Thursday, March 23, 2023

West Virginia Ends Season on a High Note by Dropping TCU

The West Virginia Mountaineers (5-7) season came to an end by upsetting the TCU Horned Frogs (5-7) 20-17 and spoiling their chances of becoming bowl eligible. Kennedy McKoy, playing in his final game with the Mountaineers, led West Virginia in rushing with 51 yards on 9 carries.  Leddie Brown led the team in receptions with 6 catches for 41 yards. West Virginia starting quarterback Jarret Doege struggled throughout the game, particularly on deep throws, but threw a dime to Isaiah Esdale late in the 4th quarter to put the Mountaineers ahead 20-17 and finished 20/34 with 158 yards, 2 touchdown and 3 interceptions. The young West Virginia defense played well once again, giving up 279 yards and only 17 points.  Freshman Tykee Smith had a tremendous game with an interception and several pass breakups. This season was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers and they showed outstanding progress in the last several games.  It's going to be exciting next year in Neal Brown's second season in Morgantown!

Season finale serves as a dress rehearsal for 2020

A losing season clinched and a chance at a bowl gone, West Virginia's finale at TCU Friday doesn't have a lot in the way of consequence on the 2019 campaign. The meaning of the final score for the game is mostly window dressing. A victory assures the Mountaineers (4-7, 2-6 Big 12) of avoiding their first-ever last-place finish in the Big 12. But Kansas (3-8, 1-7), who is a game behind WVU and Texas Tech in the conference standings, ends the season Saturday against Baylor so the Jayhawks should clinch the basement spot themselves. WVU also could leapfrog Texas Tech (4-7, 2-6) for sole possession of seventh place with a victory over TCU and a Texas win over Texas Tech. "We're number 7" isn't much a rallying cry, though. So team goals are pretty set. But for individual players, and varying units, Friday's finale will serve as an audition towards 2020. One unit that needs to show it can do something in the way of contribution is the WVU running backs. It's impossible to overstate how bad West Virginia's running game is. The Mountaineers rank 129th out of 130 FBS teams in rushing yards, ahead only of winless Akron. Coming into the season, running back was considered the position of strength of an inexperienced offense. Obviously that didn't work out. Kennedy McKoy departs after this season, but Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield are expected to return next year. A strong effort by either would be a nice positive to take into the spring. The running backs aren't solely responsible for the grounded ground game. The offensive line has been inadequate and hasn't improved. The Mountaineers unfathomable 26 yards on 22 carries in last week's 20-13 loss to Oklahoma State was a microcosm of their season-long struggle. Only tackle Colton McKivitz departs after this season. So while the line will be more experienced in 2020, it remains to be seen if more experience results in better play. In just two games, Jarret Doege appears to have solidified the starting quarterback role next year. Another strong effort against TCU could further cement that status. However, a poor outing could make coach Neal Brown open a quarterback competition between Doege and Austin Kendall in the spring. WVU would be better if Doege locks down the spot. In a season of more lows than highs, the defense provide more than its share of encouragement. The steadily rising play of defensive linemen Darius Stills and Dante Stills has been a the highlight of a better-than-expected defensive effort most weeks. The return of the Stills brothers are one of the biggest reasons for 2020 optimism. There have been defensive lapses this season - being boat-raced by Oklahoma is understandable if not preferable. But giving up touchdowns on the first four drives in a home in a rout to struggling Texas Tech will sting this defense into the off season. But the defense gave the team more positives than the offense. The effort in a 17-14 Halloween day loss to Baylor was the Mountaineers best performance. Even an average offensive contribution (it scored one touchdown, the other was a kickoff return) and West Virginia would have the signature victory of Brown's early tenure. Maybe that signature can come Friday by upsetting TCU. The idea that WVU has "nothing to play for" is simplistic and mistaken. The result might not matter much, record wise, on the 2019 campaign. But the performance of the players involved can matter quite a bit.

