The 2020 version of the West Virginia Mountaineers and their football games is going to look a bit different. For starters, no one will be allowed to actually attend the first game of the year and then we have to see what the school decides to do after that. There is no big non-conference game to get us excited about the possibilities. This will be a football year none of us will forget (and may not want to remember).
Jarrett Doege Was the Starter No Matter What
I know that Neal Brown just recently announced Doege as the starter but you would have to be a fool to have thought Austin Kendall was in a real competition with Doege. I know what the coach “said” but I’m a parent and I’ve said things too that were not based in reality. Doege was 2-1 as a starter and the offense just looked better. I can tell you the stats but you have two eyes (unless some of you are actual pirates), you could just see how much better the team looked when Doege was in charge.
Marshall Set a High Bar
The comparison’s are going to be impossible to ignore so let’s not dance around them. Marshall Thundering Herd started a freshman, from West Virginia, against the same team West Virginia is going to play this Saturday. In that game, quarterback Grant Wells, a three-star prospect from George Washington High School in Charleston, threw for 307 yards and 4 touchdowns in his collegiate debut. Before you go off on former head coach Dana Holgorsen, or even current head coach Neal Brown, neither WVU nor the Virginia Tech Hokies offered Wells. He had two offers, Marshall and Charlotte, despite attending multiple camps. Still, Wells had himself a fantastic game and he and the Thundering Herd set the bar extremely high for West Virginia this Saturday. The Mountaineers do not need to win 59-0, but they do need to be up 49-0 at half. Doege needs to play well and the Mountaineers need to be the better team.
QB Grant Wells is putting on a show for Marshall in his first career start.— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 5, 2020
4 TDs in the first half ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/SzfETNQL76
Leddie Brown Needs to Be Good
To say that the Mountaineers run game struggled in 2019 would be the understatement of the year. No running back had a 100-yard rushing game and the run game ranked as one of the worst in the country last season. Running backs were often hit or readjusted before the line of scrimmage on most plays. Leddie Brown eventually replaced Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, seniors who were playing in their fourth seasons. Brown has been impressive and will be expected to receive the bulk of the carries this season. Brown, during his tenure at Troy, leaned on one back more than others, so the run game will likely come down to how good Brown is. Brown offers nearly prototypical running back qualities - size, power, speed, durability - but he hasn’t shown the ability to be an every down back in college, yet. If Brown turns into a back the Mountaineers can lean onto, then the season will be successful.
The Defense Can’t Be All Vic Koenning
I’m not going to get into the Koenning situation, mostly because there is no winner in that argument, but there is no doubt that after watching Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 system wear down and just be generally ineffective, Koenning’s system gave everyone a glimpse at the possibility of a dominating defense. This season, Darius Stills is a senior, Dante Stills is a junior, and several others on the defense are in their second or third season starting for the team. Koenning’s loss will be felt but the fact is, the defense can’t falter just because Koenning is gone. Jordan Lesley, the defensive line coach, has taken over and will be working with a defense that should be one of the better units in the Big 12. Lesley has previous experience as a DC, serving as the defensive coordinator at Kilgore in 2011, Northwest Mississippi in 2012 and East Mississippi Community College from 2013-2015. EMCC is the first school featured in the Netflix series Last Chance U. During his time at EMCC, the team led the country in sacks in 2013, finished second in interceptions and allowed 10 points per game. Lesley can’t allow the defense to falter.
Neal Brown Must Get to a Bowl Game
The Mountaineers finished 5-7 last season, their third season below .500 since 2000, a fairly remarkable streak. In 2002, they rebounded to 9-4. In 2014, they rebounded to 7-6. In 2002, there was the closer than the score indicates game against the defending national champions and a team that had won 28 straight games (and 34 of their last 35). I was at the game and the Mountaineers hung with the Miami-Florida Hurricanes for three quarters. The game was 17-10 at halftime and the Mountaineers held a 24-23 lead with 5 minutes left in the third quarter. Eventually Miami pulled away but the fact that they didn’t until midway through the fourth quarter solidified that the team was making progress. Three weeks later the Mountaineers upset #12 Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium. They followed that up with a 24-17 upset of #18 Pittsburgh Panthers in Heinz Field. Two weeks, two upsets, both on the road.
In 2014, the Mountaineers played the juggernaut Alabama Crimson Tide and again hung tight with a team that should have blown them out. West Virginia went toe-to-toe with the Tide, matching them score for score throughout the game. The game ended 33-23 and its the most points an Alabama opponent has scored in the first game of the season since the Hokies scored 24 in 2009 (!). Two weeks later, Clint Trickett threw for 511 yards and Josh Lambert drilled a game winning field goal to show the tide was turning. Not long after, the Mountaineers upset #4 Baylor Bears in Morgantown.
Brown has to do the same this year. He is going to need to win at least 6 games to get to a bowl game, meaning he has to go 5-4 in conference and he has to beat EKU. He is also likely going to need to upset a ranked team. It can be done, it has been done in the past but Brown can’t fall short of an extra game this year.