West Virginia head coach Neal Brown was very forward when addressing the Mountaineers’ season performance during his news conference on Monday.
After saying the 2022 campaign “wasn’t good enough” overall, Brown then noted the Mountaineers defense did not live up to the standard of the program.
“If you look at how we played over the last three years, we established how we wanted to play (defensively),” Brown said. “We have a unique system. It gave us a chance to win a high percentage of our contests.”
Brown elaborated more toward his defense, stating multiple key factors that helped lead to West Virginia’s third losing season in his four years as coach. Those main impacts were pass defense, creating takeaways, allowing too many big plays and third down defense.
Brown backed these claims with notes from the Big 12 Conference statistics list, saying that West Virginia was near the top in these categories in 2020 and 2021, but were near the bottom this past season.
The Mountaineers’ struggles were reflected in the FBS rankings as well. Out of 131 teams, West Virginia was tied for 119th with a minus-0.67 turnover margin. The defense forced 10 takeaways in 12 games (six fumbles and four interceptions) while the offense recorded 18 giveaways.
West Virginia was also 111th in pass yards allowed per game (262.7), 98th in total yards allowed per game (412.2) and 87th in third down defense (40.7 percent opponent conversion rate).
The Mountaineers, as Brown noted, were much more effective at getting off the field on third down in victories than in defeats. West Virginia held opponents to a 26.8 percent conversion rate in their five wins versus a 50.5 percent clip in their seven losses.
“The first thing you say to this is ‘Why?’,” Brown said. “If you look at what happens across the landscape of college football, the easiest thing to do is to start firing people. I don’t think that’s the right answer in a lot of cases.
“The issues we have to fix are in-house. I believe in our group. I believe in coach Jordan Lesley. I believe in our defensive staff.”
Lesley, who just finished his fourth year with West Virginia and third as the defensive coordinator, came into the 2022 season having lost five previous defensive starters to the NCAA Transfer Portal, so the Mountaineers were forced to input players with little experience into a full-time starting role.
West Virginia is now attempting to reverse the pattern and draw in players with high experience levels through the portal. So far, the Mountaineers have brought in four defensive transfers according to 24/7 Sports, including Kent State cornerback Montre Miller and Penn State defensive tackle Fatormah Mulbah.
Brown said the pair will compete for playing time right away in spring practice, adding Miller holds top-end speed, something West Virginia lacked in pass coverage, and Mulbah can present a big body inside on the defensive front.
But, in the end, Brown understands where the true responsibility lies.
“At the end of the day, it’s on me,” Brown said. “We weren’t good enough, but I believe we have people in this building that can get it fixed. We’ve done it before. The best way is consistency, and we just have to coach better.”