For the second consecutive week, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown was very critical when discussing the performance of his defense.
The fourth-year leader of the Mountaineers discussed multiple mistakes his team made during their 55-42 overtime loss to Kansas on Saturday night.
“When you look at it, I was extremely frustrated during the game, and watching it,” Brown said. “Small things led to a very bad performance. When you have a performance like that, you have to self-evaluate.”
Brown’s thoughts on the Mountaineers started with issues on the defensive line and ranged back into the secondary.
According to Brown, Kansas was able to use shifts and motions to give its offensive linemen and tight ends the ability to easily reach West Virginia’s linebackers, thus giving the Jayhawks more opportunities to run the ball.
“We didn’t do a good job of getting hands on (their down linemen),” Brown said. “Our linebackers did a poor job of getting too close to the line of scrimmage and not being able to get to their responsibilities.”
Kansas compiled 419 yards of total offense, with 200 coming on the ground. The Jayhawks acquired seven first downs via the rush and were able to find the endzone four times, including three in a stretch of four scoring drives that quickly erased a 21-7 Mountaineers lead.
West Virginia was only able to keep Kansas behind the line of scrimmage on three of its 36 rushing attempts, as the Jayhawks averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Dual-threat quarterback Jalon Daniels ran for a game-high 86 yards, while Daniel Hishaw and Devin Neal each scored twice.
In comparison, the Mountaineers allowed just 76 rushing yards on 38 attempts in their season opener against Pittsburgh.
“If you look back, our front six played well versus Pitt,” Brown said. “We stopped the run. We usually play a high level of defense. When we do that, we’re able to stop the run. This hasn’t been an issue that’s shown up a lot.”
Brown said a miscommunication on a Mountaineers’ assignment led to Kansas’ first touchdown of the game, a 10-yard pass from Daniels to tight end Mason Fairchild on a seam route in between the West Virginia secondary.
“It’s all about where we’re set up,” Brown said. “If we’re lined up on the inside of him, he doesn’t get open. But since we were on the outside, he gets that seam.”
Brown also touched on the team’s one-on-one tackling, which was one of West Virginia’s biggest flaws in the loss to Pittsburgh.
The Mountaineers had trouble bringing down the Panthers’ leading rusher Rodney Hammond, Jr., whose 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 endzone.
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 to paydirt.
Against Kansas, the Mountaineer defense again had trouble near the goal line, allowing Neal to spin out of the grasp of two defenders to score from three yards out.
“The tackling is something we worked on, but didn’t get improved,” Brown said. “So, now, we have to put extra work into fixing it.”
Brown, though West Virginia is playing a talented FCS school in Towson this Saturday, said his team will be mainly looking inward as an outlook for its upcoming game.
“The focus is on us this week,” he said. “This is about us getting better, us improving and finding a way to get a win. That’s the entire focus.”