MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The West Virginia University football team is in the midst of an 11-day preparation period in between games versus Texas and Baylor.
WVU will host the Bears Thursday night at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Head coach Neal Brown met with the media Monday to recap his team’s productive bye week, and to look ahead to this week’s opponent. He also gave a quick injury update.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Brown’s press conference.
Bye week standouts
The Mountaineers held three intra-squad scrimmages during the bye week. These scrimmages were primarily for younger players, or players who don’t appear much (if at all) on game days. They were good chances for those players to show off their skills.
Brown highlighted multiple players who stood out. He also noted that the defense won the three-day scrimmage, overall.
Defense/Special Teams: Asani Redwood, Brown: “I think he’s got a chance to help us as we progress down the season.”; Raleigh Collins, Brown: “His role could increase, as well.”; Jaylon Shelton, Brown: “Been injured, but is healthy now, and he had a good bye week.”; Jairo Faverus; Aric Burton, Brown: “He’s probably a two-year kind of project, but he’s showing some signs of being able to rush the passer, which is good.”
Offense: Nicco Marchiol, Brown: “Is really improving, excited about his growth.”; Jaylen Anderson; Dylan Ray, Brown: “He’s a guy that, as he continues to put on weight, he’s going to be a factor down the road.”; Hudson Clement, Brown: “A guy that’s probably going to redshirt this year, believe [he] has a nice future.”
Another Thursday night classic?
West Virginis 5-0 at home versus Baylor, all-time. Every matchup against Baylor has taken place since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012.
WVU is also 1-0 against the Bears at home on Thursday night. That matchup came in 2018, and ended in a 58-14 drubbing of Baylor.
This time around, Dave Aranda’s group is the defending Big 12 champion, both teams are coming off a bye, and it’s been a while since the Mountaineers have played inside their own stadium.
“We’re excited to be back home, first time in a long time – almost a month,” Brown said. “It’s a night game, a Thursday night game. There’s been some classic night games here in the history of West Virginia football playing primetime TV on Thursday nights. We hope to add to that.”
West Virginia is 1-1 in Thursday night games this season. WVU started the year with a Thursday night loss against Pitt in the Backyard Brawl. West Virginia then evened up its overall record on the season with a Thursday night win in Blacksburg over Virginia Tech last month.
The Mountaineers have won four of the last six meetings with Baylor, dating back to 2016.
West Virginia is 37-25 all-time when playing on Thursday night. The Mountaineers are 20-5 at home on Thursdays, and are 8-1 at home on Thursday nights since 2004.
Changes to the rushing attack
CJ Donaldson’s injury changes the dynamic of the WVU offense as a whole, but it especially impacts the Mountaineers’ rushing attack. Donaldson leads the team with 389 rushing yards, and six rushing touchdowns this season.
“It will be a factor situationally, for sure,” Brown said.
Starting tailback Tony Mathis Jr. and sophomore Justin Johnson Jr. will receive an increased number of snaps Thursday versus the Bears.
“We’ve been playing three running backs, and now we go into it and where we’re going to play two,” said Brown, noting that the biggest change could come on third down, where Donaldson was featured heavily. “Now Justin and Tony will come back into that equation. They’ll do a good job.”
West Virginia rushed for a season-low 61 yards against Texas on Oct. 1. Brown acknowledged that having a successful running game opens up the rest of the offense.
“We need to get the run game going,” Brown said. “We’ve got a chance to be really good on offense, and the expectation is we need to be really good each and every week, and we were just OK versus Texas because we didn’t run the ball as well as we can.”
Jaylen Anderson will be the third-string running back against the Bears.