MORGANTOWN — First-year West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown made it pretty clear during the offseason that not only would many of the Mountaineers’ younger, less-experienced players see the field in 2019, but it would be a necessity.
That was certainly the case Saturday in West Virginia’s season-opening come-from-behind 20-13 win against visiting James Madison on both sides of the ball.
On offense, that meant plenty of playing time for redshirt freshmen receivers Sam James and Bryce Wheaton. Redshirt freshman tight end Mike O’Laughlin saw the field, as did sophomore offensive lineman John Hughes.
On defense, players like true freshman Kerry Martin — a former Capital High standout who finished with three tackles — at free safety and Nicktroy Fortune at cornerback made it on the field for the first time in their collegiate careers, just to name a few.
For the most part, the kids did alright — and Brown took notice.
“I think they take the demeanor of the head coach and the assistant coaches,” Brown said. “I’m not saying I’m going to be that calm every game, but I knew coming into it what it was going to be. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to go, I’m not rubbing a crystal ball, but I’ve played games with young players before. We’re better, but the first year I was a coordinator back at Kentucky after we’d been really good at Texas Tech for three years, we played very similarly from a youth standpoint.”
Brown said he expects to see a jump in quality, and possibly quantity if warranted, in that department next week.
“I think offensively, especially at wideout and some of those new offensive line spots, you’ll see a big jump when we line up next Saturday in the level of play and how much cleaner they play,” he said. “I think the team takes on the personality of the people who are working with them, whether it’s the head coach or the position coach.
“I thought our coaching staff did a really good job. I thought we communicated well at halftime, making adjustments to come out int he second half. I don’t think anybody ever panicked on the sideline. The kids took that read and really stayed in it the whole time.”
Chandler has the numbers
Sophomore Josh Chandler’s debut as the West Virginia starting “Will” linebacker went pretty well, at least according to the statistic sheet.
Chandler finished Saturday’s game against James Madison with a team-high 14 tackles, with nine of those being solo tackles. Brown, however, said he needs Chandler to be better.
“He had a bunch of tackles, but I think he’s got to play better,” Brown said. “Some of those runs, he’s got to get to the ball in the first half faster. Some of those were cutback plays that really should have been his hits and he was tackling them for 6 or 8 [yards]. We need him to tackle in that 2 to 4 range.”
n Saturday’s announced attendance at Milan Puskar Stadium was 61,891. That’s the most for a season opener in Morgantown since Ohio State visited West Virginia to begin the 1998 season.
n Redshirt sophomore Exree Loe recovered a fumble in the first quarter, giving the Mountaineers at least one turnover in 50 of their last 64 games.
n West Virginia held JMU to just 156 passing yards on Saturday. It was the 45th time in WVU’s last 65 games — including 33 of the last 46 — that the Mountaineers held their opponent to fewer than 300 passing yards.
n WVU tallied four sacks against JMU on Saturday — one each from Michigan graduate transfer Reuben Jones, junior Darius Stills, sophomore Dante Stills and redshirt sophomore Taijh Alston.