Neal Brown breaks down debut performances in season opener

(Neal Brown Sept. 15 Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Most coaches will find a way to pick apart performances even after a 56-10 victory. That’s what the WVU staff has been doing since their season-opening win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.

Against an overmatched EKU squad, the Mountaineers dominated both lines of scrimmage. But head coach Neal Brown took issue with how his special teams units performed. That is an area Brown has repeatedly said has to be an ‘edge’ for his team.

“We don’t ever want to be in a situation where West Virginia beats West Virginia,” Brown said. “We were better than Eastern so it didn’t hurt us. But we cannot get into Big 12 play and have that many penalties. That was six penalties. We had more flags than that but only six penalties that were accepted on special teams.

“Our field goal protection wasn’t good enough and we missed a 25-yard field goal. We have to be better than that.”

With nearly seventy players taking the field for West Virginia in the opener, several players made their collegiate debuts.

“We felt like everybody who was ready to play got in the game. I am sure we missed somebody but we played a lot of people. I though the young guys that played — defensively Akheem Mesidor saw his first action. Daryl Porter, Jr. got in the game and played. I think he was in there on the third series. Offensively, there were a lot of guys.”

Zach Frazier (54) blocks in front of Jarret Doege (2) (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

Brown has heaped a great deal of praise on true freshman and Fairmont Senior graduate Zach Frazier, not only for his performance but for his preparation.

“I was impressed with what Zach did in his first college action. It is tough. Center, for me, is the toughest position to play early. But he did it and he did it well. I was proud of how he performed and prepared during the week. That gave him an opportunity.”

True freshman Avarius Sparrow did not play Saturday against EKU. That’s because Brown is looking to solidify his running back depth chart behind Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield.

“We are trying to figure out who that third running back is going to be. We wanted to give Tony Mathis an extensive look there. He had by far the most carries. And he was up and down. He has to play better. We gave (Lorenzo) Dorr some carries because he deserved it.”

WVU RB Alec Sinkfield (Photo by WVU Sports Communications)

Brown and Sinkfield posted identical totals of 123 rushing yards (career-highs) and two touchdowns. The head coach says Sinkfield has made a good push for playing time based on a solid preseason.

“Leddie is the starter at this point. He has earned that right. But Sink is a guy that had a really productive camp. He has been a significantly different player over the last six weeks compared to what he was last year. He is playing with more confidence. He has added some bulk. He has been more decisive in the run game.”

Junior VanDarius Cowan returned to the lineup after missing ten of twelve games last year due to suspension and then a season-ending knee injury. He finished with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

“He has to continue to stay out there and stay healthy. That has been an issue for VanDarius. I do think he is mentally and physically in as good of a spot as he has been since I have known him. He made some plays but he has to be more consistent.”

Morgantown High School alumnus Kyle Poland has settled into the starting spot at long snapper. The redshirt senior was placed on scholarship just prior to the season opener.

“He is a great kid. He has already graduated and he will get a graduate (degree) in May. He was married in the offseason. It has been a big year for him. Starter, scholarship, married, having a child, he’s got a lot going on. He is definitely capable of handling all those responsibilities.”

West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Sam Brown (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

True freshman Sam Brown earned a start at receiver ahead of some established veterans. He caught 4 passes for 43 yards.

“I thought he deserved the opportunity. He had been productive in camp. I wanted to make a point. He played better than I thought he would.

“Some people just rise to the occasion. That’s what he did. He was up-and-down practice-wise last week. He wasn’t overly consistent. He did everything we asked him to do. He showed some flashes in scrimmages and things like that. But I was unsure of how he was going to play.”

Brown said that the team recently had a pair of walk-on players test positive for COVID. Bluefield High School graduate and freshman Sean Martin did not play Saturday vs. EKU due to contact tracing. Brown said Martin had his best week of practice and would have played if not for the contact tracing.

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