Morgantown, WV – The West Virginia Mountaineers have relied on freshmen the front half of the season. While they’ve gained experience, they’ve played three out of the top four teams in the Big 12 standings and as a result, they’re eighth in the conference at 1-3 and 3-4 overall.
They came into the season with four freshmen and 11 redshirt freshmen on their depth chart. Heading into the game against No. 12 Baylor, seven freshmen and 10 redshirt freshmen have made it into the game.
Regardless, West Virginia started to progress after the 38-7 drubbing they took in week two at Missouri. They bounced back with a win over NC State and went on the road to beat a confident Kansas team. Then, the Mountaineers hosted No. 11 Texas and had them on the ropes heading into the fourth quarter, but turnovers were the difference as the Longhorns pulled away and it began a three-game skid.
“I really felt like we were making strides up through the first half of the OU game where we were getting better,” stated Brown. “Now some of it was hidden because Austin [Kendall] didn’t play against Iowa State, but we really made some strides in that game – you just couldn’t necessarily show in the production. But I thought as a football team, really since we left halftime at Missouri all the way to halftime of OU, we were making positive strides. Second half was bad football.”
Last week, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said the team was going to hit the reset button after the offense failed to score in the second half of the previous two games. However, that hasn’t stopped Brown from being upbeat about his young team.
“We got a lot of hope on offense,” said Brown. “People sometimes wonder ‘why do you come in here in a good mood? We lost three games in a row or we got our tail kicked pretty good.’ I mean, offensively, I think the future’s really bright for us.”
“I think if you look, we started as many as six – I’m not calling them – I’m not using the ‘F’ word anymore. So, we got a lot of people that are playing for the first time, but I think there’s a lot of hope. I think Sam James, a guy I’m excited about, didn’t play well against Oklahoma but I’m excited about his future. Bryce Wheaton – starting to come along for him. Ali Jennings is going to be a really good player. Winston Wright’s going to be a really good player.” Neal Brown slipped and said “the freshmen” as he stopped himself and said “I used the word again. I got to quit using that. Not the ‘F’ word some of y’all were thinking about,” while the room filled with laughter.
So why won’t Neal Brown say freshmen?
“I think it’s a built-in excuse for those kids… our staff… and maybe myself. And listen, we’re a no-excuse operation, it is what it is – we play a lot of young people. Here’s the deal, we’ve played seven games now and we’re not using that word anymore. They’ve got seven games worth of experience. Some of them got five, some got six, but they’ve all played five-plus more games these guys we’re really dependent on – its time.”
This extra time should do this team some good. It gives this young team a chance to catch their breath, heal up and maybe find some continuity on offense after a brutal start to October. As for Neal Brown and his staff, their focus is squarely on the old gold and blue.
“Here’s where I’m at with our football team. I just want to get better, period,” stated Brown. “I’m not spending a large amount of time on what Baylor’s doing on offensive, defense or special teams. Not because I don’t respect them - I do. I’m not spending any time whatsoever looking at other teams in the league because I think for our football team is, we just got to get better.”