Each of the West Virginia University football team’s first three games has played out a little bit different than the others, but they all have one thing in common.
WVU opened its 2019 season with a close win at home against James Madison before getting blown out at Missouri. Most recently, the Mountaineers pulled away for a decisive victory at home against North Carolina State. Each game was unique, but each game did feature a strong effort from the West Virginia defense in the second half.
The Mountaineers allowed two field goals in the second half against JMU. Against Missouri, the only points the Tigers scored in the final two quarters against WVU came on an interception returned for a touchdown. N.C. State, like James Madison, managed just six points on two field goals in the second half in Morgantown.
“I think, first, that’s a credit to the coaches,” WVU coach Neal Brown said on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. “The second thing is we need to play better in the first half.”
Brown said each week has presented different challenges going into halftime, but the Mountaineers can make like a little easier for everyone involved by getting off to better starts in the coming weeks.
“The first game, you’re not really sure what to expect because you’re going against a new [James Madison] coaching staff. We got in the locker room and we made some adjustments because we knew what we were seeing,” Brown said. “The second game, the whole first half was just bad football. So we were really able to get in there and re-focus the guys, and that’s what you saw.
“In this game, North Carolina State really had not shown much at all [prior to facing WVU] and they have a new coordinator on offense and they were running a different defense, structurally, so they hadn’t been really stressed at all. It was almost like their first game, and so we were able to make some adjustments — especially on the defensive side — at halftime. I’m glad, I’m happy we’re playing better in the second half, but I’d like to get to a point where we can be good in the first half as well.”
‘YOU HAVE TO ADAPT’
West Virginia (2-1) opens Big 12 Conference play Saturday when the Mountaineers visit Kansas (4:30 p..m.; Streaming only on ESPN+) and get their first glimpse of the Jayhawks under new coach Les Miles. KU comes into Saturday’s game off a surprising lopsided win at Boston College. The previous week, however, Kansas lost at home to Coastal Carolina. It is a pattern that somewhat mimics WVU’s stretch that included the 38-7 loss at Missouri followed by a surprising win against NC State.
“Neither one of us was very pleased with how we played obviously in the second game under a new staff, but I think it shows Kansas has responded well to Coach Miles and his staff and had great belief going up to Boston College,” Brown said. “Without a doubt, two quality wins — one for us and one for them — and both teams come into the game Saturday with great confidence.”
WVU came into last week as one of the worst rushing teams in the country by the numbers, and had three newcomers starting on its offensive line against NC State — James Gmiter at left guard, Briason Mays at center and John Hughes at right guard — while also sprinkling in heavy doses of Chase Behrndt in a backup role. The new group of interior linemen was able to find some success with Josh Sills, the usual starter at right guard, out with a shoulder injury and Mike Brown, the usual starter at left guard, missing the game due to illness. Brown is expected to be available this week against the Jayhawks, while Sills’ return has not yet been determined.
“We recreated ourselves trying to find ways to put our offensive line in a better position,” Brown said. “You can’t continue doing the same things. As coaches just because we’ve had success doing certain things in the past, you have to adapt. It’s not about what we’re the most comfortable with. It’s about what our kids can do the best. You keep trying until you find some things that work.
“We’re at a point where we’ll have to present differently every week to have success in the running game. We’re not at the point where we can just mash people. Hopefully we’ll get there.”
Miles said he has seen West Virginia team that was steadily improving on film so far in his preparation for the Mountaineers’ visit.
“I think they have a really fine football team,” Miles said on Monday’s teleconference. “I think Neal Brown is doing a great job in his first year. And you can tell — offense, defense and special teams — that they’re getting coached and they’re improving. So, yeah, I think that they’re certainly a team on the rise.”
NEAL BROWN’S KNEEL DOWN
Something unusual happened after West Virginia’s final touchdown in last week’s 44-27 win against NC State. WVU lined up like it would attempt an extra point, but the holder was standing and once he caught the snap, he took a knee.
“We use a data analytics company and they give you different scenarios within the game, and that [touchdown] put us up 17,” Brown said. “So at that point the extra point does you no good. There’s no difference in a 17 and 18 point game, but, worst case scenario happens and an extra point is blocked and they run it back — now it’s a two possession game. Now you bring the ability for them to score and get an onside kick. It may be unorthodox, but it makes a lot of sense.”
BUSH BACK THIS WEEK
Receiver Tevin Bush was suspended for WVU’s win against the Wolfpack for a violation of team rules, Brown said Monday. Bush, however, was set to return to practice Monday and fully rejoin the team ahead of the trip to Kansas this week.
“His suspension is up,” Brown said. “He will be with the team [Monday]. He violated some team rules and paid the price.”