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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — A great deal has been written about Minnesota’s powerful running game and how West Virginia will have to combat it. On the flip side, all the attention has been on the absence of Mountaineer running back Leddie Brown, but at this point he’s not important. What is critical is how WVU plans to move the ball with the personnel it has available.

The extended break between the end of the regular season and most bowl games gives each team a chance to put in more tweaks, or change things up and break tendencies more than they can from week-to-week in October or November. Again, though, there’s a line. Changes can’t be randomly implemented, or get away from what teams do best. With that in mind, what might the Mountaineers do?

One area to watch is WVU’s screen game. The Mountaineers have shown numerous blocking schemes, receiver patterns and designs in trying to develop safe passes and methods of getting the ball to playmakers. Expect more of that in this game, with the hope from here that sure-handed Sean Ryan is a featured part of that action. By far West Virginia’s most sure-handed pass catcher, this could be his time to shine.

Minnesota arrived in Phoenix on Dec. 23, and conducted several practices leading up to the game on the 28th. WVU did not arrive until the afternoon of the 25th, and had just a couple of practices in Arizona after having conducted most of its heavy work in Morgantown, broken up by some days off, including a trip to a ski resort for some tubing.

“It’s a vacation destination, and we wanted to treat our players to that,” Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck said of the decision to come to the bowl site early. “We want to give them as normal of a week as possible, and we traveled here on what is (our normal Monday day off).”

It’s a toss-up as to which approach is better. Will Minnesota get a bit stale, or enjoy the break? Will WVU still be invigorated, and play with the verve it showed against Army last year in the Liberty Bowl?

West Virginia’s players seemed happy with the schedule when discussing it a couple of days prior to the contest, so if nothing else they seemed to be in a good frame of mine concerning their preparation scheduled.

Minnesota is 6-1 all-time in games played on Tuesday, while WVU is 5-3-1. The majority of those contests occurred decades ago. The Golden Gophers own a pair of wins over Hamiline in 1893 and 1902, while WVU has a win and a tie against Fordham in 1928 and 1929.

Minnesota’s defense is good, and has the ability to make life tough for the Mountaineer offense. However, the numbers it has put up are a bit misleading, as they are partly due to the Gophers’ deliberate offense.

Running the ball on 550 of its 793 offensive snaps, Minnesota had 104 more plays that its opponents, and dominated time of possession by more than 10 minutes per contest. That contributed heavily to their total yards allowed number of just 284 per game.

Again, this isn’t to downgrade UM’s defense, but the Gophers averaged only 360 yards per game themselves. Yards per play, and drive extension — the latter something of a strength for WVU this year — will be more important metrics to watch.

Also, WVU might be a bit more comfortable in dealing with low yardage outputs on rushing plays. UM held foes to 3.4 yards per carry, which is viewed as a strength, while WVU managed six wins with exactly that average per carry.

With the dome at Chase Field closed, weather won’t be a factor in the contest, but it will affect the few Mountaineer fans who will make it in for the game. Temperatures in the seventies a few days before the contest will give way to highs of around 60, and some rare showers, on the 27th and 28th.

Among players who started the season on the roster, West Virginia will be absent 89 games of starting experience.

The history of the Guaranteed Rate Bowl is all over the map in terms of both physical location and naming rights. West Virginia is making its third appearance in the bowl, and is 1-1 to date. Minnesota is making its fourth appearance, previously appearing in 2006, 2008 and 2009 when it was called the Insight Bowl. The four appearances tie Kansas State for the most in the bowl’s history. The Golden Gophers are 0-3 all-time in the bowl and are looking to be the first Big Ten team to win it since Michigan State in 2012.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Just as there is in nature, there is a life cycle for a college football player.

You see it develop each and every year, players coming into the game, players learning like lion cubs how to flourish and survive in the jungle that is the game as freshmen, then building on it, experiencing the good and the bad, learning from the elders by observation as they grow.

Then, one day, they are at the end, ready to be sent out into the real world to fend for themselves.

That, really, is what is being played out again before our eyes as West Virginia prepares to play Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl game on Dec. 28 in Phoenix.

Leddie Brown went from the cub feeling his way through his early years to become the kind of the jungle that exists at the line of scrimmage, a powerful running back who had developed subtle skills such as pass blocking and pass catching, to earn a place among WVU's top running backs.

He took his lumps playing behind a young, inexperienced line of cubs up front on a team that could barely surpass 600 rushing yards for a whole season, survived it and was better for it, his final two years finishing with more than 1,000 rushing yards each season to wind up sixth among the Mountaineers' all-time rushers.

Now, he is about to wander away from the pride, head off into the jungle in which the Lions and Bengals and Jaguars and Bears exist, the jungle that is the NFL, opting out of what would have been his final collegiate game in the bowl to make final preparations for that adventure.

But the life cycle goes on and a player whom Brown mentored through his early days, Tony Mathis, gets to play what may be the most important game of his college career against Minnesota.

It is a game that will cap off a season in which he fought injury throughout and did not show that he learned to hunt until the season finale against Kansas when he authored his first 100-yard rushing game with 118 yards while splitting time with Leddie Brown.

"I'm ready for it," he said on Friday, which was the Mountaineers day to meet with the media before diving fully into bowl preparations. "I've been working for it."

