MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Faces were understandably long in West Virginia’s locker room following last Thursday’s 17-14 loss at No. 11 Baylor. Within that heartbroken group, perhaps no player felt the weight of the outcome more than redshirt freshman center Briason Mays.
The Mountaineers lost 48 yards on a pair of Mays snaps that went awry, with both miscues tanking potential scoring drives.
“It bothers him. It hurts him. And it should,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “If you’re invested, it should hurt. And he is.”
The Mountaineers can’t afford for that hurt to linger. The only other player on the roster to play center this season is starting right guard Chase Behrndt, who is questionable with an injury this week.
“You try to speak it into him: ‘We believe in you,'” Moore said. “You want him to know that you believe in him. I think he’s going to be a good player for us. But at the same time, you have to up the competition level and find some guys who can push him a little bit.
“It’s a lot on a young guy when you make mistakes deep in the red zone. But you’ve got to learn from it to become a really good player. That’s part of becoming a man.”
Technically speaking, only one of Mays’ snaps was off-target.
With West Virginia facing a second down at the Baylor 29, the Mountaineers lined up running back Kennedy McKoy in the wildcat. The snap was both too soon and too high for McKoy to grab, and the Mountaineers were fortunate that McKoy was able to track the ball down at midfield to prevent a turnover.
At that point in the game, Mays had struggled with Baylor nose guard Bravvion Roy, and Moore said he hurried the snap in an attempt to get early leverage on Roy.
“The nose guard was a big, strong dude,” Moore said. “He was trying to get off the ball hard, and that’s what happens. You get your butt up in the air and the ball sailed on him. Unfortunately it happens in games. It happens on Sundays and it happens on Saturdays.”
Mays didn’t earn the starting job at center until the third game of the season due to trouble snapping in preseason camp. Until now, it would have been impossible to tell it was ever an issue.
“He’s been real consistent on his snaps. That’s something he’s gotten a lot better at,” Moore said. “That one was a little errant.”
The second snap was the more costly of the two. West Virginia drove to the Baylor 10 on its first drive of the second half and was set up for a first-and-goal. But Mays delivered the ball before quarterback Austin Kendall called for it. The ball bounced around for 27 yards before Baylor finally fell on it.
On that play, Mays apparently reacted to a clap by a Baylor player. Though it could be interpreted by officials as simulating West Virginia’s snap count, and therefore illegal, WVU coaches felt the game film showed that the player was legitimately communicating with one of his teammates.
“You could see his D-lineman wasn’t in the right spot,” Moore said. “He’s trying to get him to come over and get his attention. It’s loud down there by the end zone. And he claps to get his attention. He’s not even thinking about trying to draw us off.”
Even if it were a situation where the Bears were trying to induce a false start, coach Neal Brown said the center needs to be more aware.
“I think there’s probably a distinct difference in a clap coming in front of you than behind you,” Brown said.
Though he’s not making any excuses for Mays, Brown sounded more bothered by what happened immediately after the miscues.
On the third-and-27 following the first snap snafu, Brown called a play with the intent of getting the Mountaineers back into field goal range. Kendall failed to look downfield, then practically sailed his dump-off pass to McKoy into the stands.
“We had three guys open, but didn’t throw it to any them,” Brown said. “Those guys were in field goal range.”
Brown was clearly unhappy with running back Leddie Brown’s effort to recover the fumble on the second errant snap, which was exacerbated by the fact Kendall slipped right after the ball flew past him.
“We had multiple opportunities to get on that ball,” Neal Brown said. “It was going to be second-and-long, but we still give ourselves a chance to kick a field goal if we get on the ball.”
Brown said it is those types of plays that make the difference between winning and losing. A player made a mistake, but his teammates squandered chances to bail him out.
“Obviously they were costly. The thing was we had opportunities to overcome both of those,” Brown said. “There’s all those opportunities to make a routine play over the course of the game. We just didn’t.”