MORGANTOWN — Last Saturday’s overtime loss to Kansas sent a ripple effect through the WVU football program as the Mountaineers sit at 0-2 for the first time in 43 years.
Now in his fourth year as head coach, Neal Brown is drawing ire from the fan base, but his message to his team is simple heading into Saturday’s home game against Towson.
“Don’t take criticism from those you wouldn’t seek advice from,” Brown said Tuesday.
The sentiment was echoed by wide receiver Kaden Prather and Zach Frazier.
“I don’t pay much attention to social media,” Frazier said. “Good or bad, I don’t like to listen to how I played.”
While the team is doing what it can do tune out the outside noise, Brown said he does understand why frustrations are mounting, while the losses are also continuing to pile up.
Since he took over in 2019, the Mountaineers are 17-20, with one winning season during a 6-4 COVID-plagued 2020 campaign.
“Losing stinks. I don’t think there’s anything earth-shattering about that,” Brown said. “When you invest time and energy into something and it doesn’t go the way you want it to go, it’s hard. I’m frustrated. I’m disappointed. You can probably sense that Saturday night. That same disappointment, that same frustration is with staff and players.”
A Kentucky native and University of Kentucky fan, Brown recalls Saturdays sitting in Commonwealth Stadium, watching the Wildcats get beat up on a consistent basis.
“And I get the fans’ frustrations. I think back to my parents being teachers and we had season tickets at the University of Kentucky in the upper deck. Kentucky wasn’t winning a whole lot. They’ve changed fortunes since but they weren’t winning a whole lot then. And I can remember a lot of rides home in an old beat-up van with my uncle and some of their friends and bitching about how they played and being frustrated because they spent money on tickets and concessions and all those types of things and it didn’t go the way they wanted it to go. I don’t need to be explained that. I get that.”
The crowd of 52,188, who sat through a constant drizzle, and sometimes a downpour, let their frustrations known during several of WVU’s (0-2, 0-1 Big 12) miscues in the loss to the Jayhawks.
Though KU seems much-improved under coach Lance Leipold in his second year, it has been the bottom-feeder program in the Big 12 for well over a decade.
This loss, on top of the Backyard Brawl defeat to Pitt on Sept. 1, forced athletic director Shane Lyons to release a statement to the Associated Press on Monday.
“I know and deeply care that our fans are frustrated with the start of the football season, but so are our coaches and student-athletes, who have busted their tails getting ready for the year,” Lyons said in the statement. “As athletics director, I am as disappointed as the fans, but I see how much our coaches and players care and want to win and make our fans proud.
“Everyone involved knows that the on-field results have not met expectations and absolutely no one is satisfied. There are 10 games left in the season and the focus is still on getting the results that we all expect.”
The theme of Tuesday’s media session was to put what happened in the past in the past and move on, trying to figure out how to correct what’s led to a winless start.
A few plays here and there could have the Mountaineers at 2-0 instead, but “that’s not the reality of the situation,” Brown said.
“The only people that are going to fix it are inside this building and the only way it gets fixed is through work. Nobody feels sorry for us. We don’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’re not throwing in the towel, we’re going back to work. It’s about learning from our failures. Why are we sitting here 0-2? Well, I think there’s three primary reasons and I think there’s a lot of underlying things. The first one is it’s 27-0 in points off of turnovers. We’ve created one takeaway and we’ve turned the ball over four times. We’ve had inopportune penalties and we’ve missed opportunities. There was three fumbles that were on the ground Saturday night and we didn’t get them. We dropped passes in the Pitt game. We’ve got to learn from those failures. We’ve got to clean up the penalties. We’ve got to get some takeaways. We can’t turn the football over. And we’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.
“Really, to be honest, the focus is on us this week. I mean that with all due respect to Towson. I respect FCS programs. I finished my career there. I started my career coaching there. I very well understand the mentality that’s going to be in that locker room to come here. This is their opportunity to come here on a national stage and show what they can do. But it’s about us. It’s about us getting better, us improving.”