Brown will need to go beyond high school to recruit successfully at WVU

The announcement that West Virginia landed Jackie Mathews, a heralded junior college defensive back from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, was great news for a defense that needs all the secondary help it can get facing high-powered Big 12 offenses. It's also good news to see WVU coach Neal Brown successfully navigate the JUCO recruiting waters. At West Virginia, Brown doesn't have the luxury of relying strictly on high school blue chippers to fill out his roster. West Virginia ranks near the bottom in available in-state blue chip recruits So like his predecessor, Dana Holgersen, did to varying degrees of success, Brown will need to explore less traditional avenues of accruing players. JUCO is an excellent source of good players. The junior college route isn't without its drawbacks. As anyone who's watched the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U can attest, JUCO players are in junior college for a reason. Sometimes it's academic issues. Sometimes it's emotional issues. Sometimes is criminal issues. If they didn't have these issues, these players would either have gone to D-1 schools straight from high school or, if they did, they would still be with the school they signed their letter of intent. But without access to a treasure chest of in-state talent, the Mountaineers need to absorb some of these issues and take some risks. Sometimes it works Sometimes it doesn't. But it's an angle that Brown must navigate. The other route Brown must take advantage of is the transfer portal. And here, the first-year West Virginia coach is already off and running. The Mountaineers top two quarterbacks are transfers. Their third also was, until Jack Allison recently left the program to return to the portal. Historically, some of WVU's best quarterbacks have been transfers. Jeff Hostetler came from Penn State; Will Grier from Florida. Jarrett Doeged is the current starter and likely will be for the next two years. Brown recruited Doege not from high school, but accrued the signal caller from Bowling Green. Like JUCO, transfers have their issues. Otherwise they wouldn't be transfers. But unlike junior college players, D-1 transfers most often are leaving situations that just didn't work out, football-wise. And those players, as transfers, are likely to be more judicious in their college selection as transfers than they were as wide-eyed high school prospects. Fans love watching a five-star prospect sit at a table and put their school's baseball cap on his head as he announces his collegiate commitment. The hope and promise of that day is catnip to rabid college football supporters. Building a program near exclusively on high school talent works for Alabama, Georgia and Notre Dame. Schools like West Virginia need to be more creative. It's promising to see Brown doing so early and successfully.

Kwantel Raines Officially Enters Transfer Portal

Kwantel Raines has officially entered the Transfer Portal and intends to leave West Virginia University.  Raines, the Redshirt Freshman Safety out of Aliquippa, PA, was absent in West Virginia's final home game against Oklahoma State. Neal Brown, on his weekly press conference, said that Raines "didn't dress and is trying to figure out what he's going to do."  Brown added, "I haven't talked to him." This didn’t  sound great for Raines returning to the team and the loss of yet another player in the already-thin secondary is difficult for the Mountaineers. Raines was a four star prospect out of high school by ESPN, Rivals and 247 Sports.  He was the 7th best prospect in the state of Pennsylvania according to 247  Sports.

WVU’s Future: 8-4 Next Season, 11-1 and a National Contender in 2021

Neal Brown's first year as the Head Coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers has been difficult, filled with injuries and transfers and disappointments, but it has also been inspiring at times, leaving us with a lot of reasons to be optimistic for the future of the football program. To begin, West Virginia's defense has looked remarkably outstanding, considering all of the losses from the previous season.  The secondary, obliterated by injuries and players fleeing to the Transfer Portal, has overachieved.  Seniors Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey will be gone next year, as well as Free Safety Josh Norwood, but several young players have been forced into action and have done quite well (Raines, Mahone, Fortune, etc.). Returning Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan at Bandit, the Stills brothers on the defensive line, Josh Chandler and other talented, young players who gained a ton of experience this season, will be invaluable.  Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning's 4-2-5 defense has been good (great?) and it will only get better next season. The offense has been a different story entirely.  Currently ranked 118th out of 130 teams in the nation in total yards per game with one game remaining in their season, it's safe to say that this season has been a complete and utter disaster for the Mountaineers.  Averaging 329 yards per game - 256.9 yards passing and 72.1 on the ground (2nd worst in the entire nation!) - will not get it done in the Big 12 Conference. A lot of the blame has been placed on the offensive line and the wide receivers, but ultimately the offensive line has protected quite well in the passing game and the wide receivers are young.  Drops are normal for young wide receivers thrust into making big catches.  Sam James shouldn't have had to be forced into the position that he was put into as West Virginia's clear-cut top receiver as a Redshirt Freshman and I expect him to be spectacular next season. Offensively, a lot of the issues have been play-calling.  Brown has been far too conservative at times, even with a young, inexperienced team.  The use of the Zone Read for most of the season with Austin Kendall at quarterback was a major misstep for Brown. There is nowhere to go but up for the West Virginia offense and Neal Brown is an intelligent Head Coach who will get the issues fixed next season.  Jarret Doege has been sensational and Brown played it perfectly by giving Doege experience in the final four games without burning eligibility for future seasons.  Doege is the perfect quarterback - poised, experienced, has the ability to throw the ball downfield - to lead the Mountaineers to successful seasons in the next two seasons. The Mountaineers open up against the Florida State Seminoles next year Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.  The Seminoles, who fired Head Coach Willie Taggart midway through the season, are a mess right now and it will certainly take more than a year or two to fix the issues in Tallahassee, regardless of who they name as their next Head Coach. The rest of the schedule is very favorable for the Mountaineers.  Three home games against Eastern Kentucky, Maryland and Kansas State gives West Virginia an opportunity to open the season 4-0 before traveling to Lubbock to play Texas Tech.  The Mountaineers have TCU, Kansas, Oklahoma and Baylor at home and Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road. It's not overly optimistic to say that West Virginia will finish with an 8-4 record with that schedule next season.  The following season, with Jarret Doege as a Senior, Sam James as a Junior, Neal Brown's offense fully evolved, the current defensive players as upperclassmen, this is a 11-1 or 12-0 team waiting to happen.  Remember, Brown started off 4-8 in his first season at Troy before going 10-3, 11-2 and 10-3 with three bowl wins in his final three seasons there. Although this has been a disappointing season for the Mountaineers, there is an awful lot to be optimistic about and West Virginia football will see brighter days very, very soon.

