Another season of WVU football has begun. Neal Brown is, unfortunately, still at the helm, and Penn State still owns WVU. I had the pleasure of being at the game last night, and here's what I saw:
1. Our running backs - Our running backs, especially CJ Donaldson, are absolute beasts. They ran through the heart of what is supposed to be a very good Penn State defense. The final stats don't tell the full story. Donaldson finished with 81 yards on 18 carries. However, he lost 30+ yards taken off the board by penalties. I'm not sure why we went away from CJ for a large chunk of the game (more on that later), but he was running hard.
2. Garrett Greene's playmaking ability - For the first time since Neal Brown took over as head coach, he has something other than a statue as a QB. Penn State threw everything they had at Greene last night, and he took it all in stride. Greene's ability to escape pressure allowed WVU to keep plays alive and move the chains when previous QB's would have been taken down for sacks. Greene's ability to escape pressure was very frustrating for the PSU players as well as their fans. If he can continue to build more chemistry with his receivers, he will definitely keep WVU in games.
3. The Penn State crowd - This was only the second true away game I've seen WVU play, and it did not disappoint. My son & I were welcomed by the Penn State crowd. They were extremely friendly and fun to watch a game with. The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric. It, sadly, puts Mountaineer Field to shame (with the possible exception of the 1993 game against Miami). The stadium was 75% full, and more importantly, the student section was completely full, an hour before kickoff. The stadium was totally engaged & extremely loud on every play. I'm sure most of us can remember half empty student sections in Morgantown, as well as the stadium barely being two thirds full at kickoff. While the outcome of the game was not what I hoped for, the game day experience was amazing.
1. Our passing offense - Garrett Greene never looked comfortable throwing the ball last night. Part of that is the defense he faced. Penn State brought pressure and played tough coverage. Our receivers definitely struggled getting separation from the Penn State defenders. However, Greene's decision making process in the passing game still needs a lot of work. Multiple times last night, Greene fixed on a single receiver and never moved through his progressions. There were definitely open receivers that he missed. He seemed to make one read, and then take off running. We all knew this was going to be an issue with Greene. He trusts his legs more than his arm. Sean Reagan definitely deserves his share of the blame for that problem. As QB coach and passing game coordinator, his job was to get Greene comfortable going through his progressions. He obviously hasn't made that happen.
2. Our pass defense - Year after year, our defense, and our secondary in particular, seem lost on the field. Multiple times last night, you could see the DB's wandering around pre-snap trying to figure out where they should line up and who they should cover. Receivers ran wide open for PSU last night. This has been a common sight for WVU fans for the last several years.
1. Neal Brown, the offensive "guru" - Brown took over the play calling duties this year (although I would argue that he took over play calling responsibilities from Graham Harrell midway through last season). This summer, when he announced that he would be calling plays again, Brown said, "The only reason I have this job in the first place is because I was a really good offensive coordinator". The question is, has Neal really had good offenses throughout his career as a play caller? Let's take a look:
Offensive ranks (points per game) of teams Neal has called plays for (Thanks to my good friend Nite Stare for sharing this info):
2010 - 23rd - Texas Tech
2011 - 22nd - Texas Tech
2012 - 20th - Texas Tech
2013 - 107th - Kentucky
2014 - 62nd - Kentucky
2015 - 70th - Troy
2016 - 39th - Troy
2017 - 43rd - Troy
2018 - 51st - Troy
2019 - 116th - WVU
2020 - 83rd - WVU
2021 - 88th - WVU
2022 - 52nd (Graham Harrell)
If you average that out, Neal's offenses have ranked as the 61st best offense in the nation over his career as a play caller. That barely gets you in the top half of Division 1. I'm not sure that's what I would call a pretty good play caller.
As far as his performance last night, he killed any chance we had to maintain momentum going into halftime. With WVU down 14-7 with about two minutes left in the first half, we took the ball deep in our own end. Neal called two straight runs right into the teeth of the PSU defense, forcing a third & long incompletion from Greene to give up any chance we had of getting back into the game. The less said about the 4th down trick play with both QB's on the field, the better.
2. Jordan Lesley - Even more amazing to me than Neal Brown still being our head coach is that Jordan Lesley is still a Division 1 defensive coordinator. Our defense was ranked at the 116th best defense in the country last year based on points per game allowed. To put that in perspective, that means there were only 15 defenses in all of Division 1 football that gave up more points than WVU. Lesley's defensive scheme is so passive. There are typically no more than 4 players rushing the QB on any given play. We have lost multiple starters from our secondary to the transfer portal over the years, leaving unproven players on the back end of the defense to cover receivers for 5+ seconds on almost every play. It seems to me that the best way to help a young secondary is to force the QB to throw faster than he wants. Last night against PSU, Drew Allar was starting his first game (he appeared in 10 games last year). Our defense allowed him all day to pick apart our secondary and made him look like the second coming of Tom Brady. The fact that we continue to run the same defensive scheme without success tells me that we're in for another long year.