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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — If you can, remember back to those Christmas mornings when you were a child, when your parents — or Santa Claus, if you still are a child — were so proud of the presents they had gone out and procured for you.

There was the anticipation you had to open them but, somehow it seemed, that it wasn't long before you discovered yourself playing with the wrapping as much, or more, than the present itself.

In some ways, that's what it felt like on Thursday when West Virginia finally took the wrapping off its own gift to itself, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, and turned him loose to the public on its own website with Dan Zangrilli, one of its voices doing the interview while leaving the public's media completely out in the cold with no access at all at the moment.

And, because of that, we got ribbons and gift wrap to deal with rather than being able to ask the "Magic 8-Ball" questions that might have penetrated into his inner workings.

Despite that slight, perceived or not, the interview did allow us all to understand that Graham Harrell is here to try and make offensive football exciting and fun again, unleashing his version of Mike Leach's Air Raid attack upon the Big 12 ... a conference in which it was perfected by Leach with Harrell as his record-shattering quarterback at Texas Tech.

To understand Harrell's approach, one must first understand how he sees himself and what he had to say of learning at Leach's knee and what his own understanding is of the Air Raid offense, for those who are practitioners of it all create their own nuances.

"I played for coach Leach, I've coached with Coach Leach, I'm still close to him. Anyone who has cme from him falls under the 'Air Raid' tree," he said. "But if you look at anyone who came from him whether it's coach (Lincoln) Riley, Dana (Holgorsen), myself, Sonny Dykes ... if you turned on the tape none of us looks the same.

"Yes, it's the 'Air Raid', but what's the 'Air Raid?' What the 'Air Raid' is is a philosophy and everyone who has success with it does not scheme the offense the same way. You can't be great at everything. That's what coach Leach has mastered and why everyone who has come from has had success.

"The philosophy is that you have to have an identity. You have to figure out who you are and get really good at being who you are, but you can't do everything."

The possibilities of what you can do are many and tempting.

"In offensive football, you see a play and think, 'Man, that's a good play,'" Harrell explained. "Well, in offensive football there's hundreds of good plays out there, but you can't get good at hundreds of plays. You can get good at a handful of them. You use what fits your personnel. That's why we look different from year to year because we use what fits our personnel."

Harrell has gone with 12 personnel this past year at USC when short on wide receivers, but the year before that he went mostly with 10 personnel because his receivers were a strength.

"We are going to figure out what we can do well, then dress it up and motion it. For that quarterback it won't be 200 plays. It will be 30 plays. I think you can get good at 30 players. Still, you can dress it up and make it look like 200 plays to the defense."

The idea is making life simple for his players, difficult for the defense.

"It gets back to the point that I don't want my guys overthinking or hesitating because I took what they are good at but made them think too much and slowed them down. That's not our job," he said. Our job is to make them be the best they can be.

Here is the good news after what West Virginia remembers most about last season, that being how difficult it was to put points on the board.

"I expect to score. There's a mentality that has to be set and we will do a lot of that this spring," Harrell went on. "We want them to think if we touch the ball, we expect to score. I don't care what the score is, whether we're up by 30 points or down by 30 points."

Now we are getting deeper into his philosophy, especially fixing one thing that was badly broken last year. That, of course, was an inability to make explosive plays.

"Explosive plays are very important," Harrell said. "Everyone talks about how the turnover battle is the No. 1 predictor of wins and losses, but if you look at explosive plays, who wins the explosive play battle is just as predictive of winning the game as is the turnover battle. If you can win the turnover battle and the explosive play battle, you are going to win. You can write that down."

So, there will be an emphasis on explosive plays, by land or by air, it matters not.

"Explosive plays are extremely important." Harrell said. "You have to take shots. But there's a lot goes into it. In the run game, you have to find ways to be explosive, so when you have the right box, you have to get into the right runs. You need big runs.

"In the passing game there are guys who make you throw out of need. Well, if you make one guy miss, you can still get an explosive play. Then, there's pushing the ball down the field. You won't make them all, but you have to be willing to push the ball down the field and take the shots when you need to."

Without question, the top storyline from West Virginia’s 74-59 loss to Texas on New Year’s Day was the absence of Mountaineer mainstays Taz Sherman and Gabe Osbuohien from the Mountaineer lineup.

That put WVU in a hole from the start, and their normal contributions were missed from the outset, as the Longhorns jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half and cruised to the win.

However, a more pressing factor, and one that must be solved if West Virginia is to be competitive in the Big 12, was also in view – that of the Mountaineers’ ball-handling and point guard creation.

WVU treated the ball as if it were a throwaway free sample from Wal-Mart, giving it up 20 times in the loss to Texas, which affected its offense just as much as the absence of two of its stalwarts.