Hope For The Climb

In any marriage, trust is absolutely essential.  Trust is built over time and is made stronger with time.  Even if a partner is unfaithful or gives their partner a reason to lose trust, trust can be rebuilt with transparency and effective communication. West Virginia fans are in a marriage of sorts with Head Coach Neal Brown.  We love and adore the West Virginia Football program and he is essentially the program as the leader of the team.  His personality is imprinted all over the team, he decides on which players eventually come to Morgantown to play for the Mountaineers and he makes the rules and creates the vision.  Neal Brown is West Virginia football while he is the Head Coach.  As his partner in this, we love him, we want to trust him, but trust of course is earned over time. Demanding that we trust his climb is unfair and goes against everything we as human beings are emotionally capable of.  We can certainly hope that things go well and give him every chance in the world to prove himself, but trust takes time to develop. There have been many areas that Neal Brown has earned my trust.  He is an outstanding representative of West Virginia University and our state.  He will not embarrass our state or university in any way.  In fact, he will always act appropriately and in the most distinguished, respectable way.  Unlike previous coaches, we will never have to worry about Neal Brown saying the wrong thing or being caught up in a scandal of any kind.  He is a clean, safe, good person.  He has earned that. I hope more than anything that Neal Brown is massively successful at West Virginia, that he wins many, many Big 12 Championships and competes for National Championships. He has my full and unwavering support as he attempts to climb to the top, but I don’t trust that he’s going to be capable of winning big in Morgantown yet.  I will continue to question him fairly and hold him accountable and push him to be better.  I love West Virginia University and our state so much, and I only want what’s best for it. When Neal Brown promised to “hit the reset button” during last week’s press conferences and make changes in the offense, I was excited.  This was what I was hoping to hear for weeks.  Brown lost some trust when very few changes were made against Baylor and the offense accounted for a mere 219 yards. That trust can be regained and I fully expect that it will, but you know what I trust now?  I trust that the West Virginia defensive line will play their asses off and that they are capable of stopping a really, really great team like they did on that incredible goal line stance against Baylor.  I was so proud of them that I could cry and I trust that they will do even more amazing things in the future.  They earned that. Marriage isn’t easy.  To be successful, you have to be transparent, you have to communicate with your partner effectively and you have to prove yourself every day until trust is earned.    Trust isn’t given, it’s earned and it’s developed over time.  Just like being in a marriage is often hard, being a head coach in the ultra-competitive college football landscape is hard and requires support, hope and a little bit of luck.  I will always support Neal Brown for as long as he’s the Head Coach of the Mountaineers, but I will also always question him, push him and demand the best from him.

Sam Huff Named a Top Game-Changer in NFL History

Former West Virginia great Sam Huff, who led the Mountaineers to a 31-7 record during his 4 years in Morgantown, was just named one of the greatest game changer in the NFL.  Huff was a four-year letterman and three-year starter at guard and tackle for Coach Art “Pappy” Lewis and led the Mountaineers in the 1954 Sugar Bowl. Huff, who played for the New York Giants from 1956-1963 and for the Washington Redskins from 1964-1967, was named the 85th greatest game-changer in NFL history.  Huff’s Giants played in back-to-back NFL championship games in 1958 and 1959 and lost championships in 1961, 1962 and 1963. Huff was inducted into the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in 1999.  

