The first game of the season is always good for exposing flaws in a football team. As West Virginia learned on Saturday, this is especially true when the campaign starts with a loss.
Luckily for the Mountaineers, they are back at home for week two as they host an FCS team, LIU, for their home opener in a game which head coach Neal Brown knows is circled on the Sharks’ schedule. But that game needs to be about his own team, he says, and he has identified some key areas in which he wants to see improvement.
These areas are simple, and they sit on both sides of the ball: more physicality on the offensive line, better fundamentals at quarterback and stronger execution in defensive individual assignments — on top of eliminating turnovers, of course.
WVU’s offensive line had a far from perfect game against the Terrapins. After a resurgence in the ground game in 2020, WVU mustered just 42 total yards on the ground — 69 from tailback Leddie Brown and -25 from quarterback Jarret Doege, who was sacked three times.
Brown says the line missed few assignments — he estimated there were likely fewer than five missed assignments all game — but they generally struggled to execute those assignments.
“Offensive line-wise and quarterback-wise, we just didn’t execute our fundamentals,” he said “It wasn’t that we failed because of missed assignments, it’s more because we didn’t execute the fundamentals.”
He gave a similar assessment for his signal-caller, Doege, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 277 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. Brown called his game a “mixed bag” — he identified 12 “bad plays” out of about 62 countable snaps, including the two turnovers, one of which happened on a first down. The other one, which occurred in the fourth quarter, Brown called a “fluke play” caused by a miscommunication — a feeling that was reinforced after watching it on film.
Still, that math shakes out to be almost one bad play every five snaps — and many of those plays were detrimental to the team’s overall snap count.
“He’s got to be able to eliminate the negative plays and he’s got to be able to move up in the pocket,” Brown said. “The second interception was a fluke play, and I said it after the game…but that ‘s the way the ball bounces sometimes. But he’s got to move up in the pocket, he went back, we lost too many yards, and we gave up too much edge pressure, to. We’ve got to firm up our tackle spots.”
WVU had two fairly green players at right tackle in freshman Wyatt Milum and redshirt sophomore Parker Moorer. They had a tough task, essentially going in blind as they didn’t know how the Terps would line up.
Again, though, Brown says line mistakes weren’t missed assignments, but a lack of fundamentals. Plus, it was Milum’s first game of college football, and he says he still has faith that the Spring Valley product will be great.
WVU’s negative plays led to extra snaps for the Terps, which means more field time for a tiring Mountaineer defense. They had some critical missed checks that led to big plays in the first half, but Brown focused on the dagger touchdown in the fourth quarter — Taulia Tagovailoa found Rakim Jarrett on a double-move without a Mountaineer within 10 yards of him for a big touchdown.
Brown said they were supposed to check to a different coverage after Maryland’s pre-snap motion — but “we weren’t disciplined enough” to keep the check.
“We talk about one-eleventh here a lot, and on defense that’s kind of our mantra is one-eleventh, and really what that means is do your job. We did not play good team defense on Saturday at all,” Brown said. “We had guys — and it didn’t necessarily come from a bad place, they’re trying to make a play. But football is the greatest team game, and defensively, all the pieces work together.”