Struggling West Virginia a ‘work in progress’
West Virginia coach Neal Brown calls his team a “work in progress,” one that isn’t progressing fast enough with a week left until the start of the Big 12 season.
The blocking of the offensive line stinks. The running game is nonexistent, and the quarterback play has been inconsistent. Across-the-board improvements are sorely needed Saturday when West Virginia (1-1) hosts North Carolina State (2-0), which has outscored its first two opponents 75-6.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” right guard Josh Sills said. “You have to win your one-on-one matchups.”
Brown didn’t inherit a lineup of marquee players when he arrived in January after Dana Holgorsen left for Houston.
The coach said the offensive line was “fully taken advantage of” in a 38-7 loss at Missouri on Saturday.
“We’re a work in progress. I’ve been saying that really since I got here,” Brown said. “That’s not negative. That’s where we’re at. We have some deficiencies. I’ve been pretty open about those.”
Brown made several moves during preseason camp and will continue to do some tinkering.
Sills, a second team all-Big 12 selection a year ago, played in the season opener against FCS James Madison at center, a position he hadn’t played since high school. Against Missouri, Sills was back at right guard. Chase Behrndt, who had moved to center in the spring, was at right guard for the opener and returned to center against Missouri.
Left tackle Colton McKivitz, a three-year starter, played right tackle last season. Left guard Michael Brown was redshirted a year ago. Right tackle Kelby Wickline had two starts last year.
Brown said the line’s struggles are “an indication that the guys behind them have to get better.”
The starters “didn’t necessarily play great, but nobody behind them has shown they’re ready to play,” Brown said. “That’s an issue we have, and it’s been exposed the last two weeks. We’ve got to get those guys better.”
West Virginia has scored just three touchdowns. The Mountaineers’ 27 combined points over the first two games are their fewest since 2013, when they finished 4-8.
A running game that combined for more than 1,900 yards last season has 64 total yards, ranking dead last in the Bowl Subdivision with 1.1 yard per carry. Much of that falls on the blocking.
“I just know it was bad,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “I don’t know exactly what it was, but it was bad, whether it was miscommunication, whether it was guys trying too hard and falling down. I don’t know. At this point you’ve just got to keep working. We’ll get to that point, but it’s never easy getting there.”
Austin Kendall, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma who won the starting quarterback job over three others, was intercepted twice against the Tigers and has yet to look consistently comfortable in two games.
“It’s tough to evaluate, honestly,” Brown said. “He got hit, I think, eight times in the first three series. There were times when he threw the ball really well. I thought he showed courage by staying in the pocket and continued delivering the ball. His decision making has got to be better. He’s got to do a better job with his eyes. So I think there’s room for improvement by him. But we’ve got to play better around him.”