Growing pains not unexpected for Mountaineers
WHEELING – “Tough times don’t last, tough people do.” Be it in life or sports, that is one of my favorite credos.
These are definitely tough times for WVU football.
The Mountaineers have lost three straight games, the latest coming at Oklahoma where the No. 5-ranked Sooners breezed to a 52-14 triumph. WVU is now 3-4 on the campaign with another acid test looming.
Coach Neal Brown’s young and banged up squad must travel to Waco to face Baylor Thursday. Like Oklahoma, the Bears are unbeaten and ranked No. 14 nationally.
WVU had Saturday off. A bye week can be a good thing. It yields time for extra preparation and added recovery time.
The Mountaineers are a team ravaged by injuries, a situation amplified against Oklahoma. The ‘Eers lost linebacker and leading tackler Josh Chandler to injury in the contest. Moreover, at one point the team was down to four healthy cornerbacks.
So being idle yesterday was a positive for WVU.
The tough times for the Mountaineers have a chance to wane once the calendar flips out of October, a month that had powers Texas and Iowa State on the card preceding the Sooners and Bears.
No one expected Brown to oversee a juggernaut this fall. Dana Holgorsen didn’t leave for a better job at Houston. He left to avoid rebuilding.
WVU was picked to finish eighth in pre-season Big 12 polling. A 6-6 finish and a bowl berth would be deemed a successful maiden voyage for Brown.
Even should WVU fall to Baylor, six wins is still a possibility.
The Mountaineers have remaining home games with Texas Tech (Nov. 9) and Oklahoma State (Nov. 23). WVU has solid shots of winning both.
That leaves road games with Kansas State (Nov. 16) and TCU (Nov. 29). Neither poses a monumental test by any means.
Brown’s first year at Troy was also a rough one as the Trojans went 4-8. Things changed quickly and impressively as Brown’s next three Troy team went 10-3, 11-2 and 10-3, landing him in Morgantown.
Similar upward trending is likely with the Mountaineers.
Due to injuries and transfers, Brown is playing at least 18 freshmen on a regular basis. No team is going to win in the Big 12 playing so many rookies. It does, however, bode well for the future.
Brown is a gifted recruiter. That is a product, in part, from his character and personality. He is a class act and straight shooter.
Brown said at Tuesday’s press conference that he will look at some JUCO and grad transfers to help fill some holes. He did, however, say high school recruiting will be the meal-ticket of how he stocks his roster.
That is something Holgorsen did not do well. He lived on the JUCO rout and did not forge solid relationship with prep coaches.
Brown said he was going to use this mini-bye week to get his squad in the proper position to make marked improvement for the balance of the year.
“We’ve got five games left in our season, and we’re going to reset it,” he said during Monday’s Big 12 media teleconference. “We’ve got to get some things figured out on our end. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got our best personnel on the field at all times.”
Baylor is undefeated but the scandal-riddled program experienced even more painful growing pains three years ago than what WVU is currently experiencing.
The Bear grid program was in shambles after the highly successful Art Briles was fired after turning a blind eye to countless sexual assault incidences involving his players.
Enter Matt Ruhle. He came to Waco after a successful stint at Temple.
After an 1-11 initial campaign at Baylor, Ruhle has the Bears in the conference title hunt in just his third year.
If Ruhle can work such wonders at a down-and-out program, Brown can certainly elevate WVU to rub elbows with the Big 12 heavyweights. The Mountaineers played Texas on nearly dead-even terms for three-plus quarters.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel for WVU football, and it definitely is not a train coming.
SPEAKING OF WVU football, the Mountaineers’ 2020 schedule has been released. The ‘Eers will open against Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta on Sept. 5. WVU will have the luxury of seven home games: Eastern Kentucky (Sept. 12), Maryland (Sept. 19), Kansas State (Sept. 26), TCU (Oct. 10), Kansas (Oct. 24), Oklahoma (Nov. 7) and Baylor (Nov. 21). The Mountaineers face conference foes Texas Tech (Oct. 3), Texas (Oct. 17), Oklahoma State (Nov. 14) and Iowa State (Nov. 28) on the road.
JACK COOK enjoyed another big day in a losing effort last weekend. Dayton fell to Stetson, 38-21, but Cook completed 29-of-57 passes for 382 yards and three TDS. The Flyers are now 4-2. Cook is the son of Scott and Jen Cook. Scott was a standout hoopster for Shadyside High (1988 grad) while Jen is a St. Clairsville native.
ST. JOHN Central Academy in Bellaire is fielding a girls’ basketball team in its first year of operation. George Irvin has been named the head coach. The Mingo Junction resident is a math teacher at the academy. The school will not have a boys’ hoop team this winter.
THE NBA season tipped off Tuesday night. It is tough to predict a champion team that won’t be crowned until June. But I am picking the Nuggets over the 76ers in the NBA Finals.
PREP BASKETBALL season is upon us. Official girls’ basketball practice commenced this past Friday in Ohio. Boys’ hoop practice begins this Friday in the Buckeye State.
CONGRATULATIONS TO Fort Frye’s Barb Sleek for being selected as a member of the 2020 Ohio High School Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
HOUSTON LOST to SMU Thursday night. Former WVU coach Dana Holgorsen has his Cougars in a downward spiral with a 3-5 record and another loss looming this week against UCF.
FORMER OHIO State star Dwayne Haskins is only seeing mop-up duty for the lowly Redskins in his rookie season. So far, Haskins has attempted 22 passes, completing 12 with four interceptions.
CONGRATS GO out to River High head grid coach Mike Flannery for winning his 100th game at his alma mater. Factor in his stints at St. John Central and Paden City, the former West Liberty quarterbacking star is closing in on 200 career wins.