First-year West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown saw more than a few things he did not especially care for in the Mountaineers' season-opening win against visiting James Madison, but quarterback play was not one of them.
Oklahoma graduate transfer Austin Kendall, making his first start in a West Virginia uniform, performed well in the 20-13 win against the Dukes at Milan Puskar Stadium. Was there room for improvement? Absolutely. But Brown said he liked what he saw out of the former Sooner to open the 2019 season.
"I thought for making what I would determine as his first career start, I thought he handled himself well," Brown said Monday on the weekly Big 12 coaches conference call. "We've got to do a better job around him. We had three blown pass protections. We gave up big hits and we had six drops in the game. So, I thought he did a commendable job. I thought he saw the game well, I thought he stood in the pocket and had some courage."
Kendall helped lead West Virginia (1-0) back from a 7-3 halftime deficit with his arm. For the game, he finished 27 of 42 on pass attempts for 260 yards and two touchdowns -- both in the second half -- while not turning the ball over against JMU.
"I thought his decision making was good, but we've got to play better around him and we've got to be able to connect on the deep ball," Brown said. "Some of those were on the receivers, some were on him."
One area Brown was particularly not happy with against JMU was blocking -- and not just on the offensive line.
West Virginia's run game struggled to get going all day against the Dukes. WVU finished the game with a grand total of 34 yards on 24 carries and never seemed to be able to find any momentum moving the ball on the ground.
Brown said blocking was a team-wide problem, and something the Mountaineers will need to improve in the near future.
"I thought blocking at every position was severely below average," Brown said. "I thought our perimeter blocking at receiver was probably as bad as I've been around in a long time. I thought the offensive line, we probably did a good job of communicating and we were on people, we just didn't get movement and I think some of that was because guys were playing for the first time and, timid is not the right word, but they weren't coming off the ball and we've got to come off the ball and get movement. We didn't block at any position very well. I thought our slot receivers were as big a part of our run game not going well as our offensive line."
Mountaineer fans looking ahead to this week's game perhaps were in for a bit of a surprise Saturday night when Missouri, which hosts WVU on Saturday (noon, ESPN2), lost on the road at Wyoming, 37-31.
Despite that, Brown said he saw some good things from the Tigers and expects them to be ready when West Virginia comes to town this weekend.
"The thing that sticks out [about Missouri] is obviously they threw the ball very well and had a bunch of big plays," Brown said. "[Quarterback] Kelly Bryant, for his first start at Missouri, did a very nice job. I thought Wyoming, offensively, did a lot of motion and shifts, and got some numbers in the run game and were able to take advantage of it. Wyoming's quarterback is a very, very good athlete and he can run. He broke some tackles and I thought that was kind of the story of the game -- that and Missouri turning the ball over. I think we'll see a much different team in Columbia on Saturday."
WVU running back Leddie Brown did not play in the win against James Madison due to injury, and his return this week against Missouri has yet to be determined.
The sophomore was seen during pregame warmups with tape around his right ankle inside of a shoe, and the WVU coach would not commit to him being available against the Tigers.
"He'll be questionable this week," Neal Brown said. "He's made considerable improvement, but I would say "questionable" is what he is this week."