MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Neal Brown has yet to beat Texas Tech during his West Virginia tenure.
Brown has also yet to win three straight games with the Mountaineers.
West Virginia’s fifth-year head coach hopes each of those statements is no longer true come Saturday evening as the Mountaineers welcome the Red Raiders to Milan Puskar Stadium for a 3:30 p.m. matchup.
For Brown to score his first victory over Texas Tech, where he was once the offensive coordinator, he may well rely on quarterback Nicco Marchiol in what would be his first career start.
Marchiol replaced Garrett Greene at quarterback on the seventh offensive play of last Saturday’s 17-6 win over Pitt after Greene suffered an injury to his right ankle during a run. Greene, who was making his fifth career start, did not return. He had a boot on his foot while standing on the sideline for the remainder of the victory.
“It’s an ankle injury. A lot of it has to do with how responds over the next few days,” Brown said. “We won’t play him unless he can utilize his best skill set, which is his athleticism. It’s too early to tell. If he can’t go, Nicco will play. There’s a lot of trust with him in the locker room. Guys believe in him. It’ll be huge for him. Garrett didn’t practice today and he got every rep. Garrett won’t practice tomorrow and [Marchiol] will get every rep. You’ll see much improved play by Nicco when he gets the majority of the reps.”
Brown didn’t offer specific practice requirements in regards to West Virginia’s No. 1 quarterback giving it a go Saturday, though for Greene to be in action against the Red Raiders, the head coach says he’d need to be able to display his usual mobility.
“I don’t want to put a number of reps or days. If he can move around any play like himself, then he’ll play,” Brown said. “If he can’t, then he won’t. It’s too early in the week to say. Some people bounce back from these a little quicker than others. He’s doing everything possible to get ready, but time will tell.”
Greene not practicing Monday or Tuesday suggests he’s trending toward missing the Texas Tech matchup.
WVU tailback Justin Johnson Jr., who has yet log an official carry this season, was in uniform against the Panthers, but did not play. It marked the second straight contest Johnson has been held out of.
“Justin tried to go and is still not 100 percent. He practiced, but we didn’t do a whole lot today,” Brown said. “I’ll have a better idea tomorrow on him. He tried to go on Tuesday [last week] and wasn’t full speed, and tried to go on Wednesday and wasn’t full speed. That’s kind of the way we treat it most of the time. If they can’t practice by Wednesday, it’s really hard. That’s necessarily a rule in ink. There are some exceptions, but in general, that’s kind of what we go by.”
Greene’s absence would leave Marchiol to man the offense. He’s played the entirety of the second half in the last two games and also spelled an injured Greene during the 2022 season finale at Oklahoma State.
In both instances against Pitt and the Cowboys, Marchiol more or less managed the game. Against the Panthers, he completed 6-of-9 passes for 60 yards. The Mountaineers’ only turnover was Marchiol’s lost fumble, and it was immediately wiped out by an Aubrey Burks interception that directly led to the first of WVU’s two touchdowns.
“We always go into a game with a plan for the backup quarterback. You quiz the guys on what they feel most comfortable with and what’s the data back up and say they’re good at? It’s on your call sheet, so you go to that first,” Brown said. “As time went by and you got a feel for what type of game it was going to be, it was going to have to be grind out. We were having success in the run game and they were struggling on offense, so it gets into this game where you want to possess the ball and play off the strengths. We reduced that even more so. We didn’t use a lot of the motions and shifts, because he hadn’t practiced them that much. We got to right what he’s good at that was in the plan, and once you feel out the game, we kind of reduced it even further.“
West Virginia’s longest offensive play was only 17 yards and its longest pass play was 15 yards. The Mountaineers’ 211 total yards equaled that of the offensively-inept Panthers, but Brown believes Marchiol would be in better position to succeed against the Red Raiders as a result of increased practice reps and preparing as the starter.
“He has really high-end ability. He can run the football. He showed good speed versus Duquesne, but he’s more of an in between the tackles type runner,” Brown said. “He’s real physical. You could see in high school he was a tough tackle. He’s really good with balls in between the hashes. He has good velocity on it. He throws the deep ball well. He didn’t throw the ball well down the field as well as he can in the game. Some of that is timing issues where when he practices, he’ll be better. He can do all the stuff in the RPO [run pass option] game. Our expectation is if he plays, we’ll be really good on offense. That’s the expectation staff wise and the expectation for the players on the offensive side.”
If Greene is unable to play, true freshman Sean Boyle becomes the backup to Marchiol.
“He was a little nervous on Saturday night,” Brown said. “I looked at him and said, ‘you know you’re next, right?’ He kind of gave me the big eyes. I don’t think he had really thought about that. Now, he’ll be ready if called upon and it’s really on us as coaches to get him prepared, but also put him in a situation where he can have success.”
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While it appears tailback CJ Donaldson avoided any sort of notable injury in the second half of the Pitt game, Brown offered unwelcome news on cornerback Montre Miller, a Kent State transfer who was expected to see extensive action on the back end.
Miller was injured in the season opener at Penn State, has not played since and will not play again this season.
A redshirt senior who was at Kent State for five seasons, Brown said Miller still hopes to play in 2024.
“He’s going to have surgery and he will miss the remainder of the year. He’s going to have to seek an appeal. We’ll have to seek a waiver on that,” Brown said. “I think he has a good case, but those things go to a committee. It’s hard to tell.”