MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia head coach Neal Brown addressed members of the media on Tuesday as he prepares his team for a critical matchup against Iowa State.
While Brown focused his press conference on the football side of things, he opened the session by offering words of support for guard James Gmiter, who suddenly lost his mother, Kim, over the weekend.
“I just ask all Mountaineers to be thinking about James and his family and be praying for him,” Brown said.
Brown moved on to the football side of things. Here’s what the head coach had to say on Tuesday:
Wrapping up last week’s loss
Brown was straightforward in his analysis of WVU’s loss to TCU.
“A big missed opportunity,” he called it.
The Mountaineers had a clear improvement on defense after halftime. In the first half, WVU gave up four touchdowns, three of which were over 50 yards with the fourth coming from 33 yards out. WVU then held TCU scoreless in the third quarter and prevented the Horned Frogs from scoring a touchdown until seconds remained in the game.
“The first half was bad, way too many explosive plays, but they gave us a chance to win in the second half,” Brown said. “I thought we pressured more, we played the run much better, we tackled in space much better, we played a lot more man coverage and covered guys tighter. We’ve got to build off that.”
Brown also praised the offensive performance but was clear that it wasn’t enough to win.
“Statistically, we did a lot of good things. We ran the ball against a team that hadn’t been ran very much against…we just didn’t make enough plays at winning time.”
Tracking WVU’s troubles on the road
WVU’s struggles this season seem to compound when the Mountaineers are away from home.
WVU has won just one of its four road games this season, most recently taking one of the worst losses of Brown’s tenure to Texas Tech. With the exception of the trips to Pitt and Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers seemed to doom themselves with slow starts on offense and lackluster ones on defense.
Brown is utilizing all tools at his disposal to make a change — even before the team gets to the stadium.
“We’re going to change up some things in our routine, what we’re doing on Friday and what we’re doing on Saturday to get off the plane,” Brown said. “…I think we can do some things as coaches early in the game maybe to help us out, so we’re going to exhaust everything possible. That’s the goal.”
Of course, travel routines aren’t the true reason these woes come on the road, and Brown knows that.
“But when it hasn’t worked, you change. I think it’s important you change because we started in a pretty good way against Virginia Tech. We started not bad against Pitt, so I laughed and told them we’re going to bus to Ames rather than fly, that’s the reason. They didn’t think that was so funny.” (Brown did clarify that the team flew to Virginia Tech, not drive.)
Scouting the Cyclones
Neal Brown says his team is headed into one of the most challenging venues to play as a road team in the Big 12.
“If you have been there, you understand it,” he said.
The Cyclones enter the week with an identical record as the Mountaineers but their recent form is much more heartbreaking, having taken five straight losses after a trio of victories to start the season. Those defeats come at an average margin of 5.6 points.
“They’re the top-ranked [defensive] unit in our conference,” Brown said. “They’re playing extremely well vs. the run and the pass. A lot of new faces, but same product — maybe even an improved product.”
Iowa State holds opponents to 16.6 points per game, the best mark in the league.
“Offensively, they’re difficult to prepare for,” Brown said. “We talk about this every year we play them, shifts, motions, more 12 personnel than you see in our league.”
Brown was especially laudatory of wide receiver Xavier Hutchinson, whose 830 receiving yards this season is the seventh-best in the country.
“Xavier Hutchinson, they’re trying to get him the ball every which way….They’re extremely creative,” Brown said. “He’s got great ball skills, he wins one-on-ones.”