MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Neal Brown knows that stunk.
That part is nothing new. This West Virginia football team stinks. It has stunk all year, as anyone with even a cursory understanding of the game can see. But until Saturday, you could count on the Mountaineers to show some fight underneath all that stench.
“You don’t have the luxury of playing football to not work,” said senior defensive lineman Reuben Jones, a graduate transfer who gets it.
Many of his teammates looked like they were on a different page after a hard-fought loss at Baylor 10 days ago.
Playing their first home game in nearly a month, West Virginia rolled over and died in front of a crowd of 56,573 fans who were robbed blind. The final score of 38-17 doesn’t do justice to how poorly the Mountaineers performed.
Brown couldn’t give those fans a refund, but he did offer a promise.
“I appreciate them being here. They were here for our Mantrip at 9:30 in the morning when [the temperature] was in the 20s and 30s. They were here through the first half, and in the second half a high percentage of them stayed. That does not go unnoticed.
“We’re not playing well as a football team right now. We have a ton of work to do in this program. But I’ll tell ya, this is probably going to be one of our worst days. I’ll tell you right now, we will build a successful program here. It doesn’t look like it right now.
“But because of [the fans], and for them, we will absolutely be successful here. There are some growth pains. Nobody’s more frustrated with anything that’s going on on the football field than me. I can promise you that.
“But we have a high percentage of guys that will be back, not only for one year but three years. They will significantly get better. We’ll do a better job coaching them. And there will be a product on the field that will match the fans that we have.”
Lord knows how long that will take with the Mountaineers mired in a five-game losing streak that seems poised to extend through the rest of the season. Perhaps guys like quarterback Jarret Doege and running back Tony Mathis will play a role in the revival even if fans shouldn’t read too much into their garbage-time touchdown connection with 5 seconds remaining.
Even if they had scored against Texas Tech’s first-stringers, this team’s problems are too manifold for one or two players to fix.
“I’ll say this: I wish quarterback was our problem,” Brown said. “Because that would be an easy fix.”
This fix is anything but easy. It will take time. West Virginia fans have been pretty understanding of that up until this point. Now they need something in return.
Brown’s mea culpa was a start in that direction. The Mountaineers might not win another game this season. But if even they lose out, their coach needs to make sure they look respectable doing so. Ragtag play is not a strong sell for fans or recruits.
Based on Brown’s promise, this will be his rock-bottom in Morgantown. And it will have to be. If it isn’t, the same fans he praised Saturday for their patience will be certain to let him know.