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Neal Brown’s Catch 22 - Offense Can’t Help Defense

Neal Brown has a problem in Morgantown, his offense can only operate in one mode and that puts pressure on his best unit

Texas v West Virginia Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to, but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Catch-22 was written by Joseph Heller and in it describes a circular and impossible decision. The character Orr was crazy and if he wanted out of flying missions in World War II, no one would blame him, but in order to be released from flying, he had to ask and asking for his released demonstrated he wasn’t crazy and therefore sane enough to fly.

Head coach Neal Brown is faced with a Catch-22 in his first year with the Mountaineers. His defense is good enough to stymie the better offenses in the league but to do so, his defenses need to be on the field less than his offenses, but his offenses can only work when they run tempo, meaning they don’t have the ability to chew the clock.

This was all perfectly demonstrated both against N.C. State Wolfpack and against the Texas Longhorns when the team leaned on its defense to control the other team but couldn’t protect its defense with sustained drives by the offense.

Quarterback Austin Kendall has been a serviceable quarterback through 5 games so far but he is at his best when the team runs fast tempo, sprinting to the line and snapping the ball 11-15 seconds after the previous play. This tempo doesn’t give the opposing defenses time to get set or properly figure out the formations, leading to easy completions for Kendall or larger holes for the running backs. The defense on the other hand, is better when its only on the field for 60 plays a game. In order to do that, the defense can’t continually be on the field every 2 minutes.

There lies Neal Brown’s problem, he wants to protect his defense but needs to run tempo in order to score. So what is he supposed to do?

One way to chew clock is by running the ball and the emergence of sophomore Leddie Brown just might be the answer. Brown, since his return from injury, has been the powerhouse back that teams often lean on when they want to run the ball and control games. Brown, in limited carries has been over 4 yards per carry in each of the last three games.

The other way to chew the clock is very much the gameplan that we saw against Texas, short passes. Short passes act as extensions of the run game. The problem we saw against Texas, and have seen all year, is that receivers aren’t given enough space or time to turn those short catches into yards after the catch (YAC). Sam James has done it and TJ Simmons did it against Texas but neither has been able to do it consistently.

Another way, and one I feel like I harp about on Twitter constantly, is converting third downs. If you follow me on Twitter, you will see this tweet several times a game. “Throwing behind the line to gain on third down is a bad idea”.

But there is a method to that last issue. Bill Stewart did it in 2010 when the Mountaineers had the #2 defense in the nation. Field position. Neal Brown is also doing something very similar. Brown has Australian punter Josh Growden at his disposal and knows that if he can get a few yards out of his own end zone, Growden can help flip the field. We saw it on display against Texas and Kansas, when Growden unleashed several 50 plus yard punts to pin the opponent deep in their own territory. When you have a defense as good and as talented the Mountaineers do, often times playing to your defense is the better strategy.

Overall, you can see a coach who knows the limitations of both sides of the ball and is caught in the middle: does he speed up the game trying to go score-for-score with some of the better offenses in this league or does he play for field position and try to hold these offenses down and win games in the 20s? Catch-22.