Top WVU Recruit Set To Announce

Lamy Constant is a program changer.  He’s one of the best running backs in the high school ranks nationally and right now he’s one of the very best uncommitted recruits in the 2020 class.  West Virginia just so happens to be at the very top of his list and the West Virginia coaching staff wants him, needs him badly.   Moments ago, Constant said “it’s time” in regards to making his future college decision. Constant, 6’0 and 186 pounds, is a 4 star running back out of Brooklyn, New York.   He is the top ranked prospect in the state and the 20th ranked running back in the class of 2020.  According to the Crystal Ball Predictions, he is listed as 100% predicted to attend West Virginia University. He’s fast, he’s strong, he can run you over and he can run past you.  He’s versatile.  He can play multiple positions and is as comfortable lining up out wide as he is as a running back.  He is the complete package.  To watch him on film is to watch someone special, someone different, someone with real superstar potential.  Lamy Constant “plays the game angry.” According to 247 Sports, Constant has “wide shoulders and good frame. He can easily carry 20 pounds more and get to 205.  Quick feet. Has patience and vision running between tackles. Sneaky quick ability to accelerate. Knows when to bounce plays outside. Good cutback runner with body control. Strong stiff arm. Has to show he can run with power and break tackles. Becoming more physical runner will help. Has to run with lower pad level. Adding strength throughout frame integral for development. Improving pass catching ability a must. Multi-year starter for Top 20 program. Likely will become a late-round NFL draft selection.” Constant visited Morgantown on March 3rd and had “an awesome visit.”  He followed it up with a #TakeMeHome20 and #HailWV, and then “Be back real soon!”  Although Constant is being courted by every elite program in the country (Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Miami, Tennessee, Texas A&M and all the other big boys in the nation are calling), Constant recently narrowed his list to Texas A&M, Michigan State, LSU and West Virginia. Constant spoke with “Beasts of the East” following his Final 4 announcement and said the following about each program: TEXAS A&M: “How real and upfront the coaching staff is. They don’t sugarcoat much and that’s exactly what I need to continue to elevate my game.” MICHIGAN STATE: “The coaches are extremely genuine. They are eager to get me on campus and start working.” LSU: “Honestly the name speaks for itself. The legacy and tradition built there when it comes to the running back position isn’t something you can argue.” WEST VIRGINIA: “The one school I visited so far. Great facilities and an even better presence when it comes to the knowledge and experience under the coaching staff’s belt.” According to 247 Sports Composite, “Constant maintains a low profile in recruiting and has long been linked to West Virginia.   He could make visits during his senior season before announcing a decision. Constant made a visit to West Virginia in the spring and there is talk he could return to campus when the dead period ends later this month. He is yet to visit the other three finalists, which could delay his decision.” Right now, West Virginia is the clear leader for Constant. If West Virginia University is lucky enough to land him, he is a player that Neal Brown and staff can build their whole team around.  He could be the future of West Virginia football.

Austin Kendall Is Not The Answer

Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”  Einstein would think that West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown is crazy. Brown, who promised new wrinkles to his struggling offense, continues to run the very same plays over and over again that have been unsuccessful all year long.  When the offense runs the Zone Read, does anyone actually expect positive yards?  Does Brown?   Austin Kendall has been a true warrior behind a poor offensive line and with few weapons surrounding him, but Brown’s stubborn decision to not make a change at quarterback is losing games for the Mountaineers. Kendall had a couple of drops in the first half, but he also simply made poor throws on every other incomplete pass.  If we know anything about Austin Kendall at this point, we know that he is not a consistent passer downfield and he adds nothing to the Zone Read offense that Brown continues to use.  Kendall overthrows most of his throws and is simply not consistent on screens, on mid-level passes and is flat-out awful on throws downfield. Trending: The Neal Brown Honeymoon is Over Brown must not have any other option!  But wait… Jarret Doege, who was in the top 50 nationally in completion percentage, completions per game, passing touchdowns, passing yards last season at Bowling Green, has proven in actual collegiate experience to be an incredibly effective downfield passer.  Remember, Doege can play four games this season without losing future eligibility and will still have two seasons remaining to play for the Mountaineers. The defense has played their collective heart out in the first half and West Virginia can pull off a massive upset with a quarterback in that can consistent get it to the Mountaineers’ playmakers.  Play Jarett Doege and play him now!