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Neal Brown Press Conference: “Students, Wear Your Masks, Show Up and Be Loud”

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JUL 16 Big 12 Media Days Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our guys are looking forward to getting back on Mountaineer Field and taking on Kansas Jayhawks. Excited about welcoming back our fans. We’ve missed our season ticket holders, our students, our alumni. We are looking forward to a great atmosphere. We are bringing a great energy and expect our fans to bring a great energy too.

Kansas Preview - Dual threat quarterback to start the game, Myles Kendrick. Two great running backs in Pooka Williams. Two years in a row, all league player, he’s electric. Not only as a running back but as a kick returner. Velton Gardner who is actually their leading rusher. He’s been really good at the early part of the season. Lots of speed at wideout, they can really run. They have a big, improving O-Line.

Defensively, Jay Elliot brings a multiple package and they are sound in what they do. Keep edges and really do a nice job at being sound. They have a lot of experience at linebacker and their safeties are really active.

Special teams, it starts with them. Kickoff return they hit us with two and they had the most explosive yardage on kickoff return against us last year. Not only Pooka but wide receiver #88 (Jamahl Horne). We have to do a really good job at kickoff team.

Guys Available (James Gmiter and Vandarius Cowan)

I’m trying to get it cleared up exactly where it is with James. I’ll probably know more tomorrow. I’ll talk about it on the radio show. I just don’t have a real clear answer for you right now. Vandarius has not practiced yet. He’s going to try in a limited capability today and we’ll see how that goes.

Not Beating Yourself

Reduction in procedure penalties and reduction in selfish penalties. We’ve had our share of those in the first two weeks of league plays. And then not turning the ball over.

Tackling as a lost art

Its difficult its been more difficult this year due to limited practice. You don’t have the spring. Very few people had spring practices. That’s where you work on tackling since you have more days between your practices. Fall camp with COVID, everyone was concerned with getting guys closed to each other. There’s been less tackling in practice than in normal years and anytime you don’t practice something its going to be a struggle. Since we went a combined [technical difficulties].

Ever since we combined our blue and gold practices as one team, we’ve worked on tackling. It’s something we do every Tuesday and Wednesday and work on in drills. Not necessarily full tackle but we believe in how we teach it. I thought we tackled really well against Baylor Bears, not so much against Oklahoma State Cowboys, so we’re a work in progress. I don’t know if its a lost art, there’s still people playing really good defense. Our league - Iowa State Cyclones, Kansas State Wildcats, TCU Horned Frogs, Oklahoma State. Those are guys I watched last Saturday that didn’t have any problems tackling.

Five Game Stretch is Unique

“It’s really unique, we’re the only ones!”

Offense - Starting Quick

Its funny, if you look at the pure statistic of it, we don’t look like a team that struggled to throw the football. When you look deeper, our yards per attempt aren’t really good which tells you we aren’t really explosive. We have to work on that and there’s two ways to do that: throw the ball downfield or make some people miss. That was our point of emphasis. Our percentages are fine but we have to get the ball extended down the field or we have to make some people miss on those short yards. We worked a lot during the bye week and we have to get better. I think its going to be a [defining point] on how we’re going to be on offense. We’ve shown the ability to run the football, decently to above average. WE have to be able to stretch the field and our receivers and quarterbacks have to make some plays.

Anxious To See Things Worked On

We called them [explosive passing plays downfield] against Oklahoma State the whole game really and the first half against Baylor. We just didn’t do a good enough job connecting on them. We’re not changing things on how we run the plays, we just have to execute better. You’re not worried about legs as much during the bye week so we worked on down the field throws since we didn’t have a game on Saturday. Its going to be a good mix and we’ve been pretty balanced, from a run-pass wise, if you take out the fourth quarter there against Baylor.

Pooka Williams - Unique RB in Big 12

He’s a special talent and he’s done it now for two plus years. He has the ability to make you miss and they use him in a variety of ways. I fully expect them to line him up all over the field, motion in the backfield, throwing out of the backfield, line him up in the slot, and do a bunch of different ways. They’ve been creative this year and in the past of getting him the football. He’s strong. He’s a lot stronger than people give him credit for. He’s got good lower body strength. He’s a difficult tackle. That’s been a point of emphasis for us. For us, its been making sure we swarm to the football. We’re not always going to win the one-on-one so we have to make sure we get multiple defenders to the football. He’s strong and runs in inside and outside. He has the ability to get yards even when its not blocked very well. You don’t see that very often. It can be a run play call to the left and you do a good job of stuffing it and he might bounce all the way out to the right and that’s hard to prepare for. You have to make sure you keep edges.

Concerns About 2020 Season

No, not necessarily concerns for the year. I think that we all went into this knowing there were going to be some positives [cases] and some postponements [of games]. That’s kind of where its been. We’ve been fortunate. I don't know if there's been any serious illnesses. That’s the hope if we can maintain that. This is going to be a non-conventional year in all aspects. The teams that can adjust and ability to change things on the fly are going to be the ones who have a chance to improve and stay on the practice field and stay in games.

[More technical difficulties]

[You] can blame me for a lot of things but not freezing up on Zoom. We need to switch to hardwired. Everyone has play recommendations for me, that’s my recommendation. Switch to the hardwire.

