MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Neal Brown knew what he was getting in to when he started at West Virginia, even if the challenge is a bit more daunting than even he was counting on.
The Mountaineers are one of the worst teams in the country running the football no matter how you slice it — 129th in total rushing yards (64) and 130th out of 130 in yards per carry (1.14).
“I don’t know that I thought it would be this difficult,” Brown said on Monday’s Big 12 coaches teleconference. “I knew we would struggle. It was not going to be easy. We’d have to be creative. But I don’t think I’d have gone as far to say we’d be the worst rushing team in America after two weeks.”
West Virginia’s struggle running the ball starts up front. The problem is that it is never consistently the same culprit, or a case of all five linemen struggling on the same play.
“What happened Saturday is what happens a lot of time when bad football is played,” Brown said. “It’s one or two guys on each play. If you don’t have a guy getting a job done, then the play fails. That’s what we had quite a bit of on Saturday.”
Brown said “we will try to give some other guys some opportunity” this week.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, so we have to give some guys some opportunity, at least in practice,” Brown said. “They have to prove in practice that they’re ready for those opportunities in a game.”
Despite the rough beginning, Brown reiterated Saturday’s postgame message that he was disappointed rather than discouraged, and explained further why that’s the case.
“I’ve known since our first winter workout that we have some deficiencies on our football roster. I’ve known we’d have some challenges in Year 1 and I’ve spoken openly about those challenges,” Brown said. “We have to get better and put guys in position to be successful, and do a great job in recruiting.
“You’re only discouraged if you’re blindsided by something or not seeing effort. That’s not where we’re at. We struggled on Saturday. We got exposed in certain positions. We will get better moving forward. it’s not going to be a smooth road all year, though.
“I’m disappointed by our performance. We can play better. But I’m not discouraged by the direction we’re going and where we are going to take this program.”
Kendall’s performance hard to assess
On paper, quarterback Austin Kendall performed poorly at Missouri. He threw two interceptions and finished 15-of-25 for 137 yards, 46 of which came when Missouri’s second-string defense failed to cover receiver George Campbell on a long touchdown.
But Brown says Kendall was under such duress that it’s hard to get a good read on how he played.
“It’s tough to evaluate, honestly,” Brown said. “He got hit eight times in the first three series. There were times when he threw the ball well. He showed courage in pocket. Decision-making has to be better. He has to do better with his eyes. But we have to play better around him.”
As one would expect, Saturday’s player grades from Pro Football Focus reflected the losing end of a 38-7 blowout.
The highest-graded player on West Virginia’s offense was S-back Logan Thimons (70.8), who was on the field fewer than 10 plays. It was a similar story for the defense, where linebacker Shea Campbell (83) had the best rating but also played less than 10 snaps.
When it comes to players who were on the field all game, no one came close to spear JoVanni Stewart, who earned a respectable mark of 75.3 in PFF’s system.
Though the offensive line obviously struggled as a whole, right tackle Kelby Wickline had a massive bounce-back from a rough season opener against James Madison. Wickline graded out at a 65.8 against Missouri after earning a 48.3 against JMU. He was the highest-rated offensive lineman against the Tigers.
PFF data compiled by WVSports.com