There's a difference in being the understudy for Leddie Brown and then inheriting his role against a big, tough, active defense that has not allowed any of its last six opponents to gain 300 offensive yards in a game.

Different, yes, but he will prepare the same.

"I believe for every team the 1 and 2 backs should be expecting carries because you never know what is going to happen," he said. "I am going to be ready ... definitely."

The journey was a difficult one. WVU went into the season with Brown as the lead back and with a battle for his backup; a battle that Mathis won almost by default ... and that he really couldn't take advantage of because he suffered injuries in fall camp.

"It was very frustrating, but you have to keep mind right and overcome it," he said.

Brown helped him along the way as best he could, right up until he waked into media interviews, talking to him just minutes before.

"He told me to keep doing what I've been doing," Mathis said.

Leddie Brown had become his main mentor during spring ball.

"We were really tight off the field, hanging out on a daily basis," Mathis said. "He'd tell me like how he was his freshman year. He was behind a few guys that year, just like I was."

There was much for Mathis to learn.

"It's all about the little things in college. There's a lot of little things that you don't do in high school that you have to do in college, especially as a running back," he said.

He's talking about such things as breaking tackles, showing the ability to run routes. The later was something Brown had worked diligently on and he passed along the knowledge he had gained to Mathis.

West Virginia had high hopes for Mathis when he came on the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2019 out of Cedartown (Ga.) High School, the Class 5-AAAA Offensive Player of the Year after gaining 1,042 yards on 169 carries with 23 touchdowns as his team's captain.

He played four games, mostly on special teams; then last year going into six games, mostly on special teams.

This season, though, he was going to be given a chance to shine in the backup role until those injuries kept him from performing as he could, which put a heavier burden on Leddie Brown than the coaches wanted to do, Brown winding up with more snaps played than anticipated.

But now, riding the high of the Kansas game, he gets first crack at proving himself ready to be Leddie Brown's successor.

"It's a great opportunity for Tony," head coach Neal Brown admitted. "He's played some great football. He's gotten better and better since the bye week."

His trajectory followed that of the team, for WVU was 2-4 going into the bye week, 4-2 coming out of it, just as he had only 25 rushing yards before the bye, 231 after it.

"He played almost every snap in the second half of the Kansas game," Brown went on.

True, it was Kansas, hardly what he'll see against Minnesota, but there were flashes of speed and power that hadn't been evident in his game before.

"We all are excited for him," offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. "We're so proud of how he's grown. He's not surprised by it. He went through a lot to get to this point and gave us a flash of what he could do in that last game."

Now it's Minnesota.

"They are pretty physical," Mathis said. "So are we. It's going to be a dogfight."

If it is, bet on the lion in a dogfight.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Before the Mountaineers head to Phoenix for the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, a dozen of them will cross the stage at the WVU Coliseum to receive their diplomas.

Scottie Young (multidisciplinary studies), Bryce Ford-Wheaton (sport management), Dante Stills (multidisciplinary studies), Sean Ryan (multidisciplinary studies), Mike O’Laughlin (entrepreneurship & innovation), Jackie Matthews (multidisciplinary studies), Leddie Brown (multidisciplinary studies), Evan Matthes (sport & exercise psychology), Casey Legg (accounting), Sam James (sport management), James Gmiter (criminology) and VanDarius Cowan (integrated studies) will obtain their bachelor’s degrees Saturday.

Other than Brown, who is opting out of West Virginia’s bowl game, O’Laughlin, who is injured, and Cowan, who is transferring to Maryland, the other nine are not only anticipating graduation but also their upcoming bowl encounter with Minnesota (8-4) on Tuesday, Dec. 28.

“I’m looking forward to finishing the season in Phoenix,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown, who is leading the Mountaineers to a bowl game for the second time in his three years guiding the program, having defeated Army, 24-21, in the Liberty Bowl last season. “It’s been an up-and-down year; I think I’ve been pretty honest about that. We finished on a high note with two wins in our last two weeks. We were sitting at 2-4 at the bye week, and we rallied to win four of our last six to get bowl eligible.

“For our program, I think it’s 18 (bowls) in the last 20 years.”

West Virginia will be missing a major offensive weapon in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, as senior running back Leddie Brown has opted out of the game in order to begin his preparations for what he hopes will be an NFL career.

Brown was WVU’s leading rusher this past season, netting 1,065 yards on 223 carries through 12 games.

Without Leddie, sophomore Tony Mathis (256 rushing yards on 59 attempts) will ascend into the Mountaineers’ starting running back role with freshman Justin Johnson (55 rushing yards on 19 carriers) now moving up in the rotation, serving as the main backup.

“It’s a great opportunity for Tony,” said Neal Brown of Mathis, who has played in 20 games through his first three seasons with the Mountaineers but has not previously had a start. “He’s played some great football. He’s gotten better and better since the bye week (25 rushing yards in the first half of the season and 231 in the second half, capped off by a 118-yard performance at Kansas in the regular-season finale). He played almost every snap in the second half of the Kansas game. Leddie had the big run (a 44-yard TD dash midway through the third quarter), and then Tony brought it home.

