‘The focus is on us this week’: Mountaineers go for first win against Towson

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Much of West Virginia’s focus leading up to Saturday’s 1 p.m. affair with Towson has been centered around how the Mountaineers can begin the process of turning around their season.

WVU has had close calls in both contests to this point, falling twice by a total of 20 points, including last Saturday’s 55-42 home-opening setback to Kansas that leaves the Mountaineers 0-2 for the first time in 43 years.

“We have to sustain what we’ve done well. We’ve ran the ball well and played pretty well offensively through two games,” fourth-year head coach Neal Brown said. “Outside of kickoff return, our special teams have really been a strength so far. We have to fix our issues. We have to tackle better. We have to get lined up with more sense of urgency and do some things better defensively. That’s very clear after Saturday. 

“But it’s about next and next is Towson. That’s the mentality here. We’re not dwelling on it. We’re very aware of where we’re at and it’s about getting it fixed. That’s the work ethic and mindset that we have in here.”

The matchup between the Mountaineers and Tigers will be carried by Big 12 Now on ESPN+ and marks the second all-time meeting between the programs. In Week 2 of 2014, WVU blanked Towson, 54-0.

The Tigers have an abundance of players in their first season with the FCS program and enter 2-0 following a 14-13 overtime win at Bucknell in their opener, which preceded last week’s 29-21 win over Morgan State.

Head coach Rob Ambrose is in his 13th season with that title at Towson, and as a former assistant at Connecticut, Ambrose has familiarity with playing at Mountaineer Field.

“There are things about West Virginia and West Virginia football in particular, how can you not be romantic about football? So much history and a great town,” Ambrose said. “They love their university.”

Ambrose’s challenge Saturday is to find a way for his team to hang with a West Virginia squad desperately seeking a victory.

The Tigers do possess a steady veteran at quarterback in the form of Tyrrell Pigrome, a seventh-year senior who previously played four seasons at Maryland, one at Western Kentucky and most recently at Mississippi before opting to spend his final season at Towson.

“Our conversations are at a different level,” Ambrose said. “He’s been in a multitude of systems.”

Pigrome has hit on 35-of-61 throws for 352 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also has 155 rushing yards, leaving him 11 short of the team lead, which belongs to tailback Devin Matthews, who also has two rushing scores to his credit.

The Tigers will strive to move the ball against a West Virginia defense coming off one of its poorest showings of the Brown era. After building an early 14-0 lead a week ago, WVU allowed the Jayhawks to score touchdowns on four straight series and six of seven before KU prevailed in the extra session.

West Virginia failed to register a sack after recording five in its season-opening 38-31 loss at Pitt. The Mountaineers have also come up with only one turnover through two games.

Sep 10, 2022; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers defensive lineman Mike Lockhart (93) celebrates with linebacker Lee Kpogba (8) during the first quarter against the Kansas Jayhawks at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

“We have to get some takeaways,” Brown said. “We can’t turn the football over. We have to take advantage of opportunities when they arise.”

The unit will be short-handed again today with all-Big 12 Conference preseason cornerback Charles Woods sidelined for a second straight game. Safety Aubrey Burks is questionable.

Both of the Mountaineers’ leading tacklers, linebacker Lee Kpogba (16 tackles) and safety Marcis Floyd (13 tackles) weren’t with the program last season, though a heavy influx of transfers has yet to pay off defensively.

“The focus is on us this week and I mean that with all due respect to Towson,” Brown said. “I respect FCS programs and finished my [playing] career and started my career coaching there. I very well understand the mentality that’s going to be in that locker room when they come in here. This is their opportunity on a national stage to show what they can do, But it’s about us getting better, improving and finding a way to get a win. That’s the entire focus for us.”

West Virginia’s offense has been a bright spot thanks in large part to the play of transfer quarterback JT Daniels and a steady ground game.

Daniels has completed nearly 64 percent of his passes for 569 yards with five touchdowns and a pair of picks, both of which have resulted in defensive touchdowns for the opposition.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton (20 receptions, 249 yards, 4 TDs) has been one of the most productive wideouts in all of college football. 

“He has the most contested catches in college football and if you look where he was two years ago to now, I’m really proud of his development and how he’s gone about working,” Brown said. “I’m going to use the analogy about him to our whole team that if you don’t like the outcome, you better go to work.”

True freshman CJ Donaldson has a team-high 173 rushing yards and three scores on 8.7 yards per carry while running behind an offensive line that’s improved its play from last season to this point.

“When you have adversity, either two things happen — you either come together, learn and grow from it and look back and say, ‘OK, that’s where we really got the thing turned,’ or it splinters. It’s up to us and everybody within the program right now to get better,” Brown said. “There’s plenty of ownership to be taken and I don’t think anybody is going to be harder on themselves than the staff and players that are 0-2.”

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