MORGANTOWN — First-year West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown was not very pleased with what he saw from his first-team offense during Saturday’s scrimmage at preseason camp.
Brown said the first-team defense badly beat the offense in all phases of the game Saturday, but noted that the defense was coming off one of its worst practices on Friday.
As it turns out, a lot can change in a day for these Mountaineers.
“Going back to Friday, yesterday, we had probably our worst practice probably since we’ve been here defensively,” Brown said. “Offense went up and down the field and there was not much resistance. We did not play very well, so as happens in camp a lot, defense bounces back and they were ready to go today — the ‘1’ defense that is — the offense did not answer the bell, and the offense lost soundly.”
Brown attributed the poor performances on the offense to several factors.
“The sloppiness is attributed to penalties — a lot of those procedure penalties which are mental errors,” Brown said. “We were overrunning the ball and we had multiple drops. We just didn’t throw it very well, and we didn’t protect it very well and we didn’t run it very well — all you all are pretty intelligent, so you can figure that out.”
Brown was clearly not happy with the bad day from the offense, but he did make a point of noting some positive developments he saw on the field from the defense Saturday.
“I thought [redshirt sophomore defensive lineman] Taijh Alston had a really good day,” Brown said. “He had his worst day probably as a Mountaineer [Friday], so that was encouraging for him to bounce back. He had four sacks.
“[Junior defensive tackle] Darius Stills was very disruptive. I thought he won the battle with [center] Chase Behrndt decisively today. [Michigan graduate transfer defensive end] Reuben Jones made some plays with the first and second unit and then [freshman cornerback] Tae Mayo had a pick and ran it back. I like how he has competed that last couple days.”
The first-team offense did have a few bright spots on Saturday. Brown said sophomore Alec Sinkfield had the best day among the running backs and also praised redshirt freshman receiver Sam James for his performance. Brown also made a point of mentioning how the second-team offense played very well against the second-team defense.
Overall, however, the new Mountaineer coach said his top players, particularly on offense, have a lot of work to do.
“If you look at really quality football teams, when they don’t play well they’re still good enough to be in games and have a chance to win,” Brown said. “Right now, with us, where we’re at is our ‘bad’ is really bad. I mean, it’s really bad. Now, when we’re good we look like a quality football team, but we’ve got to make it to where our ‘bad’ is where we are still average. That’s what we’ve got to get to, and we’re not there yet.”
QB job still up for grabs
The Mountaineers made it through the first week of preseason camp without Brown naming a starter at quarterback, and after Saturday’s performance in the scrimmage it doesn’t appear that will change in the immediate future.
“I didn’t think as a group the quarterbacks performed very well,” Brown said. “I’m hesitant to be critical until I watch it. It’s really a hard assessment until you watch [the film] and get a better angle to kind of see what they’re seeing. Not as productive as they needed to be. Trey Lowe did some good things. We let him run the ball and he did some nice things in the running game and he had a long touchdown as well.”
Transfer punter practices
Louisiana State graduate transfer punter Josh Growden arrived in Morgantown on Friday and officially joined the WVU football team on Saturday for practice. Brown said Growden, a 26-year-old native of Australia and former Australian Football League player, could not wear full pads with the rest of the team Saturday due to NCAA rules, but that the new arrival did put some footballs in the air on his first day with the team.
Brown was asked earlier in camp about the Mountaineers’ punting situation when another Australian, Max Hayes, committed to WVU but did not show up for the start of preseason practice. The new West Virginia coach dodged the question and quickly moved on, and said Saturday he did that because they were in the process of trying to land Growden in Morgantown.
“He punted and we welcome him to the team as a good addition,” Brown said. “He’s got talent, fits a need. It’s something we’ve been working on and [that] is kind of why I dodged the question earlier in the week.”
A few players have new positions on WVU’s defense.
Redshirt junior Dante Bonamico, a former standout at Bridgeport High, made the move from free safety to the “spear” position, which is kind of a mix between a linebacker and a safety.
“I’m the one that moved Bonamico, so I feel bad about it because we worked him [at free safety] in the summer and we worked him early in camp, but he’s just a more natural player closer to the line of scrimmage at that spear spot,” Brown said. “He’ll have a better impact for us defensively at that spot.”
In turn, freshman Tykee Smith, who had been practicing at the spear position, has been moved to safety.
“Tykee is a guy that is going to play,” Brown said. “We’re going to get him ready to play and we lack depth at that safety position. He’s physical and he can run. I just felt like it was a good move for him to get back there where he can get a lot of reps.”
Tight-lipped on tight end
Brown declined to get into any details about his or the program’s response to the news from earlier this week about presumed starting tight end Jovani Haskins facing three misdemeanor charges from a July 28 incident in Morgantown.
“I’ll probably let my statement in the release the other day be my speaking point right now as we continue,” Brown said. “We’re handling it in house right now, and as we get further along we’ll let you all know.”