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WVU football head coach Neal Brown addresses the media after a Mountaineers practice in Morgantown.

West Virginia football coach Neal Brown knows that he is dealing with a fairly angry fan base at the moment. He acknowledged as much during his weekly news conference on Tuesday.

It’s a fan base that’s largely grown impatient as the last three weeks have gone by, three weeks in which the Mountaineers have gone 0-3, all against Big 12 Conference opponents.

Perhaps the toughest part of West Virginia’s tough start is the fact that the Mountaineers seemed to take a big step forward in several key areas in 2020, finishing with a winning record (6-4) after going 5-7 in Brown’s first season in 2019.

There was improvement in the run game as WVU upped its average from 73.25 yards per game to 135.1 a year ago, with running back Leddie Brown earning first-team All-Big 12 honors after piling up 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

Defensively, the Mountaineers became one of the best units in the country, finishing first in pass defense (159.6 yards per game) and fourth in total defense (291.4 yards per game), leading the conference in both categories.

After five key players — Darius Stills, Tony Fields, Jeffrey Pooler, Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller — either graduated or transferred in the offseason, a step back defensively could be expected.

But an offense that lost just two interior offensive linemen — Chase Behrndt and Mike Brown — and wide receiver TJ Simmons was expected to continue 2020’s upward momentum. Instead, the Mountaineers have regressed, at least statistically.

One reason for the offensive struggles is an offensive line that is still having issues consistently protecting quarterbacks Jarret Doege and Garrett Greene and opening holes for Leddie Brown. Although patience is a tough thing for many Mountaineer fans to find at the moment, that’s exactly what Neal Brown is asking for.

“I’ve sat up here and we’ve talked about this — I think we’ve talked about it since ’19 — and here’s the thing: That’s the hardest position to get right, and it takes time,” Brown said. “You don’t want to hear that. Nobody wants to hear that. But the truth is, it takes time and we have not performed well enough, especially on the right side. I think [center] Zach Frazier is playing winning football, maybe at an all-conference level. I think [guard] James Gmiter is playing really good football — he had one poor protection against Texas Tech, but other than that [he’s] playing football at a high level.

“But everybody else we have has to play better. Some of it is a technique issue, some of it is from a schematic standpoint, and we’ve got to do a better job taking care of them — and that’s on me.”

While some defensive regression is understandable, it’s not acceptable to Brown and his staff. But the numbers point to a unit that isn’t clicking on the same level, yielding 248.5 passing yards and 350.7 total yards per contest.

Although it has been solid at times — particularly in a 16-13 loss at Oklahoma — WVU’s defense has had its lapses, particularly at the end of games, when three times in a tied game or with the Mountaineers ahead, opponents have come up with winning points in the fourth quarter.

But whether looking at the offense, defense or special teams, perhaps part of what’s made this season so bitter are the expectations carried into the year by many around the program. Brown has repeated over the past couple of weeks that despite the skid, he has not given up on the team’s players, coaches or philosophies.

On Tuesday, he doubled down on that again and reiterated his belief that the turn is coming. Eventually.

“I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick turn, and nobody that’s going to read what you write or what everybody is typing on social media right now, that’s not going to fire anybody up,” Brown said. “Now, did I think we’d be able to win some games in the fourth quarter? [Yes]. Did I think we’d be 2-4 right now? No. Did I think we were going to be 6-0? Probably not either.

“But I did feel like we would play better and be able to close out some of these games in the fourth quarter that we simply have not. But I knew this was going to be a process.

“I knew that early on. We made some turns last year … but defensively I’ll give you an example. [Former linebacker] Tony Fields was a difference maker for us [in 2020]. He erased some of our issues. And [linebacker] Josh Chandler[-Semedo] is playing really good football, but he’s not an eraser with his speed that Tony Fields is.

“Did I think we’d be sitting here with a better record than 2-4? Absolutely. Did I think we were going to arrive in year three and be at the top of the league? No. Now, do I believe with all my heart that we’ll get there? Absolutely. I do.”

Ryan Pritt covers WVU sports. He can be reached at 304-348-7948 or ryan.pritt@hdmediallc.com. Follow him on Twitter @RPritt.