West Virginia’s first road trip in the Big 12 looms as the Mountaineers travel to Austin to face Texas on Saturday.
WVU head coach Neal Brown aims for his second-ever win against the Longhorns as the Mountaineer head coach, earning his first one to close Milan Puskar Stadium a year ago. Brown met with reporters to preview the clash and give the latest updates on his squad.
Here’s what the head coach had to say on Tuesday:
Scouting the Longhorns
It seems that nobody — not even head coach Steve Sarkisian — knows who will start at quarterback for Texas on Saturday. If you ask Brown, though, it won’t really matter.
“Whoever lines up at quarterback is gonna be pretty good,” Brown said. “I think it’s pretty simple there.”
The main man on Texas’s offense is running back Bijan Robinson, who leads the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns. He’s been a star for the Longhorns since his freshman season and remains a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
Robinson isn’t the only weapon in that backfield, though, as three different running backs average over four yards per carry
“Bijan Robinson I think is probably as good or better than any college football player in the country,” Brown said. “And that whole room is talented. Roschon Johnson has played there, obviously a quarterback in high school, they’re using him a lot in the wildcat right now. He’s a physical runner and one of their best special teams players, which I think says a lot about him. And then Keilan Robinson is a guy that can make you miss.”
On WVU’s offensive line…
Brown said ahead of the season that the strength of WVU’s offense would be its offensive line. So far, he feels it has lived up to that expectation.
It has been a long road for that unit. Brown described the offensive line in his first season as “less than ideal” as it contained some inexperienced players around a future NFL talent in Colton McKivitz.
“We played young, and we took some lumps when we were young, and now some of those lumps that we took, there was a lot of growth there and now we’re reaping some of those benefits,” Brown said. “It’s gone from a weakness to where now it’s a strength of ours.”
It’s difficult to perfectly quantify the improvement in the line, but WVU’s success on the ground is a pretty good indicator.
“We’re not to the finish line yet, our depth’s not where we want it to be,” Brown said. “We’re probably a year away from that, but we feel good about the progress we’ve made.”
On the running backs…
The offensive line doesn’t deserve all of the credit for WVU’s rushing resurgence. WVU’s three running backs — Tony Mathis Jr., CJ Donaldson Jr. and Justin Johnson Jr. — have all scored so far this year as they combine for the majority of WVU’s 870 rush yards.
“I think all three of those guys, we’ll continue to use all three, and whoever’s got the hot hand will play more, but we’ll use all three of them,” Brown said.
Donaldson was the workhorse for the first time in his career, rushing 23 times and adding three catches. That is a massive step up from his first performance against Pitt when he rushed just seven times.
Brown noted a week ago that Donaldson’s conditioning was a point of focus ahead of Thursday’s clash, and said the 240-pound back showed improvement in that area against Virginia Tech.
“I don’t know if he’ll get 26 touches every week, but his conditioning was better. [The temperature in Blacksburg] was a little cooler,” Brown said. “He along with the whole team will be tested in Austin, it’s going to be warmer…at game time.”
Johnson was the breakout player against the Hokies, scoring WVU’s only touchdown on the ground and rushing for a career-high 83 yards. Brown said that he expected a performance like that from the freshman at some point this season.
“He was good last spring. He was good in fall camp, so I’m really not surprised,” Brown said. “We felt good about him and Tony.”