MORGANTOWN — The message Neal Brown delivered in the face of West Virginia losing its opening football game, 30-24, at Maryland was quite simple:
Keep the faith ... but do it while looking at the brutal facts that put you into an uncomfortable situation in the eye.
To get it across, he turned to one of his favorite quotes that was uttered by Adm. James Stockdale, the highest-ranking U.S. military man imprisoned at the famous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Vietnam War, a quote he had come across in the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Think about that for a moment, coming from a man facing the brutal conditions at the “Hanoi Hilton” and trying to keep moving forward against all odds, offering up command advice for a football coach facing nothing more important than the loss of an opening football game.
Brown admitted there were brutal facts confronting himself and his team, even with an overmatched Long Island University waiting in the wings for Saturday’s 5 p.m. home opener, but he understood that he must lead them through this tough time, a time when their fans already are questioning the Mountaineers.
“I say that to start this because I still have extreme faith that we are going to build a program here that will have great infrastructure and that will be set up to win long term. I know what the facts are right now ... we’re 0-1 and didn’t play very well,” Brown said to open his weekly Tuesday press conference.
He immediately took on what he found wrong in the opener.
“Outside of our kickoff return team I’m not sure we won a lot of individual battles in the game — coaching or playing,” Brown said. “That’s the brutal reality. We were soundly defeated, offensively had three turnovers ... one of them on third and one, one in the end zone and one was a really bad decision on the first play of a drive.
“We didn’t play physical enough up front or consistently at quarterback. Defensively we didn’t play to the standard we created here over the last year and a half.”
“We started poorly, didn’t tackle very well, had poor communication. Then special teams had a huge turnover.”
Might as well get to the biggest point, at least on social media, where any time you lose a game the naysayers come out of the woodwork pressing to have the quarterback — in this case, Jarret Doege — to be benched, even if it is only one game and he put so much of himself into earning the position that it would border on being inhuman to give him that quick a hook.
The truth is, while Brown had a number of criticisms, he didn’t find Doege’s performance as deplorable as the “couch coaches” who are undefeated in 20, 30 or 40 years of making coaching decisions from the local pub or their man caves.
“We had 12 bad plays on offense. You look at that and say that’s too bad. But we had 62 snaps, so that’s one of every five plays. That gets lost in turnovers ... We turn the ball over on the first play, so that’s two lost snaps. We drop the ball on a punt, so you lose a minimum of three snaps. We fumble on third and one, so that’s a minimum of three snaps. We’re lowering our snap count totals by our own errors.”
A number of those bad plays were on Doege, two interceptions, a couple of sacks where he moved back in the pocket rather than up, an intentional grounding call when he just threw it away without bothering to get out of the tackle box.
“Doege, he’s got to make the plays and to move up in the pocket,” Brown said. “His second interception was kind of a fluke play. I said it after the game and it was even more of a fluke after watching it on film. Zero blitz, threw a pretty good ball, may have hung it a little bit, and the defender kind of came off when shouldn’t have. He got away with one there.”
But there was a fumbled punt by Winston Wright Jr. in the midst of setting a school record for kickoff return yardage that hurt and the tackle play was neither physical enough nor technically sound enough and there were a number of missed communications or assignments that set up big plays from a Maryland team that has high caliber skill people throwing and catching the ball.
“Turnovers were the most critical mistakes we made,” Brown said. “It would be a different story, even though we didn’t play well, if we didn’t turn the ball over and won.
The second thing was we have to play more physical within our offensive line. We have to be fundamentally sound at our quarterback position. And defensively, we talk about 1-11. That’s our mantra, 1 among 11. That means do your job. We did not play good team defense at all.
“Football is a grand scheme day and all the pieces have to work together.”
Brown had the perfect example of how close this loss was to being a win despite the numerous mistakes.
“I’ll give you an example. We had a chance, even at the end of the game, we’re down six, they have third and 4. They ran the quarterback lead truck play. We got a defensive lineman right there at the edge of the defense. Akheem Mesidor is right there and going to make the tackle and it will be fourth and 2 or 3.
“Our defensive lineman comes into the B gap and they hit it outside. It was an example of not good team defense.”
Or, as offensive coordinator Gerad Parker put it:
“We can’t let West Virginia beat West Virginia. Thats our mantra.”
“As we move forward, we’ve got to learn from it and grow,” Brown said. “We didn’t perform very well. We’re judged on games in this business. One game won’t ruin a season. Today when we get our players back together, we’re going to highlight a bunch of teams that lost a game that was a 50/50 game to start and rebounded to have really good seasons. And we’re going to highlight those teams that it occurred within our league and there’s several you can look back at over the last four years.”
And that’s the brutal facts.
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