Neal’s deal: five key elements of West Virginia football

WVSports.com reviews West Virginia Head Coach Neal Brown’s weekly press conference and determines the five most interesting talking points.

We take a look at what has been said as well as what it means for the football team both this week and moving forward as Mountaineers navigate the 2021 schedule.

The next game is the last regular season game of the year in Kansas as West Virginia tries to be bowl eligible at 5-6. Here, the head coach looked at some key topics not just for this week but for the rest of the season.

1 — Update on injuries. West Virginia could reclaim linebacker Lance Dixon for at least a handful of shots if things continue to progress the way Brown and company want. That would be important considering starter Exree Loe is out for the year after undergoing surgery and mountaineers had to resort to a dime pack last week to cover some of the depth issues.

Hopefully wide receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton will return after leaving the game last week and so will cornerback Charles Woods after missing the game against Texas. He’s already trained this week but Brown isn’t ready to suggest he’ll return.

The last player who didn’t face Texas was VanDarius Cowan, but Brown confirmed it wasn’t an injury and it was his own decision. That leaves him back and it could mean that after some tough stretches on that front West Virginia could get some guys back.

2-Brown’s favorite week of the year. Thanksgiving week is based on the family, camaraderie and football in the life of head coach Neal Brown and this makes it one of the most rewarding of the entire season, it is one of the few where all of this is at the center of the stage.

With the players not having classes, they spend most of the week entirely devoted to football along with some fun activities to reward them for their efforts and celebrate the holiday season. For example, Wednesday will offer each of the players the opportunity to have dinner at their coach’s house, and then the team will meet for dinner at the football facilities on Thursday. The goal is to give them some semblance of home and give them some time off the football field.

This is the type of team bond that has been apparent under Brown since arriving at Morgantown and it provides another way for the team to spend some quality time together as they prepare for the season finale against Kansas. The climbers sit at 5-6 and the stakes are obviously high.

3-Kansas is playing its best. The Jayhawks are 1-1 in the last two games and are starting to put together some quality football even in last week’s 31-28 road loss to TCU. Kansas managed to beat Texas 57-56 on the road and despite being 2-9, they are playing hard on the home stretch. A big reason for this has been the team’s overall buy-in to what head coach Lance Leipold is building.

Second-year quarterback Jalon Daniels was a major spark on the offensive side of things. He was electric when it came to making games and the team rallied behind him by changing the behavior of the football team given what he was able to deliver. The double-threat quarterback throws the ball well and isn’t strictly a runner given what he can do with his arm.

The Jayhawks will use a lot of movement and pre-engagement changes to create advantages on this side of the ball and the offensive line begins to play their best football while giving them a chance. The defense has had issues at times, but they have good players at all levels of the unit.

West Virginia need to play consistent football if they are to win this game and while Kansas has struggled at times, it won’t be fun that the records suggest.

4-McLeod breaks out. West Virginia needed a real freshman, Saint McLeod, to play a major role against Texas and that’s exactly what he did by playing 60 shots in total and ranking pretty well for his time in the field. The Philadelphia native played with great confidence against the Longhorns and kept his balance.

While he chased too much at times and didn’t take big angles on some tackles, he still more than showed he can play a role in this long-term defense. West Virginia protected him somewhat in the cover not putting him in man-to-man situations, but if asked to play a similar role against Kansas and Brown has already confirmed he will start, he there are reasons to be optimistic.

McLeod is a physical option at this throwing position and gives mountaineers a bit of athleticism there.

5-Brown wants more explosion on offense. West Virginia was one of the best teams nationally in possession, in large part because the offense was able to run through practice. The Mountaineers have been playing primarily a ball-control type of attack this season and some of that has been designed against teams like Oklahoma and Texas to keep them from scoring points.

But overall, Brown wants the offense to be able to score quickly in the future, although he admits that’s not exactly where they are from a staff perspective. Still, that’s a welcome admission given that the slow pace and methodical pace of the offense has been a topic of discussion among fans for most of the season. It seems like the end of the game is to have a much more explosive unit that is going to try to score the ball quickly in the long run, it’s just a matter of getting to that point with the staff.

Brown admitted part of the slowdown was due to his involvement in controls to get the Mountaineers in the right game and a methodical approach. But that won’t be the recipe for West Virginia on the offensive end of the ball, as this thing continues to evolve.


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