For example, West Virginia totaled 67 possessions in the game, but with 20 of those ending without a shot, saw almost 30% of its scoring chances ending without the ball being sent toward the rim.

The Mountaineers scored points on just 40% of their possessions and .881 points per trip, neither of which is anywhere close to a rate needed to be competitive.

Individually, the numbers and result highlight a continuing issue for Bob Huggins’ team — shaky ballhandling and creation at point guard.

Kedrian Johnson and Malik Curry combined for five turnovers, but that was only part of the issue that the duo continues to battle.

Both are trying to create from the point off the dribble to help the offense, but neither is as skilled in that area as a number of recent West Virginia guards and the resulting loose balls, discontinued dribbles and breakdowns serve to stymie WVU’s offense.

Big men tend to suffer more turnovers due to lesser ball security and passing skills, and WVU’s had eight in the game, largely due to ill-advised offensive moves or off-target passes.

Only Dimon Carrigan avoided a giveaway, playing 23 error-free minutes in the turnover department, but that was not nearly enough to make up for the poor execution in both the dribbling and passing phases.

That was, however, an exception to what has played out for most of the year, though, as WVU’s primary inside players — Carrigan, Osabuohien and Pauly Paulicap — have combined for just 30 on the year. Their lesser offensive usage rate certainly contributes to that lower number, but for the most part, they haven’t been giving it directly to the other team.

“We start every practice with passing drills. We set up toss-backs. We’ve talked about it every day,” coach Bob Huggins said. “They’ve been told over and over what is going to beat us is ourselves turning the ball over.”

When WVU has avoided turnovers this year, it has often worked around it by getting the ball to Sherman and letting him work off the dribble.

He has had his own giveaway issues, as he leads the team with 34, but he has also been able to draw defenders and get the ball to others on at least an acceptable level, dishing out a team-best 33 assists.

That option, of course, was missing against the Longhorns, leaving the Mountaineer attack disjointed over certain stretches.

During Texas’ run in the latter stages of the first half, WVU had seven turnovers in 6:35 of game action, allowing the Horns to stretch a five-point lead to 19 at the break.

Over that same period, West Virginia managed to get just five shots away.

The concerning issue here is that like blocking, catching the ball or throwing it accurately in football, ballhandling and turnover avoidance in basketball usually isn’t usually a quick fix.

Learning better ball control on the bounce is a process of months of work. Understanding angles and making good decisions on when and where to throw the ball are also abilities that take extended periods to hone.

Now embarked on the Big 12 season, WVU has little time to correct these problems, and if it can’t, it is going to have a very rough journey through the league.

PHOENIX, Arizona — West Virginia head coach Neal Brown, like many coaches, is highlighting the importance of playing a clean game, and limiting turnovers, in his team’s match-up against Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 28 in Phoenix, Arizona.

WVU arrived in the Valley of the Sun on Christmas afternoon, and face the Golden Gophers in the only Big 12 – Big 10 contest of bowl season.

“We’ve had a great week of prep back home. And all of our players, our staff, and families are really excited about this week,” said Brown, who split his practice sessions with his team around finals and Christmas.

“We’ve been back in Morgantown, kind of watched some games on TV, really anticipating our game. And we’re playing against a really good Minnesota team. And I know Coach [P.J.] Fleck will have his guys ready.”

Turnovers, of course, are always important, and Brown knows that avoidance of those is critical. “Playing clean” — his term for also limiting penalties and assignment busts, is also an immediate goal.

“I hope we play football the right way, first of all. We want to play a clean football game. I think this game will come down to turnovers in a lot of ways. We want to make sure we’re taking care of the ball.

"We need to try to force some takeaways. And we’ve got to be ready for their rushing attack. We’ve played good defense as we moved through the year, and that’s going to be needed on Tuesday, and we’re going to have to hit some explosive plays like they did against Arizona State the last time we were here.”

WVU topped Arizona State 43-42 in a largely defense-free contest in the 2016 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and will be making a return visit to the venue this year.

“I will tell you, we’re really looking forward to it, number one, because the owner of the Diamondbacks, Ken Kendrick, he’s a West Virginia grad. And so that’s something that we’ve talked to our players about,” Brown said.

“We’re really excited about that opportunity to play in a place that means something to West Virginia. So it has some unique challenges. We’ve actually shown them the layout. (We’re) looking forward to getting over there so they can see it for themselves.

MANHATTAN, KANSAS — Miscues from the second play of the game on doomed the Mountaineers as Kansas State scored a 34-17 win Saturday afternoon at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

WVU had more total yards than the Wildcats (345-299), but also more turnovers (3-0) and penalty yards (26-10), while K-State had more explosive plays.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — They picked up the Backyard Brawl right where it left of before COVID, West Virginia winning its fifth straight in the rivalry and its 100th all time, 74-59, in a game that twice almost exploded into fisticuffs in the first half but was clearly a TKO for the Mountaineers over Pitt.

