MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia football’s off week has come and gone, and the Mountaineers are welcomed back into Big 12 action with a short week with and a Thursday night game in Houston against the Cougars.
Here are the biggest takeaways from head coach Neal Brown’s weekly media session:
Holgorsen faces WVU for first time since departure
Despite never meeting before, Houston and WVU have some shared history, and it will certainly be a focal point Thursday night.
Former WVU head coach and current Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen will face off against his former employer for the first time since resigning in early 2019.
“Dana did a good job here,” Brown said. “I’m reminded because every day when I drive in this parking lot, I see the picture of him and the Orange Bowl team, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that. [He] did a really good job, [both] Dana and his staff.”
While defensive back Malachi Ruffin is the only player on WVU’s current roster who played under Holgorsen, Houston has a handful of former WVU players who transferred over the last few years, including the Big 12’s leading receiver Sam James and former Mountaineer running back Tony Mathis.
Brown noted Monday that the WVU staff took a different approach to the off week than they have in years past. This year, the emphasis was on rest and recovery following a string of physical games leading up to the off week.
As a result, some developmental players who are younger or buried down the depth chart received extra action in scrimmages last Wednesday and Friday.
On defense, rotational linemen Asani Redwood and Hammond Russell IV caught the attention of the staff.
“Their future is really bright…I thought that those two guys took advantage of those reps,” Brown said.
Freshman defensive lineman Corey McIntyre Jr., who hasn’t received much playing time this year, also impressed in the scrimmages, as did freshmen cornerbacks (and brothers) Jordan Jackson and Josiah Jackson.
Offensively, running back DJ Oliver showed flashes in the back field and on special teams, but the coaches cannot stop mentioning the development of 6-foot-7 freshman offensive lineman Johnny Williams IV.
“I think he’s got all the makings to be a really good one,” Brown said.
Need for more explosive plays
The Mountaineers are towards the bottom of the Big 12 in most team-related offensive stats, and a large part of that is because the passing game still hasn’t hit its stride. WVU has yet to throw for over 200 yards against an FBS opponent all season, and some of its biggest splash plays of the year came against FCS Duquesne.
As long as Brown keeps dialing up a few shot plays a game, he thinks that they will start to hit at a higher rate in the back portion of the season.
“We haven’t hit as many as we like [to],” he said. “We actually called quite a few against TCU…what you hope is, and sometimes hope’s not the best strategy, but you keep calling them with the intention [that the] law of averages is going to work out.”
As of Week 7, the Mountaineers have the No. 11 scoring offense in the Big 12.