By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sports

Martinsburg, W.Va- In recent years, WVU athletics have become synonymous with frustration as many believe the performances on the field or court do not reflect the passion and support of the fan base for the state’s land grant institution.


This can be no better exemplified than by the performance of the West Virginia Football team. Half the season is ample sample size to identify where this program is now, and its possible outlook for the rest of the season.




Neal Brown has just begun 1 of his 4 seasons as Mountaineer head coach with a record above .500 for the first 6 games. That was the abbreviated 2020 season which ended in his only bowl win as WVU coach.


We have been accustomed to slow starts under Brown, starting just 2-4 last season, and 3-3 his first season in 2019. But this start comes combined with it, 3 losses that sting the hearts of Gold and Blue fans.


West Virginia lost its first 2 games to bitter rivals by just a combined 10 points and then was demolished by Texas in their 3rd loss of the season. Though, it bears mentioning, the Mountaineers have lost to 3 quality teams with a combined 14-6 record.


Then again, WVU’s 3 victories have come against teams with a combined 7-12 record, with Baylor (3-3) being the only team without a losing record.


The Mountaineer’s path to bowl eligibility remains difficult as 4 of the 6 teams they play to finish out the year, are currently above them in the Big 12 standings.


However, are we just frowning at WVU’s record because of who they lost and how they lost? Would West Virginia fans be reacting differently had they beaten Kansas and lost to Baylor?




The West Virginia offense is an interesting case study, they remain just 1 of 10 teams in the nation averaging over 270 yards passing and 190 yards rushing per game. This equates them to be the #20 scoring offense in the country, 4th among Big 12 teams.


WVU is averaging over 160 yards rushing per game, the first time since 2016, and averaging over 4 yards per carry for the first time in the Neal Brown era.


A Brown lead offense is certainly proving to be very different from Dana Holgerson lead offense. The Mountaineers are averaging fewer yards per play (6 vs 7.1 Holgerson’s last season as head coach) but more first downs (27 per game as compared to 24 Holgerson’s last season).


The difference can also be illustrated by quarterback play. JT Daniels rivals Will Grier (Holgerson’s last quarterback) in individual talent, but not statistically. Daniels is 139-218 passing for 1,492 yards with 9 touchdowns through 6 games. In 2018, through his first 6 contests, Grier was 137-192 for 1,919 yards and 22 touchdowns. Granted, that was Grier’s second year with the team (JT, if you’re reading this, please come back) but it shows less passing volume for Grier, but a higher rate of success.


The biggest improvement by this offense is along its offensive line. This is also epitomized by the greater success on the run, but also in their ability to keep their quarterback upright. WVU allowed an abysmal 38 sacks last season and have only allowed 8 through 6 games this year.


Looking at the whole body of work it’s easy to say the offense has not been an issue, but a keen eye would quickly point out that 2 interceptions returned for touchdowns were key components in both losses to begin the year, with a net 0 turnover margin being to me, the biggest blemish against the O.


Also, WVU is 11th in the country in 4th down conversions. Maybe they should’ve gone for it after all…




This is the most susceptible to the pass defense that Neal Brown has ever had. They are 105th in the nation in passing yards allowed (262 per)  and are allowing over 370 yards total per game for the 2nd time in the Brown era (though, it it worth noting they allowed over 400 yards per game all but one of the Holgerson years).


They also struggle to get off the field being 95th in the nation in 3rd down defense and 114th on fourth down allowing an astounding 7 conversions on 10 attempts.


This current bunch is the best Neal Brown has had against the run ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed and allowing 3.5 yards per carry. But it is worth noting that the rushing attempts against have drastically decreased over the last 4 years from 41 to 37 to 34 to 31 this season as opposition identifies that WVU is more vulnerable through the air.


The Mountaineers are also struggling to get into opposing back fields, they are just 60th in sacks and 101st in TFL’s per game. 


While the offense has been fantastic the defense needs to improve to the point where they don’t have to score 30+ per game to win.


It’s worth noting, WVU has been playing much of this season with an incomplete secondary, and a rebuilt secondary during the off season at that. So hopefully the best for this unit is to come.


**Looking Forward**


Nothing but good things to say about special teams, no complaints for them rest of season.


Questions about Neal Brown’s long term viability as Mountaineer head coach are still being asked into year four. His 20-21 career record alone would be grounds for removal but knowing where this program started from, and considering the high level of his recruiting classes Brown continues to bring in, he deserves ample chance to prove his worth to West Virginia fans.


A berth in a bowl game all but confirms to me he’ll be back on a WVU sideline next season, but 3 wins have to be found in the meantime.