West Virginia's Neal Brown went into the season opener with cautious optimism and returned home with a mess.
Now the third-year coach needs to figure out why things went totally wrong for the Mountaineers in the second half of a 30-24 loss at Maryland on Saturday. The Mountaineers scored three touchdowns on their first four possessions, then were listless the rest of the game.
“I still have extreme faith that we’re going to prevail and we’re going to build a program here that’s going to have great infrastructure and be set up to win long term,” Brown said Tuesday. “But I’m also not blind to what our brutal facts are right now. And that’s that we’re 0-1 and we didn’t play very well.”
Quickly forgotten was Leddie Brown’s three-touchdown effort in the first half and Winston Wright’s school-record 217 yards in kickoff returns.
Quarterback Jarret Doege, who had received much praise in the preseason for improving his pocket presence, footwork and arm strength, saw some of the same struggles from the end of last season, including his lack of mobility and rushing easy throws.
"He’s got to eliminate the negative plays," Brown said. "“You look back, he did some good things. The things that he’s got to get better at is he can’t make the bad plays worse.”
Doege threw two interceptions, part of the four turnovers by the Mountaineers. Doege had thrown only four picks in all of 2020.
The Mountaineers had a chance to add to their momentum leading 21-17 early in the second quarter after Maryland turned the ball over on downs at the West Virginia 42. But Doege scrambled to his right and threw an interception on first down into double coverage downfield.
Brown said it could have been avoided had Doege moved up in the pocket and threw to an underneath receiver cutting across the field right in front of him.
“We got a little pressure from the outside," Brown said. "Rather than just moving up, he got flushed. We got to do a better job of moving up. Some of that’s we’ve got to firm up the pocket. Some of that (is) his instincts got to be better."
West Virginia’s defense allowed 496 yards, including 332 through the air after the Mountaineers didn’t surrender over 250 passing yards last season. Two of the three touchdown passes thrown by Maryland's Taulia Tagovailoa were long throws to wide-open receivers.
It also marked the third straight game dating to last season that West Virginia's offense was held under 55 rushing yards and Leddie Brown couldn't reach 100. Backup running back Tony Mathis Jr. was held out of the opener with an undisclosed injury, meaning Brown and Doege got all the carries.
Brown said he is hopeful Mathis can play when West Virginia hosts Long Island (0-1) on Saturday. The coach said he plans to several players the chance to see their first action of the season against a Championship Subdivision opponent.
“We’ve got a starting point nobody’s happy with,” Brown said.