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WVU notebook: Mountaineers far from game-ready in first scrimmage

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With three weeks remaining before West Virginia’s season opener, Neal Brown sounds like someone who is happy to have every minute available to him to practice.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Brown said following WVU’s first preseason scrimmage. “The good news is we have plenty of time to get there.”

When the Mountaineers are at their best, Brown sees a team that can compete with anyone on a very challenging 2019 schedule. But when they aren’t sharp, it sounds like the opposite is true – any game is loseable.

“Our bad has to be way better,” Brown said. “If you look at quality football teams, when they don’t play well they still have a chance to be in games and win. Our bad is really bad. When we’re good, we look like a quality football team.

“We have to make it where our bad is still average. We’re not there yet. Defensively it was bad yesterday. Today the offense was really bad.”

Specifically, the first-team offense was not good on Saturday. Brown said the first-team defense won the scrimmage “soundly,” but noted the second-team offense was the victor against the No. 2 defense.

“The sloppiness was attributed to penalties, a lot of them procedure penalties, which are mental errors,” Brown said. “We struggled to run ball. Had a lot of drops. We didn’t protect it very well. We didn’t run well. All of you are smart enough to figure out [what that means].”

Based on Brown’s account, it was a particularly dominant day for the defensive line. Defensive end Taijh Alston was credited with four sacks. He also noted that defensive tackle Darius Stills “won the battle decisively” over center Chase Behrndt. Freshman cornerback Tae Mayo also returned an interception for a touchdown.

On the No. 2 offense, transfer wide receivers Sean Ryan and George Campbell stuck out.

“They both made plays downfield,” Brown said. “That’s the reason we added those guys.”

Redshirt freshman Trey Lowe, ostensibly the third-string quarterback, was the most consistent player behind center. Lowe remains a dark horse in the quarterback derby, but appears to be making it harder for the Mountaineers to keep him off the field in at least some type of specialty role.

“He does some nice things. He has a chance to help us,” Brown said. “He’s a redshirt freshman. He’s a little bit on the roller coaster right now. He’s up and down. Today he played more continuous snaps and showed some real positive signs.”

Brown said Lowe looked good in the running game and also had a long touchdown pass.

Punter Growden practices

Punter Josh Growden is already practicing with the team after arriving on campus Friday afternoon. According to The Athletic’s Brody Miller, Growden was preparing to return home to Australia to resume a career in Aussie-rules football after leaving the LSU football team last month. Growden changed his mind when learning of the possibility of being West Virginia’s primary punter.

With the Growden transfer in the works, Brown admitted he was avoiding a question about punting earlier in the week.

“He’s a good addition. He’s got talent and fits a need,” Brown said. “It’s something we’ve been working on, so that’s why I dodged the question earlier in the week.”

No update on Haskins

For the moment, Brown has nothing new to offer on the status of tight end Jovani Haskins and what type of discipline he may be facing following a recent arrest. Haskins faces charges of reckless driving, driving on the left side of the road and fleeing from an officer.

In a statement released earlier this week, Brown said, “We are aware of the situation, and it will be handled appropriately and in accordance with West Virginia University’s policies and procedures surrounding student conduct.”

Brown said he would stand by the statement as the speaking point about the Haskins situation.

“We’re handling it in-house, and as we get further along we’ll let you know,” Brown said.

First-team secondary

Youth will be served in the WVU secondary this season. Of the eight defensive backs who worked with the No. 1 defense Saturday, three are true freshmen –safety Tykee Smith and cornerbacks Tae Mayo and Nicktroy Fortune.

Sean Mahone, Josh Norwood and Jake Long were the other safeties to run with the first string. Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey remain the starting corners. Brown said that corner Dreshun Miller sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

Smith swapped spots with junior Dante Bonamico earlier this week. Bonamico is now playing spear.

“I feel bad about moving Bonamico,” Brown said. “But he’ll have a better impact for us at that spear spot. He’s a more natural player near the line of scrimmage.”

Smith appears to be a lock not to redshirt in his first year.

“Tykee is a guy that’s going to play,” Brown said. “We like him at that spot. He’s physical and can run. He can get a lot of reps.”

Message sent

Brown didn’t name names, but expressed discontent with some players on his offense.

“We’ve got some guys who think they’re better than they actually are,” Brown said. “Sometimes they think they don’t need to take coaching. The video will tell your story. Don’t tell me who you think you are. Let’s look at the video and show who you really are. It doesn’t matter what you say.

“On this video screen, some of these guys who think they’re ballers – their term, not mine – we turn it on and all the sudden they don’t do exactly what they’re supposed to. So maybe we know what we’re talking about sometimes.”

Still waiting

Brown still hasn’t received word from the NCAA on Sean Ryan’s eligibility status for this season. Ryan filed for a waiver to play without sitting a year after transferring from Temple.

“We’re patiently waiting,” Brown noted.

Camp standouts

With the first portion of training camp in the books, Brown pointed out a handful of players who have stood out.

“We’ve had real steady play out of [left tackle] Colton McKivitz and [Will linebacker] Josh Chandler,” Brown said. “Norwood is still learning what to do at safety, but we love what he brings. Our long snapper, Rex Sunahara, has been on-point.

“[Receivers] T.J. Simmons and Sam James have been consistent. [Linebacker} Dylan Tonkery, after the first couple days, has been much improved. Reese Donahue. I know what I’ll get out of them every day.”

Brown said it is still too early for any position group to consistently dominate.

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