Neal’s Line of Succession

Do they tell who the designated survivor is? [laughs]. They don’t tell that. We have a plan. It’s in a vault. [smirk]

Misfits on Defense - What Changes between OSU & Baylor

I thought our DLine did a really nice job. Part of it is our linebackers getting more comfortable. If you noticed we played Josh Chandler more in the box this year than we did last year. So he’s getting into the flow and understanding box fits where he was outside the box primarily last year. We’re still using that capacity. Tony Fields understands. We’re a little bit of a unique defense because we move our defensive line so much that our fits are a little bit different. Tony is getting more comfortable with what we are doing. We weren’t perfect against Baylor but we played so hard we covered it up. We had some misfits and we had some opportunities where the Baylor running backs, maybe they didn’t read it right, or hit it and our pursuit angles were really good so we could get to them. They were 5-6 yard gains against Baylor rather than 15-20, 20+ runs against Oklahoma State. We still have to clean it up. Some of that is simplifying what we’re doing and we’re figuring out our pieces too. There’s some different pieces there, at linebacker, and we’re figuring out what they can do.

Alec Sinkfield - 8.7 YPC

I told him this the day after the game. We didn’t do a good job of getting him the football versus Baylor. He continues to perform at that level, we are a production based business. If you continue to produce then you are going to get the football. He had some really good runs and catches. I’d like for him to be more active as a punt returner. He’s had some opportunities. I hope he can continue to be a factor for us and get some bigger returns in the punt return game.

Do You Like a Change-of-Pace

He can do the same things Leddie has. He just isn’t as big. Leddie has really improved his ability to run routes and catch the football. We’ve lined him up wide a bunch this year. Leddie has improved that aspect of his game. On the same measure, Sinkfield has improved his ability to run inside the tackles. Chad Scott, running backs coach, manages that rotation and I don’t change what we’re calling based on who is in the game.

Progress with Backups

We haven’t played good enough at wideout. I think you’ll see more people play at those spots. The reps will be a little bit different. It depends who produces this week in practice. The reps will be more evenly distributed than they were the last two games. The receivers practiced much better last week and we’ll see how this week goes. My expectation is we’ll be improved at that spot.

Ability to Add as Season Goes

We’ve been fortunate where we haven’t had a whole lot of missed practices or missed games due to COVID. Our installation and things we work on has been pretty consistent in what would occur in a normal year. Hopefuly we can continue to stay COVID-free. We test on Sunday and got them back. We got almost all of them in minus one or two that had to test on Monday rather than Sunday. We don’t have any new COVID cases.

Strange Outcomes So Far - Continue?

I think its going to be unpredictable. I dont know if the outcomes have been strange. If you box in the last three or four years, there have been a good number of upsets in general. There have been some strange games. High scoring games that you thought were going to be defensive struggles, or defensive struggles that you thought would be high scoring. There’s obviously been more penalties in the football game. It hasn’t been as clean. My expectation is we get into November, it will clean up some. The style of play and quality of play will resemble what we are all accustomed to. It has been a little bit unpredictable. In some ways it looks like teams haven’t practiced as much. They haven’t been together as much.

Defensive Impressions

Its a little early that we have arrived. Week one we were better than them. Week two we just played okay. I thought we played exceptionally well against Baylor. I thought our guys played extremely hard and extremely physical. If you are going to play hard and play physical and you do what your coaches tell you to do then we are going to have a chance every week. I think when you start talking about quality of defensive play, I think of defenses that show up week in and week out. Home or away. My hope is and our defensive staff is that we get to that point, I don’t think we are at that point yet. I do think we have some guys that are capable of playing at a high level and pushing some guys. Guys who jump out at me, Tony Fields, Tykee Smith, Darius Stills. Those type of guys are guys we expect to be productive each and every week.

Thoughts on Future Transfer Rules

Its been assumed that its coming down the road. I’ve always been I want to know what the rules are and we’ll play by it. The transfer rules, I get both sides. The thing I’ll say in football with the transfers, its really hard with the hard cap 25. That’s what makes it really difficult. I haven’t seen a clear line. First is the declaration period. I was hoping they would do a couple of windows. One in December and one in early May, when student-athletes had to declare. That would allow for better preparation with early signing dates and things like that. I think its a sign of the times. We’re more player-friendly. It is what it is. Its the world we live in. Not surprised. I think the 25 hard cap is something that needs to be examined. There needs to be a form of relief under that. I dont have an exact answer. My initial thoughts are you should be given 5 or 6 exemptions over 3-4 year window. If you had a year where you lost a couple transfers. The other thing is APR. The APR is dealing with retention. I think that’s something that has to be revisited.

Zach Dobson

We’re trying to get him some work during the bye week. He’s not ready to go out on Saturdays yet. He got in here late and is about a week or so behind in fall camp. We didn’t get his waiver until later too. Three games in. He’s been working on scout team primarily. We’re hoping he’s a guy we can get in and he can learn and we can get him in a position where he can help us this year. Its not going to be this week.

Time for new installs

Mike, what we did was take our two bye weeks and we treated both of those bye weeks. We didn’t spent a lot of time on the front end. Like take last week. We spent zero time on Kansas early in the week. We spent a little bit of time on Friday and Saturday. What we try to do is last week and the bye week before is install some things we know we are going to have to use. On Tuesday and Wednesday in the bye week we worked on things for the future.

On the freshman, we have a sheet on Sunday that lists everyone that played and it lists the freshman and how many games they’ve played. I told Ryan Nehlen who does that for me, we don’t need that this year. Since the rule went through, you’re looking at the sheet and saying do we play the freshman against teams we know we should win or do we hold those for later in the year. It takes the strategy out. On the road, you still have to operate under than 70 number. Now you’re trying to get the freshman who have shown the ability, you’re trying to get them involved. We have some that played on field goals that normally wouldn’t play.

Ending Statement

Students, I hope you show up. Wear your masks, social distance and be loud. We’re looking for our students to set the tone.