MORGANTOWN — Listening to Matt Moore, West Virginia’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, talk about the long, dark shadow of Saturday’s 38-7 mauling at Missouri, fans had a hunch Sunday’s breakfast would not be very appetizing. Especially after his brief — but correct — assessment of his group’s performance.
“We came out and laid another egg,” Moore said.
That was no “yoke”, either.
So pass the pancakes — certain there are many left because WVU did not have very many pancake blocks on Saturday — and there’s no reason to butter them up, either.
Let’s just get to it, because head coach Neal Brown certainly did in his post-game sermon to the media.
“We got to get better,” Brown said. “I told the team, and I mean this, this is the first real adversity that we’ve had. This is the first loss we’ve had. This is the first time when we were beat from a physical standpoint.”
That is important to accept if a team is going to find solutions for problems, and that is Brown’s immediate focus.
“Now the question is, what are we made of and where do we go from here?” he said
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Brown continued. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. We have to get back to work to get these guys better and it will start next week against a real good N.C. State team.”
North Carolina State arrives for its Noon game at Mountaineer Field on Saturday coming off big-time romps against East Carolina and Western Carolina, so this has to be a week for Brown to challenge his players.
While Xs and Os matter, WVU’s present precarious position doesn’t call for clever game planning. It calls for sweat and muscle and heart, because that is what really has been challenged through two distinctly lackluster performances.
Truthfully, had the Mountaineers opened with a Power 5 opponent rather than James Madison, the way they have played one can assume their record would be 0-2. Fans can go through film and look for technical errors, missed assignments, dropped passes, poor coverage, whatever, but this week has to be about what fans didn’t see on film — what’s inside the players.
No matter how much the NCAA tries to harden the rules for safety purposes, football is ultimately a game of blood and guts. Brown likes to use the word “strain,” which works fine, but this is a game where physical dominance leads to mental dominance.
And there’s no better way to prove dominance than in the run game — the one ingredient the Mountaineers have been lacking. Against Missouri, until late in the fourth corner, it appeared WVU would finish with negative rushing yardage, the result of never opening one inside hole and of runners unable to break any tackles.
That changes everything about a team and its goals.
“We are a team right now that really struggles to run the ball and when you really struggle to run the ball then they can pin their ears back and come,” Brown said. “When you get in a lot of long distance situations nobody is going to be any good on second and long and third and long when you play that way the whole game.
“Here is the deal, and I don’t think I’m saying anything that anybody playing us doesn’t already know,” Brown said. “Everybody that plays us is going to do this — they are going to get into some kind of front where they make us block one-on-one situations. They are going to put one more in the box, and they are going to play man coverage. So until we win one-on-one blocks, until we win in one-on-one coverage and until we break a tackle then we’re going to struggle.
“Football is a pretty easy numbers game. You’ve got one handing off, one running. So you got 9 on 11. You’ve got to win one-on-one, and we haven’t done that. It was exposed by Missouri.”
The coaches tried to correct the problem by moving Josh Sills, one of their best lineman, from center back to guard and gave Chase Behrndt back his center job against Missouri, but that didn’t work. So, th team will push forward, try to toughen up and try to find a solution.
“Just keep on track and know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Sills said. “It might not be now or two games from now. But hopefully by the last game of the year, we can look back on the season and know that we’ve gotten better. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You have to chase that.”
The coaches could expedite matters if there was some competition for positions, but the backups in the line are young and not ready.
“The guys behind them have to get better,” Brown said. “Those guys didn’t play great, but no one behind them showed they are ready to play. That’s an issue we have. We have to get those guys better.”
“We have some real young players that look like they’ll be real good, but they’re in a developmental stage,” Moore said. “You get a little hesitant about grabbing a new guy and putting him in. We’ve got to get better with the guys who are out there.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter at @bhertzel.