West Virginia staring at tough October after 3-1 start
West Virginia coach Neal Brown has little time to gloat about a winning record and what went right in the initial third of the season with the toughest part of the schedule just ahead.
How well the young Mountaineers play in October will help determine whether they’ll become bowl eligible under their first-year coach.
It’s time to buckle in for what could be a rough ride.
“We’ve got to play considerably better to win as we continue through our league,” Brown said.
West Virginia (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) has this weekend off before hosting No. 11 Texas (3-1, 1-0) on Oct. 5. After facing Iowa State at home the following week, the Mountaineers travel to No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 19.
Brown is giving his players four days off this week. With the little time he does have with them, he wants to teach them a lesson on staying focused.
He said his players had too much swagger after a Sept. 14 win over North Carolina State and it showed with less than crisp practices before a close win Saturday at Kansas.
“I’m going to say hey, listen. Here’s the deal,” Brown said. “We won the game. We were fortunate. I’m proud of you for winning the game and this is why we won the game. But this is also why we didn’t play our best. If we continue at this rate, we’re not going to be successful with the rest of our season. We got away with these mistakes in this game but we’re not going to continue to do that. And here’s where we’ve got to get better.
“It starts with our preparation. It starts with our practice habits.”
The stats sheet shows plenty of room for improvement.
The Mountaineers are last in the Big 12 in scoring, total yards and third-down conversions. West Virginia has missed chances to score touchdowns on four of 11 trips inside the 20-yard line.
“We should put points on the board,” quarterback Austin Kendall said. “That’s on me. That’s on the offensive linemen. We’ve got to capitalize when we’re in the red zone every time.”
Brown seems to have sorted out some of the offense’s underlying problems — ones that could crop back up at any time.
He said the running backs have become more decisive in their cuts and are moving downfield more with the ball instead of laterally. There have been fewer blocking issues that have resulted in lost yardage.
The wholesale reshuffling of the offensive line due to injuries and erratic play appears to have settled down, although Brown said starting right guard Josh Sills, who has missed the last two games, is done for the season and will have shoulder surgery.
The line’s volatility has been epitomized by Chase Behrndt, who was at center in the spring, started at right guard for the season opener and returned to center for the second game. The junior was a backup right guard against North Carolina State and got that starting job back against Kansas.
“I think that says a lot about him,” Brown said. “We’ve got him locked in on one spot at that right guard spot. He took the coaching. His work ethic … He’s had two great weeks of practice and he’s playing at a high level.”