Since the Mountaineers’ hiring of Neal Brown, Shane Lyons and Coach Brown have been managing fans’ expectations. Both preached patience. And Brown marched out the “Trust the Climb” motto from day one. A climb, of course, implies a rigorous ascent from lower ground to higher ground. A gentle stroll up a small slope was not what Brown had in mind. And, though the Mountaineers started the season with a win over James Madison, the writing was on the wall in many ways. Absent serious, quick improvement, the Mountaineers would take their lumps. And that’s exactly how this weekend’s matchup against Missouri played out. By a score of 38-7, fans watched the Mountaineers lose to the Tigers.
Mountaineers Fall To The Tigers
Lessons From Week Two
After week one, Brown told fans that the Mountaineers played ugly football, especially on offense. And while the defense played well in the second half against James Madison, they allowed the Dukes to run pretty freely in the first half. The Mountaineers missed tackles and over pursued. On offense, the Mountaineers’ line offered no room for their talented running backs, and the offense as a whole lacked physicality. Yet, the effort was enough to squeak out a 20-13 win against a very talented FCS opponent.
That effort was not enough to overcome the Tigers’, however. The same issues showed up in week two, but the Tigers found themselves in a much better position to capitalize. Mountaineer defenders missed at least twenty tackles, many of them costly missed sack opportunities that would have pinned the Tigers back in pivotal moments in the first half. Kelly Bryant, however, successfully evaded the rush Vic Koenning’s unit brought. And, as a result, the Tigers’ offense averaged about five yards a play.
And while the defense bailed out the offense in week one, the offense left its defense out to dry several times in the first half. The offensive line couldn’t contain the pass rush and again couldn’t open up lanes for the running backs. And the results of the Mountaineers’ first three drives reflected that: a 46-second three-and-out and two interceptions, both on balls that went in and out of the hands of their intended targets. As a result, the defense that already faced a substantially up-tempo Tigers’ offense couldn’t catch a break. The Tigers took a commanding 17-0 lead just minutes into the second quarter. And their lead grew to 31-0 at halftime.
The Climb Begins
After the game, Brown told media that he was disappointed but not discouraged. He stressed that the team was outmatched and out schemed. But he was “proud of how our guys competed in the second half,” and the offense finally played physical in the fourth quarter “for the first time in two games.” Brown readily admitted, “[w]e’re a work in progress. I’ve been saying that, really, since I got here.”
Brown added, “[w]e have some deficiencies. I’ve been pretty open about those. They were exposed last week in certain spots. But this week . . . they were fully taken advantage of.” Indeed, the patience the staff has preached, and the climb Brown has been talking about, Brown is merely reminding fans of why we need it.
According to Brown, as the Mountaineers fall to the Tigers, “[t]his is the first adversity that we’ve had.” The question, now, according to Brown, is simple: “what are we made of, and where do we go from here.”
The script is also simple. Based on the results of the last two games, the game plan against West Virginia’s offense will be straightforward. Teams will “give [the Mountaineers] some kind of front where they make us block one-on-one situations.” Teams will then “put one more in the box, and they’re gonna play man coverage.” So where the Mountaineers must go from here is equally clear. “Until we win one-on-one blocks, until we win in one-on-one coverage, and until we break tackles, we’re gonna struggle.” As Darius Stills tweeted after the game, this season will require patience.
— Darius C. Stills (@DariusStills56) September 7, 2019
Nobody–and certainly not Brown himself–has said it would be easy. But the climb began in earnest once the Mountaineers fell to the Tigers.