“It’s a great opportunity for Tony, and also a great opportunity for Justin Johnson. I think it will give us a little insight into next year.”

Leddie is the only Mountaineer WVU’s coach expects to opt out of the bowl game.

Tight end Mike O’Lauglin, cornerback Nicktroy Fortune and linebacker Exree Loe were starters this past season, but their injuries will prevent them playing in Arizona. Linebacker Lance Dixon, defensive back Jackie Matthews and wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton also had late-season injuries, but they have sufficiently recovered and are expected to see action against Minnesota.

One member of the Mountaineers’ 2021 football staff who will not be in Arizona is Kirk Ciarrocca, who is WVU’s former offensive analyst and soon-to-be Minnesota’s offensive coordinator.

Ciarrocca had previously coached for current Golden Gopher coach P.J. Fleck both at Western Michigan (2013-16) and Minnesota (2017-19). Fleck was in the process of rehiring Ciarrocca prior to the Guaranteed Rate Bowl pairing of WVU and UM.

It made for a unique situation, but Brown and Fleck talked and decided it was best for Ciarrocca to sit out the trip to Phoenix. Ciarrocca had spent the 2021 season at West Virginia’s offensive analyst.

“It’s my understanding that Kirk is not going to Arizona and will not coach in the bowl game. I’m supportive of that,” said Brown. “We felt like it needed to be about the Minnesota players and the West Virginia players.”

The Mountaineers will continue to practice in Morgantown through Dec. 25 with a couple of short breaks along the way. Then they’ll fly to Phoenix on Christmas morning, where they’ll conduct practices for three days before lining up against Minnesota at Chase Field on the night of Dec. 28 (10:15 p.m. Eastern Time).

For Brown, who is 4-0 as a head coach in bowl games, the postseason trips are a combination of work and fun.

“We always talk about our goals for the game,” he explained. “No. 1 is to win the game. No. 2 is to make it an enjoyable, memorable experience. The third thing is to salute our senior class as they leave the program, to make sure we honor them the right way. And the fourth thing is to build momentum for the next season. I think those are our goals. This is the sixth time — maybe fifth, I’m getting old — that we’ve had an opportunity with me as the head coach to lead a team into a bowl, and those are the same goals we’ve used every time.

“We try to do everything we possibly can, from an entertainment to a gear to a meal standpoint to treat it like a reward. Our practices are much quicker. We cut our meeting times down because our prep time is longer, so we don’t need long meetings.

“We do treat this different,” added Brown, who holds a 17-17 record at WVU. “This is not a regular game. This is a bowl game that is supposed to be a reward. We try to treat it as such. We want it to be a good experience for them, a deserving experience for them.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The rushing attack of the 2021 West Virginia football team is never going to be mistaken for the 2006 version, which, with Pat White, Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt leading the way, averaged a single-season school record 303.0 yards per game on the ground.

The current WVU offense averages barely a third of that figure, running for 125.1 yards per game.

Make no mistake about it, though, success on the ground still matters when it comes to West Virginia’s overall success.

This season the Mountaineers are 4-0 when they’ve run for more than 100 yards — 198 in a 66-0 win over LIU, 173 in a 27-21 win over Virginia Tech, 229 in a 29-17 win at TCU and 122 in a 38-31 win over Iowa State. They are 0-4 when rushing for less than 100 yards — 48 in a 30-24 loss at Maryland, 47 in a 16-13 loss at Oklahoma, 94 in a 23-20 loss to Texas Tech and 90 in a 45-20 loss at Baylor.

Add it all up, and West Virginia has averaged 180.5 rushing yards per game in its four victories this season and 69.8 in its four losses.

That trend carries through all three seasons in which Neal Brown has served as the Mountaineers’ head coach. In that time, they are 11-0 in games in which they’ve rushed for at least 100 yards and 4-15 when held below that level.

The good news for WVU is it has gone over 100 rushing yards in each of its past two games, averaging 175.5 yards on the ground in its recent back-to-back wins over TCU and Iowa State. It’s the best two-game rushing stretch against Big 12 foes for the Mountaineers in Brown’s time at the helm.

While running backs Leddie Brown (111 rushing yards vs. TCU and 109 vs. Iowa State) and Tony Mathis (48 rushing yards vs. TCU and 14 vs. Iowa State) deserve a great deal of credit for West Virginia’s improved ground game of late, so too does the Mountaineers’ maturing offensive line.

“We are playing much better,” Brown said of his offensive line. “Run-game wise, we’re doing a better job with the details consistently. There were some times early in the year when we did our footwork correctly, we had our hands in the correct spots and we had our eyes where they should be, but we didn’t do it consistently. Now we’re doing it at a much higher percentage, and that’s helped.

“I think we’re playing the way it should be played,” the coach added of his offensive front. “We’re being much more physical at the point of contact. We’re straining to finish blocks.”

West Virginia’s offensive line has not only been better in creating running lanes for Leddie and company, but its pass protection has been strong as well. It gave up just one sack in the TCU/ISU games combined, allowing quarterback Jarret Doege the time to complete a total of 51 of his 74 passes (69%) for 627 yards. In the first six games of the season, WVU had given up 16 quarterback sacks. It averaged 256.8 passing yards per game during the first half of the year, while completing 132 of 205 throws (64%).

