When your program is attempting to dig out of a ditch that’s not been as deep in years, playing an FCS team can be just what the doctor order to get a much needed a win. There’s also the perspective that West Virginia’s upcoming matchup with Towson is a negative in terms of proving any doubters wrong because WVU is simply supposed to play well against those types of teams.
In all honesty, neither perspective is entirely wrong. Both sides can be argued here, and if WVU beats up on Towson but turns around and loses to most of the FBS teams remaining on their schedule, like one major predictor actually feels will happen, nothing will change about the outlook of Neal Brown’s tenure and the future of the program. With that said, I want to dive in a bit deeper on what the Mountaineers need to actually show on Saturday afternoon when the Towson Tigers join them for homecoming.
Here are 3 things WVU must do against Towson:
Get the defense back on track
After a stellar performance in the Backyard Brawl, the WVU defense simply collapsed when facing Kansas. Neal Brown touched on knowing the Jayhawks were going to pose a different test than Pitt because of Jason Daniels’ ability to move around and run so much, but he also noticed most of his success was taking advantage of RPOs, or run-pass-option plays to be clear, with someone out of position. But the most glaring issue in contrast to the Brawl was the lack of pressure the defensive line was able to generate most of the second half. Dante Stills and company sacked Kedon Slovis 5 times. They then failed to generate one sack of Daniels. Stills’ production speaks to this more than anything. The leader of the WVU defense mustarded up only one total tackle last week compared to 6 overall tackles with 2 solo and 4 assists and 1.5 sacks. Stills wrecked Pitt’s game-plan, playing even better than his statistics showed. But he was ineffective when the defense desperately needed him the most during the home opener.
A solid showing isn’t good enough now. The defense, of course led by Stills but without cornerback Charles Woods again, must step up and show that Kansas was an aberration. While the offense let the defense down plenty in recent seasons, the defense completely let the offense down in arguably the worst loss of the Brown era.
Establish the running game again
One of the lingering questions heading into this season was how the offense would perform under new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and new transfer quarterback JT Daniels. Well, so far, the answer to that question has actually been a big positive for this team. An offense that failed to convert drives into points enough in 2021 with Jarret Doege behind center is now stacking points regularly. WVU’s offense put up 31 points in Pittsburgh, with a pick-6 by the Panthers defense being the separator on the scoreboard, and then scored 42 points at home against Kansas. The unit only punted once in the loss to the Jayhawks. But to dissect things a bit further, the running game still needs to prove itself. Three different Mountaineer rushers averaged over 4 yards per carry against Pitt and CJ Donaldson emerged with 125 yards, an average of 17.9, a touchdown and a big 44-yarder. While two surpassed 4 per on Saturday night, one was Daniels scrambling and the two feature backs of Tony Mathis Jr. and Donaldson both posted an average of 3.7. It wasn’t exactly a horrible day on the ground in a game that morphed into a shootout, but doing more of what happened two weeks ago and then some will show the offensive line is improved and can help get the running game back to where it was two years ago and not in most games since.
Win and win BIG
This may go without saying and slacking FCS opponents hasn’t exactly been a problem for WVU, but the Mountaineers desperately need to show up and show out all over Towson. No disrespect, but Towson comes to town for homecoming for a reason – to ensure the fans see a win. With a couple “Power 5” programs actually losing to FCS programs just last week, nothing is guaranteed for a floundering major program like West Virginia. And winning isn’t even enough. WVU has to show they are at least still a cut above that level of competition and can click for an entire game.
Nebraska fans knew their once historically great team was far from where they wanted it to be, but I doubt many expected to lose to Georgia Southern. It can happen. It even happened to then ranked number 6 in the country Texas A&M, falling 17-14 to Appalachian State. Towson is also not App. State. The Tiger are coming off a 4-7 season in 2021.
But of course, a Neal Brown led WVU team has dominated an FCS opponent before, blasting LIU 66-0 around this same time last year, only to struggle the rest of the season.
To steal a line from Al Davis, the most important thing for WVU to do is to just win, baby. A loss and the sky will completely fall on the 15th winningest program in the history of college football.