MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Neal Brown expects James Madison to dare him to win Saturday’s season opener through the air.
“I anticipate they’ll load the box,” Brown said during the season debut of his coach’s show on Thursday night. “I think they’ll try to make us win the game throwing it. If they’re watching our personnel, the only people they’ve seen in live action are Martell Pettaway and Kennedy McKoy. They’ll say ‘We’re going to put our hats in the box and make you beat us throwing.’”
The onus will be on quarterback Austin Kendall – making his first college start that’s expected to last longer than one possession – and a green receiving corps. West Virginia’s most experienced wideout is T.J. Simmons, who has 28 career catches.
JMU fields a talented secondary, particularly at cornerback. Senior Rashad Robinson is on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, which is presented to the top defensive player in the FCS.
Safeties D’Angelo Amos and Adam Smith were both first team all-conference players last season, which could result in aggressive coverage from the corners. Brown said new JMU defensive coordinator Corey Hetherman was big on man-to-man coverage at Maine last season.
“They know we’re inexperienced. They’ll come in and challenge us,” Brown said. “Their mindset is ‘We’re more experienced and we’re going to be the attacker.’”
Branching out the Air Raid tree
Brown is considered an “Air Raid” coach because he learned the game from former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme. But he thinks at this point the label has more to do with one’s coaching tree than their style of play-calling.
“The Air Raid is like the West Coast offense was 20 years ago,” Brown said. “The West Coast offense really became a label for a coaching tree even though no one ran the same offense as Bill Walsh. Air Raid goes back to Coach Mumme and Mike Leach. It’s less about a system the last 5-6 years and more about a coaching tree.”
With that being the case, fans shouldn’t expect the Mountaineers to always be running a high-octane attack that’s trying to snap the ball more than 80 times a game.
“We won’t try to play 100 miles an hour all the time. That’s not intelligent for your defense,” Brown said. “What we’re trying to do on offense, defense and special teams is make it simple for us and complicated for them. That’s what we’re trying to do in all three phases.”
Six WVU assistant coaches will be on the field in 2019 – defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, offensive line coach/co-OC Matt Moore, running backs coach/co-OC Chad Scott, wide receivers coach Xavier Dye, defensive line coach Jordan Lesley and outside linebackers coach Al Pogue.
Inside linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Blake Seiler, defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae, quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan and tight ends coach Travis Trickett will be upstairs in the press box.
Brown will have the final say on all offensive play calls.
Cornerback Dreshun Miller is the only player so far definitively ruled out of Saturday’s game for West Virginia. Miller missed almost all of training camp with a foot injury.
Freshman bandit Jared Bartlett has been somewhat limited in recent practices, according to defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
“He’s had an ankle sprain. They’re a nagging deal. He’s hobbling around a bit like a pirate,” Koenning said on Tuesday. “We’re hoping we can get him fresh. We don’t know what he’s capable of because we’ve only really had him healthy one week.”
Bartlett is listed behind Quondarius Qualls and Zach Sandwisch, but has a chance at playing time with starter VanDarius Cowan suspended for the first four games.
West Virginia has 48 different uniform combinations, but the Mountaineers will stick to their most traditional look for the opener.
WVU will wear blue helmets, blue jersey tops and yellow pants against the Dukes.