One week after the West Virginia University football team surprised many by collecting its first win of the 2019 season against visiting North Carolina State, the Mountaineers were not at their best but still found a way to win on the road at Kansas to open the Big 12 portion of their schedule.
The next step for this young team, first-year WVU coach Neal Brown said, is figuring out how to better handle prosperity when it comes West Virginia’s way.
“We didn’t have a good week of practice last week, and it showed,” Brown said. “We didn’t handle prosperity well, and it showed — which isn’t unusual for a young team.”
“We have guys that have won games, but we don’t necessarily have guys who have been a vital piece of winning those games. They were on the team, but they weren’t necessarily making the winning plays on offense, defense or special teams. We go out and beat a North Carolina State program that’s got the second-most wins in the ACC the past two years. That’s a good program win, especially taken how we played the week previously at Missouri.
“So what happens is Sam James gets newcomer of the week, the defense gets praised for how they shut them out in the second half — a lot of sacks and tackles for a loss. Offensively we were able to play with a lot of tempo, the young guys played well and we ran the ball. So all these guys are like ‘Yeah, maybe we are pretty good.’ A veteran or somebody that has experienced success before will say, ‘That’s what it takes. That’s what we have to continue to do.’ Natural human tendency, especially if you haven’t had that type of success, is to just say, ‘Now we’re back.’”
West Virginia was good enough to hold on for a 29-24 win against the Jayhawks last week, but Brown clearly wasn’t all that excited about how the Mountaineers got there. WVU allowed more than seven yards per play on defense and while the offense did have some success moving the ball at KU, twice the Mountaineers had to settle for field goals on trips to the red zone.
Big plays were lacking against Kansas as well. For the season, WVU ranks No. 95 in the country with just 14 plays of 20 yards or more. Some of that is on quarterback Austin Kendall, and some of that is on the coaching staff, the receivers and the protection around Kendall, Brown said.
“We’ve got to get the ball downfield,” Brown said. “That’s something Austin has to improve on. We’ve got to improve on protection on downfield throws. We have to improve on schematically setting up those downfield opportunities.
“We’re not going to be able to grind out wins. I’m not naive. I understand what we’ve got coming (on the schedule). We’ll have to hit on some big plays rather than counting on nine-, 10-, 11-play drives.”
Kansas may be somewhat improved this season compared to recent years, but the Jayhawks are still likely to finish at or near the bottom of the Big 12 standings. With an upcoming gantlet of games at home against Texas and Iowa State before a trips to Oklahoma and Baylor, Brown said he knows the Mountaineers must be better if they are to have much of a chance to be successful in the coming weeks.
“We won the game and I’m proud of winning it, but we also didn’t play our best,” Brown said. “If we continue at this rate, we’re not going to be successful the rest of our season. We got away with these mistakes in this game, but we won’t be able to continue to do that.”