“I think that we cleaned some things up schematically during the bye week (Oct. 16) from a protection standpoint,” noted Brown. “We’ve been able to help our tackles, which has been a benefit.”

West Virginia has stuck with an iron five offensive linemen in its two recent games, starting Brandon Yates and Wyatt Milum at the tackles, James Gmiter and Doug Nester at the guards and Zach Frazier at center.

“The good thing about that group is they are sophomore, junior, sophomore, junior and freshman, so there is a lot of football to be played with that group,” said Brown.

In reality, though, because the NCAA didn’t count the COVID season of 2020 against student-athletes’ eligibility clocks, those linemen have even more eligibility remaining than Brown listed. Yates is a redshirt freshman when it comes to eligibility, Frazier is a second-year freshman, and Nester and Gmiter are both third-year sophomores. The only one of the five starters whose eligibility doesn’t need to be adjusted is Milum, who is a true freshman.

A highly-regarded recruit coming out of Spring Valley High School, Milum is living up to the hype. He’s started three of the past four games at right tackle, missing only the Baylor contest when he was sidelined by a leg injury. The 6-foot-6, 291-pounder is just the second true freshman to start a game for the Mountaineers in their offensive line in the past four decades. Frazier was the first in that time frame, starting nine games last season.

Milum earned the offensive lineman of the game award from the WVU coaching staff this past week against Iowa State, as he was credited with eight knockdown blocks.

“For a true freshman to come in and win offensive lineman of the week against the No. 1 defense in the country is incredible to me,” said Gmiter of Milum’s effort against the Cyclones. “In the team meeting the next day, we hear eight knockdowns, and we all started looking at Frazier, just because that’s what we expect from him. But Coach Brown was, ‘You’re expecting the wrong name.’ Then he said Wyatt’s name. I’m really proud of him; we all are. To see him come out and play the way he did, as physical as he was and the attention to detail he showed, that was elite. He really took a step forward.”

Gmiter is playing well himself. He and Frazier are the two offensive linemen Brown has singled out for their consistent performances throughout the season. Now the others are starting to catch up.

“I think we’ve all five made a big step,” stated the 6-foot-3, 298-pound Gmiter. “During the bye week, we all got together as an offense and discussed what we wanted for the rest of the year. We got on the same page, and everyone bought in.

“The biggest part of the improvement is we all trust each other; we know how much work we’ve put in. We knew we were capable of better, and it finally started clicking against TCU.

“I’m really proud of all of us in how we’ve improved the past two weeks,” concluded Gmiter, “and I expect we’ll keep improving over the next four.”

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Admittedly it wasn’t the Will Grier/David Sills point-a-minute juggernaut of 2018 or the Pat White/Steve Slaton explosion-waiting-to-happen of 2007, but for 2021, Saturday’s performance in Fort Worth was a high-water mark for this season.

West Virginia’s 29-17 victory at TCU included the Mountaineers’ most points this season against an FBS opponent and its 229 net rushing yards were the year’s best no matter who the foe. It was just the third time this season the Mountaineers eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, and not coincidentally 3-4 WVU has won all three when topping the century mark via the rush.

“I feel like the last two weeks the offense practiced at a high standard, and that led to this game,” said West Virginia running back Leddie Brown. “That’s why we were so productive.”

Brown rushed for 111 yards against the Horned Frogs, marking the second time this season he has run for more than 75 yards, as he had 161 in WVU’s victory over Virginia Tech. He now checks in at No. 11 in Mountaineer history with 2,356 career rushing yards. Saturday was also his ninth 100-yard game, which ties him for 12th all-time at West Virginia.

“We knew in this game that both teams were going to run the ball, and the team that ran the ball better was going to win,” noted WVU’s junior running back, as his club outgained TCU on the ground, 229-149. “We knew we had to play more physical up front and in the backfield. We did that.

“Our o-line was more physical than TCU’s d-line.”

Brown’s backup, Tony Mathis, added 48 rushing yards, which is the second-best outing of the sophomore’s career. WVU’s second-string quarterback, Garrett Greene, accounted for 69 yards on the ground, 67 of them coming on one scamper. Only a pair of Leddie Brown runs of 87 yards last year against Kansas and 80 yards this season against VT have been longer in the three-year era of head coach Neal Brown.

“It was big for the team and big for himself,” said Leddie of Mathis’ effort. “It gave him confidence and took some of the load off my shoulders.”

West Virginia’s improved run game took some of pressure off the Mountaineers’ aerial attack. WVU had been second in the Big 12 in passing yards (265.8 yards), but it was just 2-4 before Saturday and had lost three straight because its offense lacked balance. With a running attack that accounted for a season-best, West Virginia’s 258 passing yards in Fort Worth looked even better than any previous contest this season, even though it was actually the third-lowest total in the first seven games.

“I’ll sing it well: our running game was very good, and it was an overall good team win,” said WVU quarterback Jarret Doege, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 257 yards and just as importantly, didn’t throw an interception, as the Mountaineers won the turnover battle against the Horned Frogs, 3-0.

West Virginia’s offensive line, which had struggled at times through the first half of the 2021 season, used an off week to make significant improvements, helping Leddie Brown and company average 5.6 rushing yards per carry and keeping Doege out of harms way against the TCU passing rush, as he was sacked just once.

“Our running and passing combination was really important,” noted Doege. “It’s just a testament on how hard our o-line worked the past two weeks. They are a tough, physical unit, and I think they just cleaned up some things the past two weeks. They’re pretty good when they play like that.

“We never quit. We just kept fighting. That was the message I gave the offense after the Baylor game,” said WVU’s quarterback of bouncing back from a three-game losing streak. “We know the defense is the same way. We just kept fighting, kept battling, kept coming to play each week.”

It was West Virginia’s fourth consecutive victory over TCU, and in the process, the Mountaineers snapped a seven-game losing streak in road games on their opponent’s home field.

“I had a lot of family here, so it was fun to get the win with them watching,” said Doege, who is a native of Lubbock, Texas. “Two-for-two in Fort Worth feels pretty good.”

The last time WVU had enjoyed a road victory had also come at Texas Christian’s Amon G. Carter Stadium, when Doege and wide receiver Isaiah Esdale hooked up for a late 35-yard TD to lift West Virginia to a 20-17 victory in the Mountaineers’ 2019 season finale.

“In warmups, I threw (Esdale) a pass, and it was a flashback. It looked exactly like (the game-winner in 2019), felt just like it, and he caught it the same way,” smiled Doege. “He came up to me after the catch and said it felt exactly like the game-winner.”

The Mountaineers didn’t need any last-minute magic on their 2021 trip to Fort Worth. Instead, they took care of business earlier, running and passing their way to a 12-point victory over the Horned Frogs.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — As Halloween fast approaches, West Virginia chased away all the ghosts and goblins that have been haunting them as they controlled the football and the football game in beating TCU, 29-17, at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth on Saturday night.

Not having won on the road since last traveling to Fort Worth in 2019, a span of seven straight games, the Mountaineers would not let TCU trick them and left with all the treats.

“It’s good to get one on the road,” coach Neal Brown said. “The media will have to find some new questions this week.”

They also scared off the witches who had cursed their ability to create turnovers, getting a pair of second half interceptions to cut short the Horned Frogs attempt to come back and to set up the game-clinching touchdown which came on Leddie Brown’s third short touchdown run of the evening.

The interceptions belonged to Daryl Porter Jr. and Charles Woods, who went into the game after cornerback Nicktroy Fortune was injured. Woods also recovered a fumble.

The two INTs doubled the Mountaineers season total through the first six games as won their first Big 12 game of the season and lifted their record to 3-4 with a tough home game next week against Iowa State, which remains with a chance to win the conference championship.

West Virginia came into the game with a three-game losing streak that included a blowout loss to Baylor the last time it took the field, but it did have an off week to let the wounds heal.

“We reflect on the game, get it over with and see what we did wrong and see what we did right and kind of move past it,” senior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo said. “We don’t let one game really bring us down or keep us too high. Of course, you definitely have that in the back of your mind — a team put up 45 points on us and that doesn’t just go away. But at the same time, you can’t focus on that. You worry about last week, you’ll mess around and let that bleed into this week.”

The only blood was TCU’s as the Mountaineers gouged them for 481 total yards, 111 of them rushing yards belonging to Leddie Brown for his second 100-yard effort of the year.

Jarret Doege had a big game at quarterback, completing 21 of 28 passes for 257 yards.

Much of the off week was spent trying to see that the Mountaineers would jump off to a fast start after coming out sluggishly against both Baylor and Texas Tech its last two times out.

But disaster lurked on the opening kickoff, which went to the goal line where Derius Davis gathered it in and was last seen crossing the goal line at the other end of the field for a touchdown and 7-0 TCU lead.

So much for fast starts.

But given two weeks to get ready, WVU had a solid game plan to attack TCU and immediately took control of the game behind Leddie Brown and quarterbacks Doege and Garrett Greene.

“Leddie had a good week and I expect to see a good night out of him,” coach Brown said prior to the game.

It didn’t hurt that TCU was giving up more than 200 rushing yards per game going in.

WVU put together a solid drive deep into TCU territory but had to settle for a field goal, something they have done far too often this season.

TCU tried to fight back from that but a huge sack by Dante Stills put an end to any scoring thoughts the Horned Frogs had and forced a punt.

Brown came out to start the drive running hard, then turned matters over to his backup Tony Mathis Jr., who put together some of his best running of the year to help them down the field, Brown finishing off the drive with a short touchdown run to grab a 10-7 lead.

WVU was statistically dominating the game but could not shake off TCU, even though Greene gave them a huge boost with a 67-yard run up the middle to set up another Legg field goal.

TCU bounced right back and drove inside the Mountaineer 10, was stopped three times before scoring on fourth down as quarterback Max Duggan scrambled and threw to a wide-open Barber in the end zone as WVU continued to hurt itself through a lack of communication at the back end.

Greene’s success couldn’t keep in the game for the next series and Doege stepped up with a scramble for a first down, then a long completion to Winston Wright Jr. that led to another short TD run by Brown.

TCU salvaged something out of the half with a field goal that put an end to the half WVU up a field goal at 20-17 despite a large statistical advantage.

