WVU ready for some football
MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown said it best, “it’s finally time for football.”
After an offseason of questions and a summer of uncertainty, the Mountaineers open their season Saturday at noon when they welcome Eastern Kentucky (0-1) onto Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
The atmosphere will be one like no other for a season opener in Morgantown as no fans are permitted inside the stadium due to the threat of COVID-19.
“Reflecting back over the last several months, I honestly didn’t know that we’d get to this point,” Brown said. “I’m really humbled to have the opportunity to coach after everything that has gone on over the last few months.
“Our players are extremely excited to compete and I want to make sure our fans understand that we are going to miss them on Saturday. Unfortunately, we can’t have them in the stadium but we’ll be thinking about them and it will not be the same. In a season that will be abnormal, that will be the most difficult challenge for our players and the one that is most unfortunate.”
Another question entering the season for Brown was who would be stepping behind center as the starting quarterback in Week 1. That question has been answered — for now.
Redshirt junior Jarret Doege was announced earlier this week as the starting quarterback after providing a spark toward the end of last season.
Doege and redshirt senior Austin Kendall battled it out for the reins of the offense.
“I don’t know if it’s something he did better but he was probably more consistent going back through the entirety of fall camp,” Brown said of Doege.
Doege made his WVU debut in a 38-17 setback to Texas Tech in the ninth game of the season where he threw for 119 yards and a touchdown, while completing 11 of 17 passes.
That performance earned him his first start the following week where he completed 20 of 30 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-20 victory at Kansas State.
He finished the season 79-for-120 for 818 yards and seven touchdowns, including the game-winner against TCU with 2:10 remaining.
Along with Doege in the backfield will be junior Leddie Brown, who rushed for a team-high 367 yards a season ago with one touchdown.
When asked if the running game is improved coming into 2020, Brown kept it simple.
“We better be,” he said.
Redshirt T.J. Simmons is atop the depth chart as the slot receiver, while sophomores Winston Wright Jr., Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton are all slated to be top targets this season but just like the year 2020, nothing is certain.
“We have a depth chart but those jobs are still very much open and whether that’s accurate come game time? We’ll see,” Brown said.
As for game time, Eastern Kentucky will be coming in hungry after a disastrous opening game last week at Marshall, where the Colonels left Huntington with a 59-0 defeat.
“Eastern Kentucky, that’s my mom’s alma mater,” Brown said. “I know quite a bit about Eastern Kentucky there in Richmond. It’s not too far from where I grew up. I have a lot of respect for them.
“They had a tough game last week but I expect them to bounce back like most teams do between Week 1 and Week 2. They’ll make adjustments and be much improved this week.”
The Colonels passing attack was nearly non-existent as they totaled 80 yards through the air, 71 coming from quarterback Parker McKinney.
Quentin Pringle and Alonzo Booth paced the rushing attack with 39 and 33 yards, respectively, on a combined 21 carries. As a team, Eastern Kentucky ran the ball 31 times.
“Offensively, they are a unit that wants to run the football,” Brown said. “Coach (Walt) Wells has had success at several different spots as an offensive line coach in his background of running the football.
“They have two running backs in Pringle and Booth and they are both really talented.”
On defense, the Colonels had trouble getting off the field against the Herd. Marshall racked up 627 yards and ran 83 plays but Brown expects to see an improved squad this week.
“Defensively, they are a multiple front and they like to pressure,” he said. “They have several FBS transfers at linebacker, a couple on the defensive line and two at corner, as well.”