The victory was Bob Huggins’ 902nd of his career, tying the Hall of Famer Bob Knight on the all-time list.

Jalen Bridges led WVU in scoring with 18 points while Taz Sherman scored 17.

The Panthers were flummoxed by West Virginia’s aggressive defense and turned the ball over 32 times, just eight turnovers short of the all-time opponent’s record as the first November sellout crowd in WVU history continued a chant that sounded very much like “Eat Spit Pitt”.

At 7:10 p.m. there was a Panther sighting, five or six Pitt players venturing out onto the Coliseum floor to take some shots ... at the basket and from a student section that was rapidly filling up.

Funny, no matter how much time passes, the Maniacs remain ... well, the Maniacs.

Strangely, while WVU was warming up taking shots, Gabe Osabuohien was practicing taking charges. Only kidding, that’s something that comes naturally to him.

It was obvious even before they rolled out the carpet and introduced the Mountaineers that this was different, the kind of thing a university, a city and a school had been waiting for. And, just to whet the appetite, WVU provided Some great Backyard Brawl video, everything from Jack Fleming holding up the Beat Pitt sign to WVU’s own Pitt ... Kevin PITTsnogle.

Wasn’t much later, during a time out, that the fans went nuts as they put him and in attendance on the big screen.

The game didn’t disappoint. If this was what we all were missing because of COVID-19, bring out the vaccine.

Everything about this game was up close and personal, twice within 20 seconds almost erupting into a real brawl. Each time Pitt’s Femi Odukale found himself on the floor in the midst of a WVU scrum. Each time he came up pushing and looking to fight, and he would have been obliged except that the officials intervened.

Coincidently, one of the officials was Kipp Kissinger. Interesting, isn’t it, when they needed a peacemaker on the floor they had the wrong Kissinger, Kipp, not Henry.

What was obvious was that Huggins had performed some kind of defensive miracle since the opening win of Oakland, a rather lackluster performance. This time the defense was pushing the issue and by halftime they had force 18 Pitt turnovers, which made it rather easy for them to have built a 36-24 lead.

Five assists and 18 turnovers is never a winning formula and this was a true team effort by Pitt to get to 18, eight of the nine players who saw action in the half committing at least one.

The only thing that kept Pitt in the game was that the Panthers shot 50% from the field, which didn’t match WVU’s shooting of 51.7%.

What this Brawl was lacking as play went into the second was something almost every WVU game has, fans screaming at the officials.

They took care of that through the first 10 minutes of the second half as Pitt made the game turn plum ugly as they whittled away and got the lead under 10 points.

But that’s when WVU found some electrifying offense, Malik Curry driving to the basket, floating through the air was a Pitt big defender soared into the air. Not to worry, he simply lofted a floater over him for the score.

Then it was Taz Sherman’s turn, a nifty crossover that allowed him to split two defenders, one hacking on one of his arms, one on the other ... but he still somehow got the ball off and scored it, adding a free throw.

The gap now was widening and a trio of 3s, two from Bridges and one from McNeil, got the lead to 21.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Often football games are decided not by the team that makes the biggest plays, but the one who makes the most mistakes.

West Virginia certainly was the one who made the bigger mistakes Saturday against Maryland, as the Mountaineers committed four turnovers, while the Terps gave away none in defeating WVU 30-24.

“The biggest statistic in football that tells whether you win or lose is turnovers,” explained West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “We had four that went directly for 10 points, and they had zero. If you don’t turn the ball over, you usually win. It’s not overly complicated.”

Mountaineer running back Leddie Brown had a third-quarter fumble that killed one drive, and WVU returner Winston Wright, who also had two huge kickoff returns of 96 and 48 yards, had a miscue of his own, as his muffed punt led another turnover.

“I just tried to make a move before I got the ball,” Wright admitted when asked about the muffed punt. “A little mistake turned into a turnover.

“After the turnover, I was on the sidelines cheering the defense on,” added the sophomore receiver. “They bailed me out; that was big.”

WVU quarterback Jarret Doege also accounted for two turnovers, as he threw a pair of interceptions.

“The first one was a really poor decision,” acknowledge Brown when asked about Doege’s INTs. “The second one in the end zone, they zero blitzed, and (UM defensive back Jakorian Bennett) fell off. You’d have to ask (the Maryland coaches), because that’s probably not what they teach, but the kid fell off and made the play. Give him credit. I understand what Jarret was doing there, though. The first one can’t happen, though. That was a really bad decision. He has to throw it away. You can’t make a bad play worse. The second one was kind of a freak play

“The fumble was just as big,” added Neal Brown. “It was a third-and-one play, and they hit (Leddie) and he coughed it up. The dropped punt was also big. They were all big. Not only do you give the ball away, but it also takes away a scoring opportunity from us.”

