morgantown — There are many images one can conjure up thinking of West Virginia football.
Major Harris’ run against Penn State, Pat White streaking down the field on touchdown run, Will Grier throwing a touchdown fade to David Sills V, Pac Man Jones running a kickoff back, Marc Bulger’s precision passing.
But the real image of WVU football over the years is the image that best reflects the state and its people — toughness.
It’s Owen Schmitt, the Runaway Beer Truck. It is Brian Jozwiak, All American offensive tackle. It’s Dan Mozes, Rimington Award winner as the nation’s best center. it Grant Wiley on the goal line, Quincy Wilson running over Miami defenders, Bruce Irvin flinging another quarterback around, Karl Joseph separating a ball carrier from the ball and his senses.
West Virginia football is playing survival ball. The team colors may be gold and blue but the team logo traditional should have been drawn up in black and blue.
You don’t play West Virginia football until you play physical, tough football. It is speed, yes, but what gives it its edge is fullbacks and tight ends, running backs like Amos Zereoue and Avon Cobourne who broke hearts by breaking tackles.
This is the missing ingredient in this new West Virginia team. It is feeling its way along when it should be issuing pain upon its opponents. The coaches say so, the players agree.
“The O-line is easy to pick on,” Brown said. “Our running backs, tight ends and receivers have been every bit the issue as the O-line in the run game.”
The players agree.
“If you watched the film and that doesn’t spark you to get better, then you obviously shouldn’t be here,” offensive guard Josh Sills said. “It was pitiful. We need the drive and hunger every day to get better.”
And it’s on the defensive side, too, although that is less, perhaps because the ineffectiveness of the offense has been so glaring, so out of character for WVU football, that nothing really can compare to it.
Two games in and they have 64 rushing yards. SIXTY-FOUR! The Mountaineers average 1.14 yards per rushing attempt.
How important is that? Saturday’s noon opponent at Milan Puskar Stadium, N.C. State, is allowing only 24.5 yards per game on the ground after two victories.
Rest assured, changes are coming.
Brown will be holding auditions all week long as he tries to find his five best offensive linemen and anyone else on any side of the ball who will add some fire to the offense or defense.
“We’ve got to get some guys in and see what they can do,” co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Moore said. “You can’t keep the same lineup and expect different things to happen. These next two days of practice can tell us who can perform and who doesn’t.”
“I do foresee there being some changes in the lineup,” Brown said. “The best way I can tell you is if you continue to put stuff on video that’s not good enough, then the change has to be made. If there’s changes, it means those guys didn’t put enough quality on tape, or they’ve been beaten out.”
Right now the only player fully assured his job is left tackle Colton McKivitz, far and away the best offensive lineman in the first two games.
“Outside of McKivitz, I’m not real fired up about how any of them are playing,” Brown said. “[Center] Briason Mays, [right guard/tackle] John Hughes, [left guard] James Gmiter, those guys will get some opportunities up front in practice.”
But the defense has, in many ways, been just as passive, making Koenning jittery.
He tried to simplify things for them last week but, instead, seemed to confuse them and many of his defenders were hesitant, leading to 5 missed sacks on quarterback Kelly Bryant, 22 missed tackles and no takeaways.
“You’ve got to have more courage, and I say that in a way that means courage to make plays. You can’t just freeze up,” he said. “You’ve got to be relentless, and when I say relentless, I mean you’ve got to be tough.
“I don’t want to liken it to war, because war is life and death and this isn’t life and death, but it’s a fight. Anyone who’s ever played this game, especially in the front seven, it’s a fight. If you’re not willing to fight and go to a place — and you’re hearing me kind of getting a little bit inspired right here — but if you’re not willing to go to a place that’s a little bit nuts, a little bit crazy, then you’re not going to be able to play this game.”
So look for practice this week to be challenging and competitive because jobs are at stake and maybe the season.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel