By TOM BRAGG
To say the West Virginia University offense is off to a slow start for the 2019 college football season would be a massive understatement.
The Mountaineers have not just been bad when in possession of the football, they've been among the worst teams in the country - and especially so when attempting to run the ball. Consider this: out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, WVU checks in at No. 129 with 64 total rushing yards - one spot ahead of former West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital's first Texas State team.
West Virginia Univesity's 1.14 yards per carry average ranks dead last in the FBS through two games and the Mountaineers are joined by South Florida as the only FBS teams without a rushing touchdown so far.
"I don't know if I thought it was going to be this difficult [to run the ball]", first-year WVU coach Neal Brown said Monday on the Big 12 football coaches teleconference. "I knew we were going to struggle. I knew that it was not going to be easy. I knew that we were going to have to be creative, but to say that we'd the worst rushing team in American after two weeks - I don't know if I'd have gone that far, but I knew it was going to be a struggle."
While West Virginia running backs Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Alec Sinkfield have not been great with the ball in their hands, they have not had much room to run when called upon. The WVU offensive line has been collectively bad when it comes to run blocking so far in games against James Madison and Missouri.
"Obviously, when you don't move the ball any better than we did you don't play well up front," Brown said. "I think what happened on Saturday is what happens a lot of times when bad football is played. I think it's usually one guy or two guys on any given play. Very seldom do we have multiple players not doing the right thing. On offense, you've got to have all 11 guys pointed in the right direction. If you don't have a guy getting the job done - especially if it's at a key point - then the play fails and that's what I thought we had quite a bit of on Saturday.
"We actually, going into it, had a pretty good plan. I thought we moved the ball well for the first quarter-and-a-half and really killed ourselves.
"Now, Missouri played inspired football and did a nice job of doing some things they hadn't shown, but we didn't play great up front. We're going to go to work [Monday] trying to correct some of those errors, give some other guys some opportunities and things like that."
Brown said after what happened against Missouri on Saturday he was disappointed in the Mountaineers but not discouraged by the direction of the program. He reiterated that stance during Monday's teleconference.
"I've known since probably our first winter workout that we have some deficiencies in our football roster," Brown said. "I've known we were going to have some challenges in Year 1, and I think I spoke pretty openly about those challenges and I've known that we've got to get better. We've got to develop the guys that are here and find ways to put them in positions to be successful and we've got to do a great job recruiting. So I think you're only discouraged if you're blindsided by something or you're not seeing effort or things like that. That's not where we're at.
"We got exposed on Saturday and we struggled at certain positions. I think we will play better going forward. It's not going to be a smooth road the whole year, though. I'm disappointed in our performance - we can play better - but I'm not discouraged by the direction we're going and where we're going to take this program."
WVU quarterback Austin Kendall completed 15 of 25 pass attempts for 137 yards, one touchdown and two early interceptions against Missouri, and Brown said it was tough to get a true evaluation on the Oklahoma graduate transfer for several reasons.
Brown also said he knows Kendall needs to be better in order for the West Virginia offense to succeed.
"It's tough to evaluate, honestly," Brown said of Kendall's performance against the Tigers. "I've got him getting hit, I think, eight times in the first three series. I thought that there were times when he threw the ball really well, I thought he showed courage by staying in the pocket and continued to deliver the ball. His decision making has got to be better. He's got to do a better job with his eyes. So, I think there is plenty of room for improvement by him, but we've got to play better around him."
West Virginia defensive end Taijh Alston was carted off the field Saturday with his right leg in an air cast after a nasty collision in the second quarter at Missouri, and Brown said he will have an update on his status at the weekly Tuesday press conference in Morgantown.
"I'm going to kind of brief everybody about that tomorrow," Brown said. "[Alston] is meeting with the doctors today and I'll have a full update on him tomorrow."