West Virginia’s defense was put into numerous bad situations by WVU’s turnovers. The defense certainly had its own issues, though. It allowed Maryland 332 passing yards and 164 rushing yards.

“Overall, I think the things we wanted to accomplish – like running to the ball – we did accomplish,” said WVU linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo. “We had some problems tackling, and tackling is always an issue in college football early in the season.

“We weren’t perfect, but overall I’m proud of the guys,” concluded Chandler-Semedo. “We fought hard and fought back from adversity. When we settled down, we were able to play our kind of defense. We showed we can fight back, but we also showed some weaknesses we have to correct for us to be great.”

The mistakes, especially the turnovers, kept the Mountaineers from victory Saturday at Maryland Stadium.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Four Mountaineer turnovers doomed their chance of a season-opening road win at Maryland Saturday, as WVU fell to the Terps, 30-24, in College Park.

WVU will try to bounce back in its next game, which will take place at Mountaineer Field next Saturday against Long Island University.

Atmosphere — On a white-out day for the Terrapins at Maryland Stadium, there was also plenty of Gold & Blue in the stands, as thousands of Mountaineer fans took advantage of a rare, reasonably-drivable road game from the Mountain State.

Other than a few neutral-site affairs in recent years — Tennessee at Charlotte in 2018, Virginia Tech at Landover in 2017 and BYU at Landover in 2016 — the last WVU regular-season road game within a nine-hour drive of Morgantown was at Maryland in 2014.

The Pride of West Virginia was also in attendance on a gorgeous, sunny Saturday afternoon in College Park.

The stadium was far from full (announced attendance was 43,811), but still the meeting between the two long-time rivalries made for a very nice college football atmosphere. Grade — A-

Offense — West Virginia’s offense had some good but way too much bad. Leddie Brown accounted for 100 total yards in the first half alone (53 rushing and 47 receiving) but managed just 16 more yards in the second half.

The Mountaineers had momentum in the final minutes of the second quarter, holding a 21-17 lead and looking for more.

An ill-advised Jarret Doege throw, though, resulted in an interception and allowed the Terps to put together a late field goal drive of their own to narrow the score to 21-20 at halftime.

That INT was Doege’s only major mistake of the first half, but admittedly it was a big one.

He also was picked off in the second half, though that was more a great play by the Terps’ Jakorian Bennett than it was necessarily a poor pass by Doege.

Overall WVU threw for 280 yards, as Doege completed 24 of 40 passes. West Virginia’s biggest offensive problem was its running game struggles, as it netted just 48 yards on the ground.

WVU had some good offensive moments, but they were clearly outweighed by the bad. Grade — D-

Defense — West Virginia’s defense had trouble handling the big-play Terrapin weapons.

Broken coverages and missed tackles, especially in the first quarter, allowed receivers Demus Dontay and Rakim Jarrett — who are good enough to eat up large chunks of yardage even when they’re covered, say nothing of running wide open — to account for 213 total yards in the first half alone.

The Mountaineer D did hold strong in the redzone a few times, limiting Maryland to three field goal tries in the first half, rather than giving up touchdowns.

Only two of those three potential FGs made it through the uprights, allowing WVU to hold on to the slimmest of halftime leads. 21-20.

The Mountaineer D found its rhythm in the third quarter, and limited the Terps to three straight three-and-outs, but the defense couldn’t get the stops it desperately needed in the four quarter.

Overall, Maryland posted 496 yards of total offense (332 passing and 164 rushing).

Demus and Jarrett each had over 120 receiving yards with 133 and 122 respectively.

West Virginia’s turnovers continually put its defense in bad positions, but the defense also allowed the Terrapins way too many big plays. Grade — D+

Special teams — Winston Wright may have made a mistake with a turnover on a muffed punt in the second quarter — which ultimately Maryland couldn’t convert into points — but he more than made up for that with two huge kickoff returns of 96 and 48 yards.

His big plays kept West Virginia in the game for the longest time, because neither WVU’s offense nor defense did enough to win on their own.

The rest of West Virginia’s special teams were solid. Grade — B

Coaching — The Mountaineers were far from perfect in any phase of Saturday’s game at Maryland, and the coaches have to be included in that as well.

WVU had only four penalties for 20 yards in its loss, which is obviously an impressive stat for an opener.

But the four turnovers were killers, and while the players are the ones on the field making those mistakes, coaches also share some of that responsibility – certainly not all of it but some.

There were also some time-management issues that are often common in season openers, but those don’t reflect well on the coaches either. Grade — D-