Rested Mountaineers ready for home stretch
MORGANTOWN — As the college football season winds down for West Virginia University, arguably the toughest two conference opponents remain on the Mountaineers’ schedule.
This week, the Mountaineers (5-3, 4-3 Big 12) will take on the Oklahoma Sooners (6-2, 5-2) — the second-best team in the conference and owners of the Big 12’s top offense.
The Mountaineers will counter with the conference’s top defense but also have an added bonus on their side: time off. While Oklahoma downed Oklahoma State on Saturday, the Mountaineers were home for some rest and recovery during their first bye week since early October.
With the semester coming to a close, WVU head coach Neal Brown said the break was much needed not just from a football standpoint, but also for the student-athletes and what comes with that title.
“As much as anything, (we wanted) to clear your mind mentally and get ready because we’ve got not only Oklahoma, but we follow up with Iowa State and finals and all those types of things coming up,” Brown said Tuesday. “I think we’re in a good mental framework. I think the guys feel better.”
Brown also reported that the team is much more rested and healthier than it was prior to taking on TCU two weeks ago. He mentioned running back Leddie Brown as somebody who has benefited greatly from the time off.
Leddie Brown, who has been banged up for the Mountaineers’ last few games, is returning to form, coach Brown said.
“I think Leddie feels good,” Neal Brown said. “He’ll practice at full strength this week. The bye week came at a really good time for him.”
Without question, Leddie Brown has been the main catalyst to West Virginia’s improved offensive attack. Through eight games, he ranks third in the nation with 897 total rushing yards. Neal Brown says that the running back did not have that “extra gear” against TCU, despite ending the afternoon with 156 yards on 24 carries.
As the Mountaineers near the regular season’s end, they’ll need to be at the top of their game if they’d like a chance to lay claim to the title of Big 12’s best.
Iowa State and Oklahoma currently sit at No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference, and are currently in position to make it to Dallas. Oklahoma State and Texas are tied for the third spot, and West Virginia is currently fifth.
In order to make it to their first Big 12 Championship game, the Mountaineers will likely need to win the season’s final two games, in addition to having the Cowboys and Longhorns lose some as well. Not exactly a challenging feat, but far from a sure thing.
UNDER THE LIGHTS
Saturday’s game will be the first home night game during the Neal Brown era, with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m.
“I think there’s something about playing under the lights, maybe get your adrenaline going a bit more,” Brown said. “I think when you play in that primetime TV spot, I think there’s something about that too. But once you get into the game, it’s no different than playing at 11 (a.m.) or 12 (p.m.).”
Last season, the Mountaineers came together to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. With the COVID-19 pandemic a cause for concern, the tradition will continue this year but in a different way.
In a normal year, position groups would spend Wednesday nights at their coaches’ house, followed by a full team meal on Thursday. This year, they can’t go into people’s homes but they will still have a socially-distanced, traditional meal on Thanksgiving.
“They eat well all the time,” Brown said with a laugh, “but they’ll eat well this week.”