As West Virginia’s Neal Brown does every Monday during his news conference, the fourth-year head coach discussed where the Mountaineers did well, and where they need to improve, stemming off of their previous contest.
The biggest adjustment Brown said his defense will have to make is the Mountaineers’ execution of bringing down the ball carrier in their first Big 12 matchup of the season Saturday against Kansas.
“We have to tackle better,” Brown said. “It’s something we’ve done well over the last three years (since I’ve been here). That’s our standard, is that we tackle well. We’re one of the top tackling teams in the conference, if not the country.”
Brown’s critique of the West Virginia defense comes ahead of facing a Kansas backfield that he says is as deep as any other team in the Big 12.
The Jayhawks use a tandem of four sophomores in their backfield, including Daniel Hishaw, Jr., Sevion Morrison, Devin Neal and Ky Thomas. Hishaw and Neal started in the Kansas program, while Morrison and Thomas came in as transfers prior to the 2022 season.
Thomas ran for 824 yards and six touchdowns as a freshman at Minnesota last year. Morrison saw chipped in 116 yards and three scores on 30 carries for Nebraska.
The foursome together helped Kansas total 304 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in a 56-10 win over Tennessee Tech in Week 1. Neal led the way with 108 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. Morrison (70 yards, touchdown), Hishaw (56 yards, touchdown) and Thomas (19 yards) also made impacts.
“They use a multiple offense, which has a lot of motions and shifts,” Brown said. “They do a great job moving guys around to figure out ways to run the football and get plays down the field.”
West Virginia was able to hold its first opponent, Pittsburgh, to just 76 yards rushing, but had trouble bringing down its leading rusher Rodney Hammond, Jr., who compiled 16 rushes for 74 yards and two scores.
Hammond’s touchdown runs of 4 and 11 yards resulted from the back carving through the Mountaineer defense, with the latter coming after Hammond broke through a pile at the line and carried a West Virginia defender into the end zone.
These issues also showed on the Panthers’ pass plays.
On Pittsburgh quarterback Kedon Slovis’ lone touchdown of the game, a 24-yard throw to Israel Abanikanda that tied the game late in the fourth quarter, Abanikanda broke three tackles on his way the goal line.
“It’s a fundamental deal,” Brown said. “We know how to get better. We’ll get back to work on it. A couple of those also came from alignment issues. Pitt showed us some looks we weren’t expecting.
“We stopped the run and did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. We just have to focus on being in position and wrapping up. Especially when we’re deep in the red zone, it’s about pad leverage.”
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