TCU seemed to have found some answers on its first possession of the second half but its procession down the field was snuffed out when Daryl Porter Jr. jumped a route and came up with the rarest of all WVU defensive plays this year ... an interception.

It was just the Mountaineers third of the season and only the fifth takeaway, but it changed the flow of the game, WVU taking over in TCU territory. But the Mountaineers had to settle for a 49-yard field goal from Legg, his 13th straight of the year, to widen the gap to 23-17.

TCU tried desperately to get back into the game as put together an effective drive that carried it to the Mountaineer 35 but Josh Chandler-Semedo, who seemed to be all over the place as he piled up tackles broke through on fourth and 2 to turn possession over.

WVU strung together more yardage in another drive that died with a blocked field goal, ending Legg’s placekicking streak.

And the defense had even more left for TCU, getting yet another turnover when Woods fell on a TCU fumble, allowing the offense to ride Leddie Brown past 100 rushing yards as the clock ticked away.

Brown’s third TD completed the scoring and sent WVU heading home with smiles, something they hadn’t done in long, long time.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — No one can argue that Leddie Brown has not lived up to preseason expectations as West Virginia's lead — and so far this year, virtually only — running back.

The question is why and there is no simple answer to that question.

Yes, it involves the offensive line. Yes, it involves a passing game that hasn't forced the defense to play off the line of scrimmage. Yes, it involves the fact that he hasn't been able to get much rest.

But there is something unseen and unthought of that very much has affected Brown's success this season.

Think of the running back and what do you think of? Speed? Power? Cutting ability?

That is what you see but for Leddie Brown it is what he sees that may be costing him yards this season, or so he indicated on Tuesday.

No fewer than five times during an 11-minute interview did he bring up vision in the discussion.

We're not talking about reading the fine print in the playbook. We're talking about on-field vision, reading blocks, seeing defenders and what they are trying to do, finding where holes will develop.

Brown's emphasis on how important vision is began when he was asked if the running game was close to reaching its potential.

"I believe it's been just a couple of plays," Brown said. "We need to strain just a little bit more. When I get tired, I need to be a little more disciplined with my eyes. I'm not saying I need to be perfect because nobody's perfect, but we need go a little bit more.

"That's the whole offense, not just the quarterbacks, the offensive line, the running backs. It's the whole offense."

Then he was asked about pressure being on him as the main cog in the running attack. Again he went back to a reference about what he was seeing as much as what he was doing.

"Pressure, no. I did know defenses would key on me, especially after what I did the first game of the season. I just have to go out and play my ball and do what I do. I can't let their schemes affect what I do.

"I haven't been as disciplined as I was a year ago. I have to get back on track and get my eyes back right. I feel like these next six games give me the opportunity to get back on track."

So, the eyes have it, but how and why?

"Vision is important because if your eyes are going rogue, you're not going to be able to see the hole because that's how fast the game is," Brown said. "I have certain read keys to look at in order to get to where the hole should be or to get to a place where I can make a play.

"Sometimes this year my eyes haven't been in the right spots and that's on me, honestly," he concluded.

The problem is it's something hard to fix in practice;

"It doesn't come from practice because practice and the game are at two different speeds," he said.

Brown was coming off a 1,010-yard rushing season in just 10 games last year and burst into this year with a three-touchdown performance against Maryland in the opener. While he had a difficult time in the blow out of LIU, Brown bounced back by opening the Virginia Tech victory with an 80-yard touchdown spring, finishing with a 161-yard performance against the Hokies.

But things have deteriorated as the season went on and through a three-game losing streak the Mountaineers bring into the TCU game, Brown averaging just 70.2 yards rushing per game after averaging 101 per game last year.

It certainly could be discouraging for Brown, but offensive coordinator Gerad Parker believes that hasn't happened and won't.

"One reason is because (running back coach) Chad Scott is great. Another is because Leddie is great," Parker said. "In order to be a pro, which he wants to be there's plenty of reasons to be motivated — team success, individual success, his future. It's not hard to motivate a guy in his chair.

"I think you have to remind him of it. He wants to play this game at the next level. To do that, guys sometimes forget — not say that he has, but just in general — the saying goes be 'where your feet are.'"

In other words, you ain't there yet.

"We have to be good at the jobs we possess now . As players we have to be good at the jobs we possess now and future success will take care of itself if you do that. He has plenty of reason to be motivated because it will affect his future and, more importantly, it will affect his football."

And Parker has seen nothing to make him think Leddie Brown won't make it to the next level.

"Yeah, he's a pro. We have to be better over these next six for him as a group and he has to be better over these next six for us. But, yes, of course, he possesses all those things it takes to play at the next level. Everything we do moving forward will help his percentage of getting there."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — The most pressing question in what may be the most pivotal game in Coach Neal Brown's third season at West Virginia is whether the Mountaineers and their quarterback Jarret Doege turned the corner offensively in the second half of last week's 23-20 crushing home loss to Texas Tech.

If their rally behind a resurgent Doege from a 17-0 halftime deficit to push the Red Raiders into needing a last possession field goal built more on a prayer than a wing to claim victory wasn't a mirage, then they may be able to salvage what is left of the year.

