WACO, Texas — Sometimes in the throes of an adverse situation, the best thing to do is to back away and give it some space.
In the wake of West Virginia’s 45-20 loss at Baylor on Saturday, the unquestionable low point in a season that’s had a few already, that was about the only option left to coach Neal Brown and a group of ragged, beaten-up Mountaineers.
“To be honest, going to get away,” Brown said Saturday in his postgame news conference. “Players and coaches get away for about 48 hours, we’ll come back on Tuesday and get back to work with some plans on how to fix what happened today.”
It’s hard to imagine a better time for a bye week than right now, and that’s the good news — Brown and his staff will have two weeks to try and make strides before returning to Texas to face TCU on Oct. 23. Knowing where to start may be the most difficult part.
There weren’t a whole lot of positives to take from Saturday’s loss as the Mountaineers fell behind 28-7, were consistently gashed on defense and again struggled to move the ball and score points on offense. The game punctuated a string of six games in six weeks, making up exactly half of West Virginia’s season, and with six games to go it already feels as if it’s been a long year.
Now at 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big 12, the Mountaineers will likely need to find four wins in their remaining schedule — at TCU, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, at Kansas State, Texas and at Kansas — to make a bowl game.
But bowling in December was about the last thought on Brown’s mind after Saturday’s game. Instead, in the moment, it lingered on the day and the long grind of a season moving in the wrong direction.
“We’ve got issues to fix, the more time you have to fix those, I think, the better,” Brown said. “We’re beat up. We brought 66 guys on the trip — we’re down scholarship numbers anyway — we brought 66 guys on the trip, had to play a ton of guys, so we’re beat up pretty good. Nothing major. Probably emotionally beat up more than anything because things haven’t gone very well the last three weeks, and so I think the bye week hits at a good time.”
BACKUPS PLAN? In terms of what’s next, Brown said “everything is on the table” in terms of possible changes moving forward from a blowout loss.
He didn’t specify what he meant, but in terms of younger players, Brown and his staff certainly have a significant portion of film from Saturday’s game to review after playing substitutes on both sides of the ball the majority of the second half.
If there was an overarching positive from the loss, Brown said that is likely it.
“We weren’t productive, the guys in front of them,” Brown said. “Defensively, one of our main issues is a lack of depth. We’re not very deep, we lack numbers — and that’s not an excuse, I’m just telling you that’s what our issue is. We don’t have very good numbers on that side of the ball, especially in the secondary, and so, D-line-wise, those guys have started to show on [Monday scrimmages among youngsters and reserves] and other things that they’re ready to play so we got them out there.
“How they played, we’ll see. I thought they did some good things in the fourth quarter, I think Baylor played their first group out there for the long time and we played the end of the third and into the fourth with our subs just because I want to see what the guys can do. What our ones [starters] were putting out there wasn’t good enough so I want to see what they can do. That’s the one piece of film I’m looking forward to evaluating is some of those guys that subbed in the fourth quarter on defense.”
NO TEARS FOR SPEARS: The West Virginia secondary was without a key player on Saturday as starting spear Scottie Young didn’t make the trip. Brown didn’t go into specifics afterward.
“He was not healthy, we’ll kind of leave it at that,” Brown said.
As for whether or not Young’s absence had any bearing on the poor showing by the WVU secondary, which yielded 354 passing yards and four touchdowns, Brown was quickly dismissive.
“Zero, honestly. Zero. And that’s not a negative on him,” Brown said. “Jackie Matthews has been splitting time there at the spear anyway and Jackie practiced there all week, Scottie didn’t practice all week, so, Jackie got all the reps. I don’t mean that as a discredit to Scottie, but our inability to cover didn’t have anything to do with him not playing.”
DOWN LINEMAN: Finally, the Mountaineers were without a key player offensively as well, as freshman tackle Wyatt Milum did not play due to injury.
Perhaps more than any positional group, Brown bemoaned his offensive line, which again struggled to clear running lanes for Leddie Brown and yielded six sacks to the Bears.
Improved offensive line play was one of the biggest keys for the Mountaineers entering the season, but through six games — and especially after Saturday’s performance — it’s hard to find any.
“It’s hard to sit here and talk about improvement when you put that on video today,” Neal Brown said. “That’s what I would say. I’d love to sit here and tell you, ‘Hey, we’re getting better,’ but we got exposed today at those positions. We didn’t play very well in the first half at those positions last week as well. Wyatt was hurt, he didn’t play because he wasn’t 100% and I don’t think it’s fair to a true freshman who is going to have a great career here to put him out there in that situation because he wasn’t full speed.
“He would’ve helped us, but that’s not fair to him. This is a long-term deal. He’s going to start on this O-line for a long time and it wasn’t fair to him today. So, when he does play, yeah, that’s going to help us.”