In terms of all the things it needed to do to win and win convincingly, West Virginia was able to do them on Saturday in a 56-10 win over Eastern Kentucky.
Now, the goal is quite clear — do them better.
The Mountaineers are back in practice mode this week and next week, as they are off this Saturday before a massive contest at Oklahoma State on Sept. 26 to open Big 12 play.
While there were certainly good signs in all three phases against the Colonels, WVU coach Neal Brown knows the stakes and the competition level are about to ramp up significantly and that his team has to be ready.
“This has got to be a week when we get better,” he said.
Brown hit on some of the points of emphasis in his Tuesday meeting with the media. The words “better” and “improve” were spoken as much as any as Brown countered praise for his team and individual players with plenty of things to work on.
Since the postgame press conference on Saturday and even before that during fall camp, Brown has continued to stress the need for his special teams units to come around. In the win over EKU, there was some good, but a few things stuck out, primarily a missed 25-yard field goal, a Colonels kick return for a touchdown that was called back on a penalty and far too many flags called on the Mountaineer units.
“Special teams without a doubt were the most disappointing part of Saturday afternoon,” Brown said. “Penalties … we don’t ever want to be in a situation where West Virginia beats West Virginia. We were better than Eastern, so it didn’t hurt us, but we cannot get into Big 12 play and have that many penalties.
“The kickoff coverage team, which had been a strength of ours all through last year and really did a nice job other than one. Thankfully, it was a penalty that they called back, but they returned one on us that was a touchdown and we just had about four guys that didn’t do what they were coached to do on that. And our field goal protection wasn’t good enough. We missed a 25-yard field goal and we’ve got to be better than that.”
Offensively, for all the attention the WVU run game has gotten after piling up 329 yards on Saturday, Brown said the team’s passing game was solid, but not spectacular. Junior quarterback Jarret Doege played the first half and sat the second with the game already in hand. He finished 19 for 25 for 228 yards and three touchdowns, and 10 Mountaineers caught at least one pass in the game.
But buried in the details, Brown saw plenty that he hopes will come together in the next two weeks.
“I don’t think the execution in the pass game was where as a coach you wanted it to be, but I don’t think it was poor either,” Brown said.
“Accuracy-wise, it was a high percentage, but I think we can place the ball in some better spots. I thought Jarret in particular threw the ball well, but there’s probably two throws where if he throws the ball where it needs to be, he’s probably 300-plus yards in the first half he’s probably up for some of those weekly awards. But he’ll get better.”
There were a few individual plays — three big pass plays and a couple of missed opportunities on turnovers — that most caught Brown’s attention defensively. But as an overall theme, the one thing Brown identified was the pursuit of the ball, where the Mountaineers will have to do a much better job against the weapons in Oklahoma State’s offense.
“I thought we pursued OK, but in our league with the explosiveness we’re going to play, we’ve got to do a better job getting hats to the ball,” Brown said.
And while the need for improvement was peppered in throughout the presser and was applied to nearly every topic brought up, Brown hoped it would be an overarching goal in preparation for the Cowboys.
“I think on [Sept.] 26th and moving forward, we’ve got to continue to prove we’re better,” Brown said. “I don’t think that just because we ran the ball well against Eastern Kentucky or our offensive line played better — that’s what we were supposed to do. Now, we didn’t always do what we were supposed to last year, so that’s a step in the right direction. But we’ve got to be able to do it and sustain it against good people at the Power Five level in our conference.”