"If we play like we did in the second half we can play with anybody," Doege said during Tuesday's media session previewing Saturday's noon road engagement with a 4-1 Baylor team that is being shown on FS1.

The game was typical of the inconsistency shown from WVU's offense all season, sleepwalking through the first half before putting everything together in the second, Doege completing 19 of 25 second-half passes for 276 yards.

Doege finally laid claim to the offense speaking up loud and clear in the locker room at halftime, then backed up his word.

"I said a few words at halftime just to get our guys going. We did what we had to do when we came out and that was to tie it or get it close. We had to have a response when we came out," he said. "I think we just woke up. I don't know, we came out flat. You can't do that against a Big 12 opponent, come out and get shut out in the first half."

The inconsistency has troubled Brown more than anything else.

“We are a 2-3 football team, and we lack consistency, and we have to play better and we have to do so for a full game,” he said.

There's no doubt that Doege has been taking a lot of heat from WVU fans, the social media onslaught spilling over onto Brown for continuing to start Doege over Garrett Greene, whom they view as the future signal caller.

It's something Doege had not experienced before transferring, so it probably only added to the pressure he was under, doing nothing to improve his performance.

"At Bowling Green, you don't have that kind of noise, being such a small school," he said. "It's different when you get here. You are held to a very high standard. I know that standard and I want to hold myself to that standard. You have to tune it out and stay off social media for a little bit.

"Everyone is entitled his own opinion. I know what goes on in this building, how much we put into this game. You just have to go back to work and keep playing."

This being the first of consecutive road games, TCU awaiting next week, the importance of the game is obvious and Baylor comes in off its first loss of the season to Oklahoma State, looking to get back on track.

Baylor will challenge one of WVU's biggest strengths, its run defense, led by a talented front line of Dante Stills, Akheem Mesidor and Taj Alston with Josh Chandler-Semedo cleaning up the tackles out of the middle linebacker slot.

“They want to run the ball,” Brown said. “I think the running backs are both playing well, and I think they complement each other.”

Senior Abram Smith owns 510 rushing yards with six touchdowns while another senior, Trestan Ebner, has rushed for 348 yards.

The passing game is complementary to the run, not overdoing it but being effective.

“The passes they do throw are high percentage type of throws for them,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “If you get a little greedy and try to take it away is when they throw it 70 yards over your head.”

WVU had that happen last week on Texas Tech's winning drive that put them into field goal range.

Meanwhile, WVU has to rediscover running back Leddie Brown, who hasn't had much room to operate in lately as teams have kept a tight rein on him in the running and passing game.

“We just have to find a way to create more explosive plays to be better in the run game," offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “In many ways our efficiency is better. We have to continue to work on our second and third runs to make us better and more multi-dimensional. We wouldn’t say we are pleased where we are at in the run game by any means, we have to grow there. No better time to start with that than this week.”

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Sometimes facts can be distorted into something they are not, but as West Virginia readies itself for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. Homecoming game with Texas Tech, there are two key facts to consider:

No. 1: Texas rushed 52 times for 336 yards while scoring 70 points on 10 touchdowns against the Red Raiders last Saturday.

No. 2: West Virginia rushed 29 times for 47 net yards in scoring 13 points on one touchdown against Oklahoma last Saturday.

That leads to a perplexing game planning situation for coach Neal Brown and his staff — Texas Tech is vulnerable to the running game, but WVU has shown no signs of being able to take advantage of it.

Take away WVU's rushing performance against a badly outmanned FCS opponent in Long Island, and WVU has gained a net 268 rushing yards against three FBS opponents — Maryland, Virginia Tech and Oklahoma.

That is 89 yards per game.

That will not cut it, and even against LIU, WVU's run game was hardly dominant, with 198 yards on 55 carries — just 3.6 yards a try.

Ask Mountaineer offensive coordinator Gerad Parker about it, and you get an honest answer, but one that tries to soften the meaning behind what is happening.

"Like anything, stats are stats. You have to look at them all, find out what's up and fix it. Then you have to try to sustain what's right," Parker said. "We played a formidable opponent in Oklahoma that creates a lot of havoc up front."

The result was there in the numbers, although Parker maintains that in one way you are looking into a fun house mirror when you look at them, noting that 21 negative yards came via a bad snap late in the game.

The reflection, he says, was distorted, and things were better than they looked.

"As the tape would tell it, we suffered a big loss in rush yardage at the end of the game, so what happened on the ground doesn't really look as bad, to be honest," he said. "I'm very proud of our guys on how they handled movement. It was a big point of emphasis, how they handled stunts and movement. If you analyze it fairly, you can say they played very physically and had a lot of movement."

The problem was that the movement wasn't forward on the ground.

"Of course, you want more," Parker admitted. "Some of that involves us making guys miss. Some of it missed by just this much. Those things are real."

What they are looking for is consistency in the running game, and not the kind of consistency they have produced to date.

"You want to see us make steps to where we find a way to run the ball better and finish games, i.e. the Virginia Tech game where we have the ball in a four-minute setting and keep pushing," Parker said. "We are taking those steps, and those steps are real."

The running game begins and ends with running back Leddie Brown, who last year in an abbreviated season gained 1,000 yards.

