MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Following a punchless offensive performance that featured seven three-and-outs and punts on nine of 12 series in last Saturday’s 31-14 loss at Iowa State, West Virginia has fallen to No. 8 in scoring offense among 10 Big 12 teams, including ninth in conference-only play.
The poor showing came against the Big 12’s top scoring defense and a Cyclones’ team yet to allow more than 31 points despite being winless in league play before its triumph over the Mountaineers.
“They did a really good job slamming their ends inside on us. We got after them pretty good a year ago and to their credit, they were ready to go,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “They had some answers for some things that we did a year ago and they gave us a lot more four-man front. In four years, I don’t remember seeing them in a four-man front as much as they were against us.
“With that said, we have to do a better job of moving our pieces and taking shots down field. We have to convert on third downs. A lot of drops and missed throws we had were on third downs. When you’re in those possession games and neither offense is doing a whole lot, you have to be able to convert third downs, if nothing else for field position.”
Brown praised ISU defensive lineman Will McDonald IV, saying he “was as big a reason why they won that game as anybody.”
McDonald finished with four tackles, one tackle for loss, a half sack, one quarterback hurry and a pass breakup and helped make it a forgetful afternoon for Mountaineers’ junior quarterback JT Daniels, who completed 8-of-22 passes for 81 yards.
The lone bright spot for Daniels was a 25-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Ford-Wheaton late in the first half that cut the deficit to 10-7 at the time. West Virginia’s only other scoring drive was led by second-string quarterback Garrett Greene, who threw his first career touchdown pass to cap a series that produced four of the team’s 11 first downs and nearly one-third of its total yardage (65 yards).
“JT was just off. He really was,” Brown said. “They got to him and got some pressure up the middle on him. We had some drops there that hurt the quarterback as well. He has to play better. We can do some things to get him some easier completions like move him out of the pocket to help him out.”
The Mountaineers have been a different offense for the worse away from home, particularly in Big 12 play. West Virginia has scored only 44 points in three league road games, while failing to surpass 20 in any.
In three Big 12 home games, the Mountaineers have produced 116 points and scored no less than 31.
“Maybe because we practice in the stadium. I don’t know,” Brown said. “A lot of teams play better at home. Why is that the case? I don’t have a perfect answer for it, but we have played better at home.”
Daniels’ performances in his last two road games are his two worst in a West Virginia uniform. In losses at Texas Tech and Iowa State, he was a combined 31-of-58 for 275 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions.
The Red Raiders are the only team to intercept Daniels more than once this season. The games at Texas Tech and Iowa State are two of three this season that Daniels didn’t throw for at least 200 yards. The only other was a convincing win against Towson — a game in which Daniels didn’t play a full half as a result of the comfortable lead.
Yet in between the two most recent road outings, Daniels had a solid showing with 275 yards and two touchdowns in an October 29 home loss to TCU.
Brown downplayed any notion that Daniels’ recent struggles stem from an injury.
“I don’t think he played his best, but I don’t think it was due to an injury,” Brown said.
When WVU welcomes Oklahoma at noon Saturday, Brown made it clear Daniels will be the team’s starting quarterback.
“JT earned the starting quarterback position and there’s been times he’s played that position as well as anybody in our league this year,” Brown said. “It wasn’t the case on Saturday. Garrett is getting better and deserves the opportunity to play a little bit more, but JT is our starting quarterback and he’ll be on Saturday.”
Brown also made it known he expects Daniels’ level of play against OU to be similar to what it has been in his first three Big 12 games at Milan Puskar Stadium. Over those contests, the former USC and Georgia signal-caller has completed 74-of-115 passes for 923 yards with six TDs and three interceptions.
“The kid is going to bounce back and play well this week,” Brown said. “He had a good mindset on Sunday and a good mindset [Tuesday] morning. He’ll come back and play really well this week.”
Yet Brown has said he believes Greene has a growing role, and while he’s been utilized as a slot receiver in spots, Greene remains a quarterback. Brown even hinted Greene should’ve played more at Iowa State.
“At 10-7, you’re kind of like, ‘here we go’, and we thought we had a feel of how they’re playing,” Brown said. “Then we came back and really didn’t have a positive drive until the end of the game in the second half. Looking back, I’m like, ‘Well, it was 24-7 and I probably should’ve put him in just to get him some work.’”
One week after facing the Cyclones, who play at the slowest tempo of any Big 12 team, the Mountaineers will battle a Sooners’ squad that utilizes one of the fastest tempos in all of college football.
For all of the struggles in Ames, the Mountaineers’ offense was on the field for all of only 49 plays against the Cyclones.
Brown believes that number must greatly increase for West Virginia to have a chance of avoiding a fourth straight loss and notching its first win over the Sooners since joining the Big 12.
“Tempo is an answer. Our pace last week was just really, really slow,” he said. “Sometimes you get lulled into that with Iowa State, because they play at such a slow pace, but our pace of play offensively was really slow. I’m not saying we’re going to play 100 miles per hour all the time, but we were running the play clock down, and there’s no need to do that in that game.
“We have to speed up our quarterback and when you do press the tempo, it creates energy. To do that, you have to make first downs and we didn’t have a whole lot of those. The other thing is we have to get some touches to our better players early. The guys that we want to feature, we have to get involved early.”