West Virginia football is back in front of an unrestricted Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time in two seasons when it hosts Long Island University on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET and it will be shown on ESPN+.
The Mountaineers (0-1) got off to a difficult start out of the gate, falling to rival Maryland in College Park by six points. WVU gave up four turnovers in that loss, including a critical end zone interception in the fourth quarter that led to a Terp touchdown to make the game two possessions.
West Virginia is a heavy favorite over the Sharks (0-1), who are facing their first-ever Power Five opponent after falling to FIU, 48-10. LIU is, in fact, in just its third season at the Division I level, making the jump to FCS in 2019 after a 25-year stretch in Division II.
Given that this will be the biggest stage the Sharks have likely ever played on, WVU coach Neal Brown knows that the Mountaineers will get the best from their opponent. But this game needs to be about the Mountaineers, he says, as it is the first step to getting back on the road to a winning season.
Scouting the Sharks
Despite making the jump to Division I just a couple years ago, Brown says the Sharks have plenty of talent that could give the Mountaineers fits on Saturday. They run a multiple offense, and will likely give WVU plenty of looks that they already saw against Maryland.
Wide receiver Derick Eugene was LIU’s biggest weapon against FIU, catching quarterback Camden Orth’s only touchdown of the game and was responsible for 115 of Orth’s 195 passing yards.
“He’s a really good, I was impressed with him,” Brown said.
WVU has a good opportunity to work on its pass protection against LIU, who likes to pressure the quarterback. Sophomore Thomas Bolesta had a breakout season in 2020-21, notching 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles-for-loss in the Sharks’ four games last season.
Cornerback Tariq Snead is also back for the Sharks after tying for the team’s lead in interceptions with two. He led the team with five tackles against FIU, while grabbing his first pick of the season and taking it back for 26 yards.
“[Snead] has been around the ball a lot in his career,” Brown said. “And he’s a good player.”
Room for Improvement
The Mountaineers’ far-from-perfect performance against Maryland exposed plenty of needed growth on the field — on both sides of the ball.
“We have video evidence of what we have to fix, and now we have to go about fixing it,” said WVU offensive coordinator Gerad Parker.
It starts on offense in the trenches and at quarterback. WVU’s inexperienced tackles had trouble taking on the experienced Maryland front, allowing three sacks on quarterback Jarret Doege. Likewise, Doege had some issues managing the pocket — although his coaches did say he made some improvements from a season prior.
Likewise, there were some instances of good pocket presence by the quarterback. Ironically, one of the best examples came on his first interception — unfortunately for WVU, he made a poor decision to throw the ball deep into double-coverage, resulting in a turnover on the first play of a drive.
“There’s growth, but like anything, it’s a high-tension position,” Parker said. “Every decision he makes is difficult and affects us on every play and that’s the beauty of playing that position.”
Defensively, the Mountaineers are looking for better communication and attention to detail. Brown preaches “one-eleventh” — a simple line that means “do your job” — and there were instances in which Mountaineer mental mistakes gave the Terps critical points.
That didn’t shake defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley’s confidence at all, though. He doesn’t plan to make any changes to his unit at all, maintaining high hopes for his players on that side.
“I don’t feel any different about that group of guys,” he said. “I’ve been excited about this group, still excited about this group. I think it’s got to be a learning experience, it’s got to be a humbling experience. We’re not the group from last year, and to think that we are, we’re wrong, we’re not.”
Kickoff between WVU and LIU is set for 5 p.m. ET on ESPN+. Start your gameday off with a fresh, new episode of The Neal Brown Show at 9 a.m. on your local West Virginia Nexstar station, then with a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on AT&T SportsNet.