After going 5-7 in his first year as head coach for the Mountaineers, Neal Brown will look to build off a season that ended in a positive way, winning two out of the last three.
Looking at a losing record can seem like a disappointing season, but WVU lost a significant amount of talent and came up just short at No. 12 Baylor, losing 17-14, and at home against No. 22 Oklahoma State, losing 20-13. With one of these two wins, WVU would have made a bowl game to end the year.
This season is promised to be one for the history books with no fans in attendance for at least the first game. Despite the uniqueness of this season, Brown says that he is happy that his team is getting the opportunity to play at all.
“Really humbled to have the opportunity to coach after everything that has gone on in these last few months,” Brown said on Tuesday. “[The players are] extremely excited to compete, as you can imagine.”
With no fans, Brown thinks there can be an advantage to not having thousands of people in the stands for the first-time being on the field for some players.
“I think there will be less wide eyes for the first-time college football players,” Brown said Sept. 8 during his United Bank Playbook interview with Tony Caridi.
Throughout the offseason, there was a quarterback battle between redshirt senior Austin Kendall and redshirt junior Jarret Doege. Doege has been announced as the starter for the first game against Eastern Kentucky.
Last season, Doege played in four games, starting the last three. He put up 818 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions. He led the Mountaineers to a 2-1 record as a starter to end the year, with both wins coming on the road and one against a ranked Kansas State team.
Doege will try to create chemistry with the large number of wide receivers looking to have a breakout season after getting their feet wet last year. Sophomore Sam James led the Mountaineers in yards with 69 catches for 677 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior T.J. Simmons will look to have a strong season after going for 35 receptions for 455 yards and four touchdowns.
On the defensive side, Darius and Dante Stills have created a lot of buzz about the Mountaineer program and they both are looking to take charge for WVU. Last season, they led the team with seven sacks each, while Darius had 14.5 tackles for loss and Dante had 11.5, more than double the next closest in that category.
Darius has been acknowledged by many college football analysts and made All-American status on the CBS Sports Preseason All-America Team. Brown has made sure that he stays focused and makes sure he has the right mentality no matter what accolades Darius is up for.
“Darius Stills got put on an All-America team, and I told him to prove them right,” Brown said when he got the honor. “If you get accolades, you have to prove those people right, and if you aren’t picked where you want to be then you need to prove them wrong.”
Eastern Kentucky is coming off a lopsided loss to the Marshall, 59-0. Marshall had 627 yards of total offense while Eastern Kentucky was only able to put up 166. Brown said his team can’t take EKU lightly, and expects every team to make the biggest improvement after the first game is under their belt.
“I think teams always, you see that, it’s a cliché, they always make the biggest improvements between Week 1 and Week 2, and like I said, they got some really good coaches on that staff and I expect that to happen,” Brown said.
The game on Saturday is set to begin at noon and will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.