West Virginia's passing numbers plummet

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- To chart it in a line graph would yield a noticeable, precipitous decline.

But, how much is to be learned from the passing numbers of West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown at the beginning of this season, in direct comparison to the numbers -- which have fallen off considerably -- in the most recent games?

West Virginia coach Bill Stewart goes back and forth searching for an answer.

But this much can't be argued: In the first three games of the year (wins against Liberty and East Carolina, and a loss against Auburn) Brown threw for 798 yards.

In the six games since -- five wins and a loss -- Brown has totaled just 65 more yards passing than those first three. He has 1,661 yards for the season.

There is one wild card in the equation. In the sixth game, a win against Marshall, Brown was knocked out of the contest with a concussion in the first series after throwing for 19 yards. Logic would say there was a chance he could have had a big game against the Thundering Herd, but still, the numbers are noticeably down over the past month.

Brown understands as much, and he also understands he had his lowest output of the season in a game in which he took the majority of the snaps when West Virginia beat Louisville, 17-9, Saturday.

In that win, Brown was 9 for 17 for just 94 yards.

"There are growing pains, you are going to go through those hard times," said Brown, a fifth-year senior, but a player spending his first year as a starter. "All you can do is keep going and just keep moving forward."

Moving forward, for this team, involves one of the most critical three-game stretches in the program's recent history. Starting with an away game Friday night, West Virginia plays Cincinnati, is at home against Pitt, then has a season-finale at Rutgers.

If the Mountaineers go 3-0, they win the Big East.

Stewart is aware of the decline in the passing numbers and has his own theory. After mentioning the respect he has for Liberty and East Carolina, he went on to say that opponents such as South Florida and Connecticut, which the Mountaineers played in recent weeks, might just be better football teams than the two programs West Virginia started the season against, leading to an obvious decline.

Stewart also had his quarterback's back.

He knows gaining passing yards isn't only about throwing the football, that someone needs to catch it and those big bodies up front need to block.

"I think it's the Big East schedule and it's too many [dropped passes]," Stewart said. "Other guys are bruised and beat up. Also, other teams have seen more film. That's hurt our passing game.

"It all can't be put on Jarrett because we've had some drops [against Louisville] in crucial situations Also, there are breakdowns along the offensive line when guys are wide open. Did Jarrett miss that crossing route? Yes.

"He also forced one in there. But the receiver could have come flat across the end zone instead of losing a little ground and helped him."

And then there is that big question that has been circulating around the West Virginia fan base the past three games: Has Brown fully recovered from taking that brutal hit to the head against Marshall Oct. 17 that ended his day on the first series. It was a hit that resulted in a concussion and, while he didn't miss any playing time -- aside from the rest of the Marshall game -- a widely held belief among fans is that Brown hasn't been the same since.

Stewart eschewed the notion.

"I think he has played the same since the concussion in the Marshall game," Stewart said.

NOTE -- Brown had a minor right ankle sprain and running back Noel Devine a left ankle sprain against Louisville. Of their status for the Cincinnati game, Stewart said: "They both should be ready. Jarrett should be ready quicker than Noel; I don't know if Noel will play or not. He should if treatments go well."

Colin Dunlap can be reached at cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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