Looking good so far
West Virginia University's football team spotted East Carolina 10 points last Saturday, gave them 10 more due to some bonehead plays by the punt return team, and won going away 35-20. The loss avenges a 24-3 loss to the Pirates last year in Greenville when the Mountaineers entered the game ranked eighth in the country. It was the uninspired play in that loss which signaled that the coaching transition was going to require some time to take hold. A subsequent loss to Colorado confirmed that.
Fast forward one year, things at the moment at least, appear to be progressing fairly well. Penalties in the early going helped ECU to claim an early 10-0 lead. WVU responded and appeared to take control of the game. A muffed punt at the six yard line and a fumbled punt around the 20 yard line led to 10 ECU points. Instead of leading 21-10 at halftime, WVU clung to a 21-20 lead at the half, despite controlling the action.
West Virginia shut out the Pirates in the second half to take a convincing win. West Virginia outgained the Pirates in total offense 509 yards to 237 yards. WVU's defense sacked ECU quarterback Patrick Pinkney four times. The most impressive numbers in the game arguably belong to WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown. The senior was 24-31 for 334 yards and four touchdowns and that has prompted some of the message board types to proclaim Brown as a lock to be a first round pick in the next NFL draft.
That is a huge leap right there. A three year backup plays two games and is being called a first round NFL pick? Actually that may not be as far fetched as it sounds, but it is a claim which seems premature. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper probably planted that seed this summer when he suggested Brown could be a second round pick.
How can Kiper make such a call on a player who has only two career starts? Because of all the physical tools Brown has. He is 6-3, 230 and has an accurate cannon hanging from his right shoulder. In two games Brown is 43 of 57 for 577 yards and four touchdowns. He is second on the team with 142 rushing yards. Still, a few things will need to get better before Brown becomes a first round lock.
His mechanics, while arguably better than his predecessor Pat White, need to improve, most notably throwing off his back foot. Agreed, he still gets a ton of velocity, but the pros will want to see improvement in that area. Brown doesn't always see his receiver on the break, but when he does see him, the ball gets there in a hurry. That is some nit picking to be sure, but remember, we are talking about Brown being a first round draft pick in the NFL, not how good of a college player he will be.
On that front the sky is the limit and Mountaineer fans have every reason to be giddy about the numbers Brown can put up this season. One gets the sense that as offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen gets more and more game film of Brown, the on field product could be special, perhaps even a first round pick.
That is something to keep an eye on as January winds down, for now there is Auburn this Saturday night in Alabama. Last week's game against ECU was important to get some idea of where this team is. Most figured a loss against the Pirates would signal bigger problems ahead. A loss on the road against the Tigers doesn't really carry the same stigma. A win, however, could give this WVU team the confidence to go on and do great things this season.
Make no mistake, this is a game WVU can win, but there will be much to overcome for the Mountaineers to do so. That list includes over 80,000 fans in attendance who will be rabidly rooting against the Mountaineers. It will likely be hot. It will be at night and those 80,000 fans will be extra rowdy. Imagine Mountaineer Field during a night game, only with 20,000 more people going nuts. Without doing the research, the guess here is WVU hasn't played in front of this many hostile fans since their last visit to State College, Pa. in 1991, a 51-6 loss.
All this is to suggest WVU cannot afford to fall behind early like they did last year at home against Auburn. WVU trailed 17-3 in that game before scoring 31 straight points. That game plan will have little chance this week. West Virginia will have to slow the running back tandem of Ben Tate and Onterio McCalebb. Both backs have run for well over 100 in each of their first two games. Those games were easy wins over Louisiana Tech and Mississippi State.
Slowing the rushing attack would seem to be something the Mountaineers can do. In that sense both teams will be getting a test that should provide answers as the season moves forward.
WVU fans will be happy to learn that the game will be much easier to view than last week's ESPN 360 internet telecast. Game time this Saturday is 7:45 p.m. on ESPN2.