In my days as a sports columnist, I wrote exactly what I felt. I presented unvarnished opinions.
And there’s been no change since joining Wheelhouse Creative. Those I deal with in marketing/advertising want and deserve the unvarnished truth. I give that to them. And I still give that to you in my New View blog.
So here’s that unvarnished opinion: This WVU home game against Texas is big for the Mountaineer program. It is not just “another game” or “just one of 12.” It is significant – at least if first-year coach Neal Brown is to make a mark early.
Yes, West Virginia is an 11.5-point underdog as of today, Monday. Yes, Texas is ranked No. 11 in the latest Associated Press poll.
Yet the door is cracked for the WVU offense. Texas’ secondary lacked experience heading into the season and now starting safety Caden Sterns and starting corner Jalen Green are out. Another starter, nickel back B.J. Foster, has a hammy and hasn’t played since the LSU game. Ditto hybrid safety DeMarvion Overshown. Also, Josh Thompson, an experienced junior cornerback, fractured his foot against Oklahoma State.
Foster and/or Overshown could return, but check the stats: Texas is No. 122 nationally in passing yards allowed.
And, again, WVU is at home, before what should be a rowdy “Horns down” crowd.
“If you’re not motivated for this game, coming off a bye week, playing on national television against one of the top programs in the country…” said Brown on the Big 12 conference call on Monday. “I don’t think we’ll need a bunch of motivation.”
Winning this game is how the Mountaineers can reestablish their program.
Now, will they?
The odds are no. Former colleague Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman, in fact, put Texas No. 1 in his latest Big 12 power rankings ahead of Oklahoma.
“Why the Longhorns ahead of the Sooners?” Tramel wrote. “Because Texas has the better win (beating OSU trumps beating Texas Tech, Houston or UCLA), and the ‘Horns’ defeat, 45-38 at home against LSU, is impressive itself.”
He has West Virginia No. 7 within the Big 12.
So it won’t be easy sledding for the Mountaineers (apologies to those in Montana). Yet if Brown can come up with a statement victory, Iowa State subsequently visits Morgantown. Then, after visits to Oklahoma and Baylor (both probably losses), the rest of the WVU schedule shows Texas Tech at home, Kansas State on the road, Oklahoma State at home and TCU on the road.
There’s an opportunity to show something. This season.
Too, Brown understands the keys to Saturday’s game.
“We’ve got to do a really good job on first downs and try to get them behind the chains,” he said. “We’ve got to force some takeaways. I think that’s going to be critical.”
WVU is fifth among Big 12 teams in takeaway margin (plus-one).
On the flip side, Brown understands Texas is averaging 41.8 points.
“Slowing them down is the key,” said the WVU coach. “I don’t know if you’re going to stop them. They have a Heisman candidate [Sam Ehlinger] at quarterback. They’re super talented. Their wideouts – multiple guys – are dangerous. And they’ve been able to run the ball effectively.”
“Effectively” is kind. The Longhorns are seventh in the Big 12 in rushing yards a game, averaging 165.5. That’s not last, like WVU (107.2), but it’s not great.
We’ll see. We all know Texas has a great recruiting base and we know WVU, especially under Dana Holgorsen, struggled in that area. Yet the Longhorns have injuries in their secondary. They are playing in Morgantown. Also, the Neal Brown hire was hailed far and wide.
This would be a good place for him to earn that signature win.
- Brown lauded right tackle Kelby Wickline during the Big 12 conference call: “From last year to this year he’s one of the most improved players on our entire roster. He’s been very solid.”
- The Mountaineer coach said his coaches did a bunch of self-scout last week and got “our guys fresh” in order to “play fast” Saturday.
- Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan, a former four-star recruit from Florida, is finally going to see the field for WVU after a four-game suspension: “He’s going to play some snaps at bandit,” Brown said. “Really, it’s the first time he’s played meaningful snaps in a college football game. He’ll play some on special teams. He’ll play some on defense. We’re not going to try and put too much on him.” Later, Brown said he’s “excited to see what he can do in live action.”
- Brown on Texas’ secondary issues: “They have several guys injured, but they still have several talented guys on the back end… Oklahoma State has one of the best offenses in the country and those guys played a lot of snaps versus them and I thought they did a really good job covering. I don’t think there will be a big dropoff.”
- Oh, and about the “horns down” issue? “That’s much ado about nothing,” Brown said.
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