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Notebook: WVU’s run game vastly improved, but not at ‘championship level’ yet

(Neal Brown’s bye week Zoom conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It took Leddie Brown just eight games to surpass West Virginia’s entire rushing total as a team in twelve games last season. With a 156-yard effort against TCU Saturday, Brown upped his season total to 897 yards. WVU rushed for just 879 yards in 2019. While the progress rushing the football is clear, head coach Neal Brown says more work must be done.

“I knew we weren’t going to get it completely fixed in a years’ time. I thought that we would make significant gains, which we have. I think to be at a championship level, we have to continue that improvement. We are not, looking at the statistics right now, we are not at a championship level running the football. But we are much improved,” Brown said.

Leddie Brown (4) runs the ball during the second quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

“We devoted a ton of time dating back to December of last year all the way through the month of July really working on it. We put a huge emphasis on it. That work has paid off.”

The line that goes to work in front of Leddie Brown has made significant strides with another year in the program. And a trio of freshmen, Zach Frazier, Parker Moorer and Brandon Yates have contributed in a variety of roles.

“The theme that all three of those guys have in common is that they love football and it is really, really important. Now you would say isn’t that obvious? Everybody loves it. No. I wish that was the case.

“It is really important to them. From a preparation standpoint, they work at it. They watch their opponents. They take coaching. And I think that gives you a real chance. I am excited about them. We have to continue to grow them. They are going to be in our program a long time developing.”

Encore performance for Tykee Smith

Tykee Smith was one of several freshmen thrown into the mix last season and he excelled at the spear position, earning FWAA Freshman All-American honors. Smith earned Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Big 12 after a season-best nine tackle performance against TCU. He also returned an interception 42 yards.

“The thing I think that separates him from others is that he does a really good job of playing perimeter blocks. He tears off those blocks. He makes plays on the ball.

West Virginia Mountaineers safety Tykee Smith (23) celebrates after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs (Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports)

“There’s a lot of guys that play that don’t make plays on the ball. What is his ceiling? I think he has several things he needs to continue to work on. I think his best football is in the future. That’s no question about that.”

Super-sub at the ready

In the second level of the defense, Exree Loe has performed well as a substitute. He replaced Tony Fields after his first quarter ejection on a targeting call at Texas Tech and had nine tackles. Filling in for an injured Josh Chandler-Semedo Saturday against TCU, Loe made a dozen stops. Brown says Chandler-Semedo’s status is unclear for the Oklahoma game but he has quality options at backup linebacker spots.

“Tony and Exree played every snap at the ‘mike’ and ‘will’ positions. Dylan Tonkery can play the ‘mike’. He has practiced there and would be the second ‘mike’. Noah Guzman is a guy that could play at the ‘will’ position if needed to. Jake Abbott could give us some snaps at that position as well.”

New faces up front on the defensive line

In the last three games, the WVU coaching staff has extended the rotation at the defensive line spots, with players like Quay Mays and Jalen Thornton seeing more snaps.

“As coaches, you can be reluctant to play guys that don’t have experience. Well they only get experience if you play them. We played our defensive linemen too much early in the Texas Tech game and they didn’t have enough gas in the second half. Against Texas and TCU, we played them early. I think our first group played better in the second half because of that.”

Doege remains ‘spot on’

Jarret Doege has attempted 58 more passes than any other Big 12 quarterback. Among starters, he has thrown a league-low three interceptions. The other two starters with three picks are TCU’s Max Duggan and Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders. Combined, they have attempted fewer throws than Doege.

“His decision making has been really good. He has done a really nice job with his eyes, because your eyes are where you get in trouble. If you don’t have your eyes on the safeties, that’s where your interception numbers go up.”

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