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.