Upset-minded Mountaineers see PSU's talent

Sep. 2—The ball soared through the humid Louisiana air, a junior cornerback named Blace Brown leaped in the air to intercept it, and one of the loudest stadiums in college football went silent.

Funny how a moment like that can mean so much to one college football program, and be such a forgettable one for another. But on that night six Septembers ago, Brown and his teammates at Troy upset No. 18 LSU, 24-21, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, putting the Trojans and second-year head coach Neal Brown on the sport's map.

Point is, Brown has shocked the world before.

Just don't ask him if that means anything as he tries to do it again Saturday.

Now starting his fifth season as the head coach at West Virginia, Brown will lead the Mountaineers into Beaver Stadium to face

No. 7 Penn State at 7:30 p.m. When he does, the Mountaineers will be a heavy underdog — as many as three touchdowns according to some books this week — and as the program picked by Big 12 media to finish dead last in their conference.

Looking to get back on the map again.

"I don't know; I feel like I've aged double since then," Brown laughed when asked if anything he experienced in that upset of LSU could apply to the 2023 opener. "We had a team that won 10 games the year before, and our guys really had a chip on their shoulder. I think any team is different. But any time you're a double-digit underdog and you go into enemy territory, against a highly ranked opponent, there has got to be some things that go your way. But, you've also got to have a good football team. My belief is, we've got a good football team, but we've got to go prove it."

The game plan seems fairly straight-forward for a West Virginia team with an obvious offensive strength.

Led by center Zach Frazier, the Mountaineers' offensive line returns all five starters from 2022. In terms of career games played, it's the second-most experienced front five in the nation.

They also return players who gained 75 percent of the yards in a rushing attack that ranked seventh in the Big 12, and Penn State coach James Franklin expects West Virginia's starting quarterback also will be a strong runner, junior Garrett Greene.

Keeping the ball away from a Penn State offense that features its own potentially strong offensive line and playmakers Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen in the backfield would be a good way to start on the road toward a victory. So would putting a close game on the shoulders of a rookie starting quarterback, presumably sophomore standout Drew Allar.

But Brown said that's going to be easier said than done against a Penn State defense he believes possesses at least nine NFL Draft picks on its first- and second-teams.

"They're talented everywhere," Brown said.

That's especially true off the edge, where whoever West Virginia's starting quarterback is will have to contend with the pass rush brought by senior Chop Robinson, junior Adisa Isaac and sophomore Dani Dennis-Sutton. But if there is a question mark on that defense, it's in the middle, where the Nittany Lions lost starting defensive tackle and longtime run-stuffing captain P.J. Mustipher to graduation.

"I think we're in a good position there," Franklin insisted. "We've got five to six guys that we feel like can all rotate and play to stay fresh."

Brown would like to make him prove that.

He also has put together that plan in the past that has helped his team get there. It involves eliminating as many mistakes as possible, making enough big plays on offense to keep your own confidence high and instill some doubt in the opponent.

And, of course, never losing patience.

"We're not going to go and make all the plays against Penn State; They're too talented," Brown said. "But we've got to make our fair share. Your goal is you want to continue to be in there, hang in it and put yourself in a position to win in the fourth quarter. Those opportunities that we've had that have gone the way that we want them to go, that's that's been the way they played out."

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