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5 Takeaways: WVU Football Showed Signs of Improvement Against PSU, Still Tons of Work Ahead



WVU Football Offensive Line

A loss only counts as a loss. Moral victories don’t really exist. That’s not up for debate. But it’s important to add context to what happened on the field at Beaver Stadium when WVU fell victim to Penn State to open the 2023 season.

Some are arguing West Virginia showed some signs of improvement against a team with legitimate playoff aspirations while others just can’t get over the issues that were very evident on Saturday night. It’s possible we won’t even know which perspective is closer to reality until Pitt comes to Morgantown for the return of the Backyard Brawl at Milan Puskar Stadium.

Penn State Proves Too Much for WVU to Handle as Mountaineers Open Season with Loss

At this point, all I can do is look at how the Mountaineers looked against Penn State and go from there. Here are my top takeaways from the loss to the number seven ranked Nittany Lions.

WVU Appears Better Overall

I get not being able to see past the loss. I get the frustration over yet another loss. I do. But with that said, West Virginia showed they are a better team than the one that posted a 5-7 record in 2022.

CJ Donaldson is Still a Freak Athlete 

On offense, CJ Donaldson is even better, as expected. After hearing he’s in better shape, he put that on display at times while battling a stacked Penn State defensive line. He ran for 81 yards for an average of 4.5 yards per carry in the game, but he had a burst that caught everyone’s eye in the press box and showed off his athletic ability to avoid tackles.

Asti: CJ Donaldson Seems Poised for Big Season as Star of WVU Offense

Despite head coach Neal Brown and offensive coordinator Chad Scott saying WVU would use multiple running backs, including freshman Jahiem White, most of the rushing attempts were either from Donaldson or Greene keeping it himself. That suggests there’s still a lot more to see from the running game.

Devin Carter Showed His Worth 

Devin Carter was the only Mountaineer receiver Penn State had any respect for. He was also the only one able to get separation and compete with the PSU corners. Carter caught six balls for 90 yards in his debut.

Defense Missed Fewer Tackles 

On defense, there were problems, and I’ll get to one later, but there was something that stood out to also argue the team is better. The defense does seem to be more fundamentally sound, at least as far as tackling. Last year, the defense that hurt the team early in the season would’ve had a much more difficult time bringing down Penn State’s four horsemen of running backs. If the first player at the ball carrier didn’t make the tackle, the next guy there did. West Virginia didn’t let runs explode for more than they should be. That’s a big plus and was a necessary change.

The Secondary was Bad

It sounds simple to say, but the only analysis necessary is to say the secondary was just bad. Penn State’s receivers, a unit thought to be their weakness, were left wide open for big plays all night long, most notably in the end zone.

When Brown was asked how he would evaluate the secondary, he agreed and was blunt about it as well. This group has to be better, and is the one unit who can’t chalk up a bad day at the office to facing a top 10 team. They did come close to creating a couple turnovers, but didn’t come up with the picks and couldn’t cover anyone in any one-on-one situations at all.

The coaching has been telling us the defense would be deeper this season. For that to be the case, the secondary will have to step up and perform to the level of hype around the likes of Aubrey Burks, Beanie Bishop and a now more experienced Jacolby Spells.

WVU DB Beanie Bishop Plans to End College Career with Big Season

Greene is Still Adjusting

For better or worse, the Garrett Greene era got underway in State College. And he did have his moments, but it was clear he’s going to keep using game action to improve.

Everyone knew Greene could run. And he totaled 71 yards on 15 rush attempts. But there’s always been questions about his ability to throw. Greene completed 16 of 27 passes for 162 yards.

As Brown mentioned after the game, Greene had difficulty finding receivers down the field and seemed to cling to shorter options right in front of him. There were even times when Greene shied away from using his speed with his legs and decided to throw, but in retrospect probably should have just kept it himself. Being a dual-threat quarterback allows Greene to decide if to run or pass, and Brown has said he gives his quarterback the green light to make that call. But is he trying to prove he can throw so much that he’s turning down open space in front of him?

It’s possible West Virginia would’ve beat another team. It’s possible they wouldn’t have and Penn State should’ve exposed them even more. We won’t find that answer next week, but will in two weeks in a game many are calling a must-win against Pitt.

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