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“Containing Duggan is going to be priority number one on defense.” A Q&A with Smoking Musket

We spoke with the excellent Jake Lantz to go behind the scenes of Neal Brown and the Mountaineers.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Frogs O’ War: Neal Brown is in year two helming the Mountaineers. What does the fan base think of him as he starts to establish the program in his image?

Jake Lantz: Most of the fan base is still very excited about Neal. Despite the passionate fanbase, most fans understood that last year was Year Zero and that Neal was going to need to rebuild. That said, last year the Mountaineers won two of their last three to turn a 3-6 year into a 5-7 year and most fans felt good coming into 2020. This year, despite the COVID pandemic floating around, the Mountaineers have shown improvement in both the run game and the defense from last year. That said, last year’s slide after starting 3-1 to a five-game losing streak was tough on fans. This year, most fans see the improvement but watching receivers drop passes that cost the offense a game or seeing mistakes when the team could have taken control a game has been tough. Neal debuted a slogan #TrustTheClimb last year and some fans are starting to get off that bandwagon. Most are still there but we would like to see some more improvement.

FOW: Jarret Doege seems to be a frustrating QB to fans, at least on twitter, where everyone is frustrated by everything. What has he done well this season, where do you want to see him improve, and what’s a realistic expectation for him Saturday against a good, but vulnerable, TCU defense?

JL: Jarret’s best skill so far has been game management and while that can be viewed as a negative, in this case, Jarret is taking what the defense gives him and isn’t making bad decisions. He’s thrown the ball away when he’s had to, he’s eaten a sack when its been necessary. At this point we all know that Jarret doesn’t have the deep ball that Will Grier, Skyler Howard or even Clint Trickett had. But 15 yards in, he has a strong enough arm to thread the needle. Jarret is at his best when he’s on time and hitting his back foot and getting the ball out. Most of his yards come from YAC. I would expect a lot of slants, curls, outs, digs and tunnel screens. Just be careful, if you crowd the line too much, every now and then he becomes a blind squirrel and finds a nut (deep pass).

FOW: How would you describe Leddie Brown to someone that hasn’t seen him play?

JL: Tough. Physical. Gets better as the game goes on. Leddie isn’t afraid to run through someone and he has brought a toughness to the running back position that West Virginia hasn’t seen maybe since Avon Cobourne and Quincy Wilson. He will put his shoulder down and run through you but he also has the skills to bounce it outside. He also has receiving skills and if he is healthy - he was injured early against Texas - he can swing out of the backfield and hurt you in the pass game.

FOW: This WVU defense is incredibly stout, especially on the defensive line. What do they do so well and how have they limited opposing offenses effectively?

JL: They eat up defensive blocks with the Stills brothers and Jeffrey Pooler. The three of them are big physical specimens who are able to get off one on one blocks and mess up a run game. That allows Tony Fields and Josh Chandler to run sideline to sideline unabated. Linebackers love when offensive linemen are in their face. In the back end, Alonzo Addae and Tykee Smith are hard hitting DBs who have the ball skills to cover and make you pay if you float a pass. The defense is cohesive and plays as a unit.

FOW: What is one matchup that you will be paying especially close attention to Saturday?

JL: West Virginia is going to have to spy Max Duggan which means Chandler or Fields is going to be assigned to him. If defensive line can contain themselves and keep Duggan in the pocket, the linebackers will be free to play. If Duggan is getting outside the pocket that means someone has to come down and that is going to leave someone free in the secondary. As good as the secondary has been, we were hurt when Texas Tech scrambled on pass plays. Containing Duggan is going to be priority number one on defense.

FOW: From the opposing viewpoint, what do you think of Max Duggan as a Big 12 quarterback?

JL: He seems capable and I mean that as complimentary as I can make it. I haven’t watched much of him but it looks like he has the ability to hurt you both with his arm and his legs. Just looking at the stats against Texas and Oklahoma and it looks like he gave you a chance. He’s not throwing a lot of touchdowns but he isn’t giving the ball away (2 interceptions). That is key in college. Don’t give the other team extra possessions. As a WVU fan who was burned against Texas Tech, he worries me.

FOW: What’s your prediction for Saturday? Who is the MVP of the game?

JL: If Leddie Brown is healthy, I’ll pick West Virginia. Right now, it looks like he has some sort of upper leg injury and that has me worried. If he isn’t able to go and we have to rely on Alex Sinkfield, Sinkfield is a #2 change-of-pace back not a 25-carry back and that means everything Neal Brown wants to do is going to go out the window. Right now, I’m pessimistic coming off a deflating loss to Texas. I hope I’m wrong because WVU has been better at home. I think TCU wins a close won 24-21. I’m going to say Duggan is the MVP and hurts WVU with his legs.