball so why waste a timeout, especially on 1st and goal? At the very least, call a QB draw just to run a conservative play and save a timeout. Wasting timeouts have cost WVU in each of the last two weeks.
From a discipline standpoint, WVU has to clean up a lot of things on the offensive side of the ball. Penalties coming at inopportune times have plagued this unit. Going back to the Oklahoma game where Parker Moorer was flagged for a false start with the ball at the 1-yard line. Stuff like that can't happen, yet it seems to happen week after week, stalling drives. Playing fundamentally sound football will take a team a long way even if the talent level isn't quite up to par. As Neal Brown reiterates nearly every week, "the margin for error is small".
Consistency on offense
The 2nd half has been a sore spot for West Virginia's in the Neal Brown era. Oddly enough, they flipped the script on Saturday by being held scoreless in the first half before finally putting it all together in the 2nd half. Much of this has to do with a lack of consistency in my opinion. Specifically, at the quarterback position, there's too much up and down. When Doege gets hot, he can make just about any throw. But when he is cold, he starts to press, makes questionable decisions, and oftentimes puts the ball in danger. It seems like Brown is going to continue to roll with a two-quarterback system that heavily features Doege, so they're going to need him to live up to the high expectations that the coaching staff placed upon him prior to the start of the season when they stated that he was the "most improved player".
Improved offensive line
West Virginia is allowing 2.0 sacks per game which ranks 62nd nationally. When you have a pocket passer at quarterback, you have to give him more time to scan the field and go through his progressions since he's not going to make plays with his feet. When Greene is in the game, it won't be as big of a deal because he can improvise.
In the running game, there haven't been big holes for Leddie Brown to run through which circles back to the very first point. Coming into the year, the offensive line was expected to be a strength but it has turned out to be the unit with the most question marks, aside from quarterback. Offensive line coach Matt Moore hasn't been pleased with the physicality that his guys have played with which has to change in order to be able to run the football.
There is still a lot of football left to be played and WVU can turn a slow start into a strong finish but to do so, they're going to have to see progress in each of the four areas listed above.
The Mountaineers will be back in action this Saturday as they head to Waco, Texas to take on the Baylor Bears.
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