MORGANTOWN — With the formalities of a 66-0 win over FCS Long Island in the rear-view mirror and the resumption of a dormant rivalry against No. 15 Virginia Tech in Morgantown scheduled for Saturday, West Virginia coach Neal Brown stressed the importance of physicality and continued progression during his Tuesday news conference.
Tasked with preparing for a talented Hokie defense that’s allowed just 12 points a game in wins over North Carolina and Middle Tennessee thus far, the target area for that heightened sense of aggression seemed to be along the offensive line.
With a Virginia Tech defense that’s already registered 18 tackles for loss, and with a WVU rushing attack that’s been inconsistent at best this season, the need for improved play up front is glaring.
“We’ve got to continue to improve on our physicality, it’s still not where we need it to be,” Brown said. “We had a couple of mental errors in pass protection there on the first two drives [against Long Island] that shouldn’t happen.
“We’ve got to do better. [Virginia Tech’s defensive linemen] are good players. They do a really good job within their scheme. But we’ve got to get better fundamentally and we’ve got to get more physical up front and that’s the challenge for us this week.”
Many of Brown’s concerns stem from the team’s 30-24 loss at Maryland to open the season, a game in which the Mountaineers mustered just 48 rushing yards, including the 25 yards deducted on quarterback sacks. Still, even last week against a Long Island team that didn’t manage a single tackle for loss in its 48-10 season-opening loss to FIU, the Mountaineer starting unit didn’t find much success on the ground. Starting tailback Leddie Brown managed just 31 yards on 15 carries.
Neal Brown said the process to gaining more physicality began in practice last week once Maryland film analysis had ended. On Tuesday, he said that the key to becoming a more physical football team continues to be earning it each day.
“We’ve got to practice,” Neal Brown said. “I think that’s the thing, we’ve got to demand it. There were times when we were better [against Long Island] and credit to Maryland, they’re big and caused a little unexpected … last week, footwork was better interiorwise, but still wasn’t what we needed at tackle. So, that’s a work in progress, and then physicality, we’ve just got to practice. We did that last week a little better, we’re just going to have to continue to do that and be really physical and it’s good for our defensive line as well.”
BROWN ON GREENE: In Saturday’s postgame news conference, Neal Brown said he would have a better idea on Tuesday of how to assess backup quarterback Garrett Greene’s performance against Long Island and his possible role in the offense moving forward.
While he didn’t offer any if and/or when Greene would see the field against the Hokies, the WVU coach did give a more thorough review of his redshirt freshman quarterback. Greene rushed for a team-high 98 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries while hitting on 4 of 7 passes.
“I think it was a mixed bag,” Brown said. “First of all, what I was really proud of, [Greene] tends to get really excited and I thought he handled himself well in that regard. If you’ll remember, when he played against Eastern Kentucky last year, he got a penalty one time. So I thought he was under control, he showed some maturity. I thought his run decisions were really good. Within the run game, what we were asking him to do within the read game, I thought he made good decisions.
“He missed some pre-snap reads, he probably should’ve thrown four or five more passes in the RPO [run/pass option] game that we were asking him to do. I thought his vision once he scrambled was really good.
“With him, it’s going to be a mixture. You don’t want to contain what’s the best thing about him, which is his ability to freelance and his ability to make plays on the run. But you also don’t want him to be breaking out every single time, so we’re working on finding a happy medium. But there was more good, and the encouraging thing is the things that weren’t exactly what we want or what we’re teaching, we can get corrected.”
HOKIE HYPE: Although Saturday’s game will add a new chapter in the rivalry with Virginia Tech, one that has been played just once since 2005, it’s not something that Brown has chosen to downplay in practice this week.
In fact, quite the opposite.
The current Mountaineers were young kids the last time the game was played on either team’s campus, with the last such meeting coming in Morgantown, but Brown is aware of the stakes and is making sure his players are as well.
“We’re educating them this week about the rivalry on both sides,” Brown said. “From a fan-base standpoint, the rivalry sticks out more than the players because it hasn’t been played on an annual basis since the early 2000s. For me personally, it’s been very interesting learning about it and I’ve enjoyed it.
“It’s a trophy game. Anytime you play one of those games, it matters. By my calculations, I think Virginia Tech has had possession of the Black Diamond Trophy for over 6,000 days now. That’s a long time.”