"Leddie Brown is no secret, last year to this year," Parker said. "We have to continue to game plan for him to find creases and then give ourselves some air. We have the ability to use the two quarterback system, and that helps us so we don't have some of the struggles we had last year."

But what is really hurting is that they have not uncovered anyone to do any damage to opponents as a backup to Leddie Brown.

Brown has 321 rushing yards in four games and all but 22 of the running back carries this season.

"We have to get a No. 2 guy at that position. He's getting his touches, but I think he's having to play too many snaps," Neal Brown said. "He's not as fresh late as he needs to be."

“The honest answer is that we are in the process of finding that,” Parker said of the search for a backup. “We are going to have to work week by week and day by day to see who that is and who it can be consistently. I would say they are all in the process of doing it.”

The hope was that by setting up a number of plays for Garrett Greene, the young running quarterback, a new dimension would be added to the running game. But until Greene shows himself to be a passing threat, the defense can sell out against the run.

WVU is hoping that its young offensive line will improve as the season unfolds and that that will take care of the problems, but that doesn't provide this week's answers.

"If the process is the truth, the work and the result, then we are going to get there," Parker said. "I think we are pushing our kids that way and, as a sidebar, I think that was the first time since I've been here that I saw our offensive and defensive guys hurt together, really care about each other at a tough time in a tough loss.

"They had a chance to win that Oklahoma football game because they were together. I think it needs to be said, and I think it tells you what we are growing here. Now we need to take another step so it ends up in celebration."

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Statistics are a big part of almost all sports – the .300 batting average, the 1,000-yard rusher, the four-minute mile.

After West Virginia’s heart-stopping, 27-21 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday, the Mountaineers, practically to a man, were reciting a different stat – 6,195.

“I’m just glad to bring the (Black Diamond) Trophy back to Morgantown,” said WVU junior running back Leddie Brown, which the Mountaineers last won in 2003 – 6,195 days ago. “That was a big thing for us this week. At the beginning of the week, it was like 6,190 days, and coach (Neal) Brown kept counting it down – 6,191, 6,192 and today was the 6,195th day. And we brought it back to Morgantown, which was the main goal for this game.”

Rivals since their long before their days together in the defuncted Big East Football Conference, West Virginia now holds an all-time 29-23-2 advantage against VT, but the Hokies had won the previous three games in this series – 31-24 in 2017 at FedEx Field, 34-17 in 2005 at Mountaineer Field, 19-13 in 2004 at Lane Stadium.

WVU’s last triumph had come at Mountaineer Field, 28-7, in 2003 over No. 6 Virginia Tech.

After residing in Blacksburg for the last 6,195 days, the Black Diamond Trophy now resides in Morgantown.

There it will remain for at least the next 372 days until the old rivals meet again at Lane Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022.

“We knew that it was going to be a physical game and whoever ran the ball better was going to come out with the W and hold the trophy,” stated Brown.

West Virginia did win the ground battle, outgaining VT 180-106 in terms of rushing yards. Brown opened that attack with a bang, bursting through a big crack created by his offensive linemen, Zach Frazier and Doug Nester, a former Hokie who transferred to WVU in January, and streaking 80 yards for a touchdown on the Mountaineers’ second offensive play of the day.

It was the second-longest run of Leddie’s four-year Mountaineer career, exceeded only by an 87-yarder against Kansas last season.

For the afternoon, Brown ran for 161 yards on 19 carries. He’s only had one better game; that 2020 battering of Kansas when he gained 195 yards.

“Our scout team had given us that look all week in practice,” explained Brown of the 4-1 box VT employed on his long run. “It’s how we were supposed to run it with the double team (from Frazier and Nester) working up to the ‘backer.”

Once Leddie cleared the second level of the Tech defenders, there wasn’t another Hokie between him and the goal line.

“The only thing I’m thinking about at that moment is get to the end zone,” grinned Brown.

“No. 1 (VT defensive back Chamarri Conner) was chasing me. I looked up (at the north endzone videoboard) and saw him.”

Was he worried about Conner catching him?

“No. No!” Leddie repeated with a combination smirk and laugh.

It wasn’t all rose petals and daisies for the Mountaineers on Saturday, though.

WVU was leading 27-7 late in the third quarter, but 15th-ranked Tech quickly put two touchdowns on the board to narrow the margin to 27-21.

West Virginia had a chance to chew up clock and ease its way to victory, but its run game bogged down and it turned the ball over twice in that time frame to the Hokies to aid their comeback effort.

“They were loading the box,” explained Brown of the VT defense, “but the way we run it, it doesn’t really matter who they put in the box. I have certain read keys I look at. On one of those (late game attempts), I slipped. It would have been a big run, but I slipped. They sent the nickel from the front side, so I tried to hit it backside, but I just lost my footing.

“I kept telling my o-line, ‘We just need a first down. We just need a first down.’”

WVU’s offense could not produce the knockout first down. Instead, it was the Mountaineer defense that had to step up and seal the win, stopping Tech’s four shots from inside the five-yard line with barely a minute left in the game and West Virginia clinging to a six-point lead.

WVU’s D ultimately held, and that set off a celebration for Leddie, his teammates and most of the 60,222 in the stands. “I was like, ‘It’s over! Where’s the trophy at?’” smiled Brown.