West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown had a lot of observations after his team’s first loss on Saturday, but it all boiled down to one thesis: building this program is an ongoing process.
The Mountaineers looked rough against the Missouri Tigers. Instead of improving on their lack-luster rushing performance, they repeated it this week with just 30 yards. Rather than maintaining their turnover-free streak from the previous week, they threw a trio of interceptions. Penalties, missed blocks and tackles, plus a slow offensive day all led to a lop-sided loss to Mizzou.
Looking at all that, it’s easy to get frustrated with the state of West Virginia football. But with an all-new coaching staff and nearly an all-new roster, it’s part of the “climb.”
“We’re a work in progress,” Brown said after the loss. “I’ve been saying that, really, since I got here. And that’s not negative, that’s what it is. That’s where we’re at.”
That’s not to say that Coach Brown is making excuses for the loss. He says he is disappointed in his team’s play, but he’s not giving up hope.
“Now this is key…I’m very disappointed in our performance, but I’m not discouraged,” Brown said. “And I want that to be heard loud and clear.”
With a scoreline like 38-7, positive takeaways can be hard to come by — but they are there. For one, Brown praised his defense and the way they improved after halftime.
“We had a nice discussion at halftime,” Brown said, “and I thought they came out…in the second half on defense and special teams, I thought our guys really competed.”
There was a noticeable difference in the Mountaineer defense in the second half. For one, they didn’t give up a single point (the only Tigers score came from their defense). On top of that, the stats show that they were able to manifestly slow the Tiger offense — Mizzou put together 274 yards of offense in the first half, but just 108 in the second.
Offensively, though, Brown says they were a “mess until the fourth quarter.” Having gained a total of -5 (yes, that’s a negative) rushing yards in the first three quarters, it may be hard to disagree with that assessment. Much of that struggle, he says, comes from the situations that opposing defenses are creating, and his offense hasn’t been able to respond accordingly.
“[Forcing one-on-one situations] is what people are doing. That’s what they’ve done the last two weeks, that’s what next week’s opponent is gonna do,” he said. “They’re gonna make us win one-on-ones, and we haven’t done that, and it was exposed in a bad way today.”
Ultimately, the biggest takeaway from today’s game won’t come immediately.
“This is the first real adversity that we’ve had. This is the first loss we’ve had, this is the first time we’ve really been beat from a physical standpoint,” Brown said. “Now the question is, ‘what are we made of, and where do we go from here?'”
The answer to that, he says, only time will tell — but before it does, they’re looking forward to this week of practice and next week’s game against N.C. State.