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With injuries stockpiling, Mountaineers try to move forward from disappointing showing

(Neal Brown pregame press conference)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Fourth-year West Virginia head coach Neal Brown expressed plenty of disappointment last Saturday in the aftermath of his team’s 48-10 loss at Texas Tech.

During Tuesday’s weekly media session, Brown put the finishing touches on his thoughts from one of the Mountaineers’ poorest performances of his tenure, but says he doesn’t believe it was at all an accurate representation of what the team is capable of.

“The way that we’ve talked it is we’re back to work,” Brown said. “I refuse to accept that’s who we are. That’s not who we were against Baylor here and I refuse to accept that’s who we are as a football team. Failure is temporary unless you refuse to accept it. I refuse to accept it and nobody that’s coaching here is going to allow that to be who we are.”

The Mountaineers faced a 17-3 halftime deficit following a lethargic first-half showing in Lubbock and things never improved the rest of the way.

West Virginia committed three of its four turnovers after halftime and struggled mightily on both sides of the ball throughout the afternoon as the Red Raiders had their way in what was their fourth straight win in the series.

The statistics painted a picture equally as woeful as the performance.

Texas Tech finished with a 594-282 advantage in total yards, including 239-73 on the ground. The Red Raiders ran 103 plays, gained 33 first downs and converted 15-of-28 attempts on third and fourth down. 

“Defensively, we made life way too many easy on the quarterback,” Brown said. “He had well over 100 yards just throwing now screens that were basically catch and throws. The quick game was easily accessible. We were slow to fit on the run and our fits were inconsistent, so that allowed them to get into a lot of third and fourth and shorts, which allowed them to stay on the field. You start getting in third-and-2s and if you have a four-down mentality, it makes it a pretty easy game to call. We’ve had some issues in the past getting lined up versus tempo and that wasn’t the case on Saturday. We just didn’t do a very good job tackling and we made it easy on the quarterback.”

On the flip side, the Mountaineers averaged 4.3 yards per play and were 5-of-16 combined on third and fourth downs. 

JT Daniels was intercepted three times, CJ Donaldson lost a fumble, and West Virginia failed to score a touchdown in a half for the first time this season while being held to a season-low point total.

“Just a poor performance. We didn’t play good enough at any position,” Brown said. “I felt three keys were going to be turnovers, rushing and ability to score touchdowns in the red zone. We turned the ball over four times and struggled to run the ball consistently and we didn’t win versus man coverage. If you don’t do either of those, it’s going to be a struggle regardless of who you’re playing.”

Brown and his staff are now tasked with putting the team’s dismal effort at Tech behind them, although things don’t get easier with No. 7 TCU coming to Morgantown for Saturday’s noon contest at Milan Puskar Stadium.

The Horned Frogs (7-0, 4-0) are one of the surprise stories in all of college football to this point and their offensive success under first-year head coach Sonny Dykes is a big reason why.

TCU is averaging a shade under 45 points and that number hardly changes in Big 12 play, with the Horned Frogs amassing 174 points in four league games thus far.

Brown has stressed for his team to block out outside noise from a frustrated WVU fan base. Many of those frustrations resurfaced over the weekend in what tied the largest margin of defeat among Brown’s 22 losses at West Virginia.

“You take the outcomes and put those aside. How did you play the game? What does your video look like? To me, that’s what we have to focus on,” Brown said. “As a team, our video has to be better and individually, our video has to be better. It has to represent who we want to be. That’s the challenge for them. 

“That doesn’t have anything to do with what people say on social media or what you all write or say on TV or radio. It has to do with an individual choice that you have to play better and we have to coach better. That’s the approach with them. They hear it. I don’t try to ignore it. But it doesn’t help you be a better player or help us coach better. You have to move on. It is what it is and let’s get ready for TCU.”

— — — 

Injuries have piled up for West Virginia since the non-conference portion of the schedule ended at Virginia Tech.

That trend continued in Lubbock. West Virginia entered the game with several key players deemed questionable and lost several more in the setback.

Starting left guard James Gmiter did not play after suffering an injury late in a 43-40 win against Baylor on October 13. Starting cornerback Wesley McCormick was also held out as a result of an injury suffered against the Bears, and corner Rashad Ajayi left with an injury during the game, although fellow corner Charles Woods played for the first time since the season opener at Pitt.

Oct 22, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; West Virginia running back Tony Mathis Jr. (24) rushes against Texas Tech safety Reggie Pearson Jr. (2) in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In addition to the loss of Ajayi mid-game, tailbacks Tony Mathis and Justin Johnson, left tackle Wyatt Milum and linebacker Lance Dixon each left the contest injured.

Brown confirmed Tuesday that Mathis, the team’s leading rusher, will miss the matchup with the Horned Frogs. So, too, will Gmiter, Ajayi and Dixon.

He was more optimistic about Milum’s status.

“We’ll see how he goes,” Brown said. “I feel pretty good about him playing in the game.”

Brown added the Mountaineers are “hoping to get back” McCormick and Woods is expected to play, perhaps in a more expanded role than last week.

“He is going to practice today and he’ll be available,” Brown said of Woods. “We’re hoping he can play a few more plays. We’ve messed with his orthotics a little bit and we feel a little bit better that as long as he does OK today and Thursday and Friday, then he’ll play.”

Defensive end Sean Martin was also on a snap count against the Red Raiders after being injured against the Bears, though Martin’s health is improving.

“He should be closer to full speed this week,” Brown said.

— — — 

As for Johnson’s status, Brown said “we’ll see how it goes.”

With Mathis ruled out against TCU, if Johnson can’t play, Donaldson will be the team’s only tailback with extensive action.

Donaldson was the only running back available to finish at Texas Tech in what marked his return from a concussion suffered October 1 at Texas.

Redshirt freshman Jaylen Anderson, who will be the No. 2 or No. 3 tailback against TCU depending on Johnson’s status, did not make the trip to Lubbock. 

With 70 players permitted to dress in the road game, Brown said Anderson’s absence had more to do with injuries at other positions than anything.

“We had to carry another d-lineman because we wanted to see how Sean Martin was on Friday and Saturday,” Brown said. “It turned out he could play. We brought one extra than what we normally would. In the defensive backfield, we had multiple people that were wait-and-see, game-time decisions, so we took a couple more DBs. We’d normally take four running backs, but because we added some pieces d-line and secondary wise, we only took three.”

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