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West Virginia Football Going Back to Basics During Bye Week



WVU defense practice

Neal Brown and the Mountaineers are heading into what the veteran head coach called a “pseudo bye week.”

After receiving the latter part of the weekend and Monday off following the loss to Texas, West Virginia held practices Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mountaineers will next begin prep for Baylor on Friday, scratching the normal procedure of Brown allowing his players to have free reign for a few days when there is no upcoming game on the schedule.

“It was a tough first five weeks, so (having Sunday and Monday off) was warranted,” Brown said. “For a bye week, the players can usually go home, but with the schedule, that won’t be the case.”

Instead, the Mountaineers will be hard at work aiming to fix the mistakes that have hindered the squad since the beginning of the 2022 campaign, causing the team to sit at 2-3 overall and be winless through two Big 12 conference matchups.

Brown noted three different aiming points — two offensive and one defensive — during Tuesday’s news conference that he and the West Virginia coaching staff will be focusing on in an attempt to guide the Mountaineers back on track. They include special teams return, both punt and kickoff, creating wide receiver depth and perfecting defensive fundamentals.

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Of course, none of these three will be factored in until Brown and his staff figure out their biggest key, which is determining who the best players are for the positions, mainly for his defense, and getting them ready for Baylor.

“We’re going to get a bunch of young, developmental guys to work during the week,” Brown said. “We’re going to use scrimmage to look at the guys that haven’t played, as well as the guys that played in the second half (against Texas) that deserve the opportunity to play more.”

With most kickoffs either going into the endzone for a touchback or being fair caught, the Mountaineers have brought back just six over five games, averaging only 17 yards per return. West Virginia has seven yards per punt return in seven opportunities.

Against the Longhorns, Jeremiah Aaron returned two kickoffs for 34 yards, also getting 17 yards per clip. Mumu Bin-Wahad fair caught the only punt return opportunity the Mountaineers had in the game.

Brown said it is not necessarily the player who returns the ball, it is the inside factors that determine the quality of the play.

“It all stems from the decision making,” Brown said. “We had a couple of kicks in previous games that we should’ve fair caught. Then we have to have guys set up the blocking for us to be effective. They need to be in the right spots. This will put us in a good starting position offensively.”

The Mountaineers will then need to get more players involved at the wide receiver position, according to Brown. West Virginia’s top three receivers, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James and Kaden Prather, each tallied at least seven receptions against the Longhorns. The four remaining players that caught a pass for West Virginia combined to catch six passes for 34 yards.

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“We didn’t play as good at wideout (against Texas),” Brown said. “I think some of that is because we played our top three guys a lot of snaps. Jeremiah Aaron and Reese Smith are capable of playing more. We also need to get Cortez Braham going.”

Then defensively, Brown said the Mountaineers need to do a better job getting lined up into their pass coverages. He added the goal is for West Virginia to incorporate a lot more of a man-concept into the scheme, but the issue is a lot less eyes will be on the ball.

This has shown in the past couple of games for the Mountaineers, as Virginia Tech scored their lone touchdown against a man defense, as well as Texas using a trick play with wide receiver Xavier Worthy throwing a 33-yard touchdown pass against the same set up. An improvement at cornerback is something Brown will be searching for, especially now with three of the team’s top players at the spot now hurt.

“We’ve given up plays at the corner spot in our man defense,” Brown said. “We have got to play our coverage the right way and be able to get lined up faster. That will give us the best chance to get a stop. I would like for that to include more man, but if that’s not the case, we can’t force it.”

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