Big 12 Media Day Football

Neal Brown

Some football coaches like to blow smoke.

A prime example is Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill’s recent comment about playing Marshall University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Although the Blue Raiders have a 1-3 record after losses at Michigan (40-21), Duke (41-18) and Iowa (48-3), Middle Tennessee’s veteran head coach still compared the Thundering Herd favorably to those Power Five foes.

“Three of these first four have been a top-10 team, a top-15 team and a top-25 team,” said Stockstill, “so we’ve played a gauntlet of out-of-conference guys. I’d put Marshall up there with anybody that we’ve played this year. That’s a good football team.”

Really?

Tell it to the University of Cincinnati.

Which brings us to first-year West Virginia University head coach Neal Brown.

He doesn’t blow smoke.

Not a single puff.

Like it or not, Brown tells Mountaineer fans, the media and anyone else who might be listening exactly what he believes. It’s the unvarnished truth, rather than the blue-and-gold version.

A good example is WVU’s game against 11th-ranked Texas at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium. During the weekly Big 12 conference call, I asked Brown what the Mountaineers have to do to slow down the Longhorns’ juggernaut of an offense that is averaging 41.8 points and 498.8 yards total offense.

“Well, I think slow ‘em down is the key,” replied Brown. “I don’t know if you’re going to stop them. They’ve got a quarterback who is a Heisman Trophy candidate. I think everyone thinks so. They are super-talented at wideout. Multiple guys are dangerous. And they’ve been able to run the ball effectively.

“So, we’ve got to do a really good job on first down and try to get them behind the chains. And we’ve got to force some takeaways [fumbles and interceptions] in this game. I think that’s going to be critical.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound junior, has completed 102 of 140 passes (72.9 completion percentage) for 1,237 yards with 15 touchdowns and only one interception. He also has rushed for 191 yards and a TD on 42 carries.

Next, there’s wide receiver Devin Duvernay, a 5-11, 210-pound senior. He has 39 receptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns.

The final member of the Texas triumvirate is running back Keaontay Ingram, a 6-0, 220-pound sophomore. He has rushed for 295 yards and four touchdowns on 55 carries (5.4-yard average).

This offense is the main reason Texas is a 10½-point favorite on the road.

So, when is the last time that happened to a Neal Brown-coached team?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We were probably a pretty good underdog last year [at Troy] against Boise [State] opening the year. But it’s probably been awhile.”

Right again.

Boise State hammered Troy 56-20 in 2018. But Troy bounced back, enjoyed a great year and Brown left to take the WVU job.

Speaking of the Mountaineers, might Brown be able to use this 10½-point home underdog status as motivation?

“I think if you aren’t motivated to play this game coming off a bye week,” said Brown, as his thoughts drifted. “We’re playing on national television against one of the top programs in the country. I don’t think we’ll need a lot of motivation ploys this week.”

Point taken.

And so is mine.

Some coaches blow smoke about opponents, but Brown isn’t one of them.

Instead, he’s Neal Brown unplugged and un-puffed.