First-year West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown has faced first-year Kansas head coach Les Miles twice during his coaching career, and both are games Brown would probably like to forget.
In 2008 as the Troy offensive coordinator, Brown’s Trojans ran out to a 31-3 lead late in the third quarter at defending national champion Louisiana State before Miles’ Tigers came roaring back in the fourth quarter for a 40-31 win in Baton Rouge. Brown was also the offensive coordinator at Kentucky in 2014 when LSU blasted Brown’s Wildcats 41-3.
Needless to say, the new West Virginia coach is hoping Saturday’s Big 12 opener against the Jayhawks (4:30 p.m., streaming only on ESPN+) at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kansas goes better for the Mountaineers than those previous meetings with Miles.
WVU (2-1), like Kansas (2-1), comes into Saturday’s game with the momentum of a big win to close the non-conference schedule. West Virginia pulled away in the second half for a 44-27 win against visiting North Carolina State while KU went to Boston College and beat the Eagles 48-24 for the program’s first road win against a Power 5 opponent in nearly 11 years.
Both teams were picked among the bottom dwellers in the Big 12 this season, and for either to escape that part of the standings a win in the conference opener would go a long way.
So far this season, Kansas has not been great at home — a narrow win against Indiana State to start the season followed by a loss to Coastal Carolina the following week. The win at BC, however, has helped ease the sting of those early games.
“The guys have accomplished to a point,” Miles said. “Now it’s about the next things we set our sails on doing. I certainly like where we’re at and I think our team will be really motivated to do special things. They understand they’ve done a couple. Now, is there more to it?”
West Virginia, meanwhile, has only played one game away from Morgantown so far in 2019. That game, a 38-7 loss at Missouri two weeks ago, just happened to be one of the worst all-around WVU football performances in recent memory. In that game, the Mountaineers were in danger of being shut out for the first time since 2013 before a long fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Austin Kendall to Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell provided WVU’s only points that day.
“We’ve got to handle the trip much better than the first away game we had,” Brown said.
RAIN ON THE PLAINS
Saturday’s weather forecast for Lawrence isn’t pretty.
There is a 60 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms in the area, with winds expected to reach up to 18 miles per hour.
THE PLAN FOR PETTAWAY
Senior running back Martell Pettaway was a healthy scratch from last week’s lineup for WVU against NC State, but Brown said it had nothing to do with discipline and everything to do with how West Virginia planned to attack the Wolfpack.
“[Pettaway] is not in the doghouse or anything. We still believe in him,” Brown said. “We didn’t use our two-back packages last week. We didn’t feel that was a good fit for North Carolina State. We started [Alec] Sinkfield, Kennedy [McKoy] got hot, and then we rode Leddie Brown at the end.”
Brown said on his Thursday radio show that redshirt junior offensive lineman Josh Sills’ status for Saturday’s game was still unknown. Sills, a second-team All-Big 12 selection at guard last season, missed the NC State win with a shoulder injury. In his place, John Hughes and Chase Behrndt held their own at right guard against the Wolfpack. Left guard Mike Brown, who missed last week’s game due to illness, is expected back and is likely to split snaps with James Gmiter against the Jayhawks.
Receiver Sean Ryan left the NC State game in the second half with an undisclosed injury and did not return, but Brown said he would likely be ready to go at Kansas after participating in walk-throughs and practice early in the week.
“We’re hopeful for [Ryan],” Brown said.
IF IT AIN’T BROKE . . .
Last week’s game against NC State was WVU’s annual “Gold Rush” game, and after whipping the Wolfpack the Mountaineers appear to be sticking with what works. WVU announced late Thursday it would wear gold helmets with white jerseys and gold pants against the Jayhawks on Saturday.
It will be the first time West Virginia has worn its yellow-white-yellow uniform combination since last season’s late-September win at Texas Tech.