Sep 8, 2009

Gaining Respect

by Jordan LoSasso

MORGANTOWN, W.Va —If West Virginia did not know Mike Brown coming into the game, they did after his 33-yard one-handed reception along the sideline, with a spin move to break free from the grasps of the defender to gain several more yards.

Mike Brown’s reception led to a fourth and two conversion attempt. After a breakdown in Mountaineer coverage, Brown once again provided a spark with a swing pass that he turned into a 20-yard touchdown reception to tie the game 10-10 with 12:52 to play in the first half. Although the Flames lost the game 33-20, they proved they had the ability to contend with a top Big East foe.

“People think, ‘Oh here comes an FCS (Football Championship Series) school, but Mike Brown can play. You know their quarterback (Tommy Beecher) played for Steve Spurrier, so I tell you, they can play,” Mountaineers Head Coach Bill Stewart said.

The Flames offense and special teams relied heavily on Mike Brown, who finished the game with 11 receptions for 157 yards, 107 kick return yards and 271 all-purpose yards — all three game highs. In the final minutes of the game, Brown also rushed for a touchdown to close the gap to 33-20.

“Brown is a fierce competitor and that has to be the first thing said about him. He is a multi-talented athlete and can play a number of different positions. Whenever we say, ‘Who do we want to do this job?’ the first answer is always Michael Brown. If we said, ‘Who do we want to put at cornerback?’ we would probably say Michael Brown,” Liberty Head Coach Danny Rocco said.

Liberty could have used the help defensively in the first half. On West Virginia’s first drive of the second quarter, Liberty gave up two third down conversions, a third-and-18 being the longer of the two. The drive resulted in a Mountaineer touchdown and a permanent lead after going up 20-10.

“That is always a sick feeling to have a team third and long, almost a sure fire way to get off the field, and they squeeze out one more play. We were giving that quarterback too much time. He was having all day to look around and throw,” Liberty linebacker Wes Cheek said. “That kid (Jarrett Brown) had seven to eight seconds to throw the ball, and it’s hard to cover anybody that long.”

Mountaineer quarterback Jarrett Brown demonstrated on those two plays what the Flames struggled with all day. Liberty was not able to tackle the ball carriers consistently, especially Noel Devine and Jarrett.

“I never imagined we would not be able to get Jarrett Brown to the ground. He is a big athlete. Usually these bigger athletes don’t quite have the mobility that I witnessed. I don’t want to make any comparisons to Pat White (Mountaineer quarterback drafted in the third round in 2009) and embarrass myself, but he did those kinds of things,” Rocco said. “He was in a league of his own, and we couldn’t get him to the ground. Obviously, Noel Devine is a special player. Those two guys played as advertised.”

The Flames defense improved after halftime adjustments, becoming more aggressive and blitzing more. Liberty held the Mountaineers to only 10 points and 140 yards. However, a West Virginia two-play drive in the fourth quarter extinguished the Flames attempts at a comeback.

Jarrett completed a 38-yard pass to Jock Sanders, and Devine scored on a 24-yard rush to increase the advantage to 33-13.

“We played a lot better in the second half with the exception of that two-play drive. We settled down and the jitters were gone. Whenever I think of our defense that’s what I think of, not that first half debacle,” Liberty Captain Chris Rocco said. “That first half defensively was embarrassing.”

Despite being paid $365,000 to essentially lose, the Flames had different expectations. Rocco echoed that sentiment.
“It’s hard to believe that we came in here expecting to win, but every guy in that locker room expected to win that game,” he said.

What was not embarrassing was Liberty’s ability to answer West Virginia offensively in the first half, and Tommy Beecher’s resilience in the pocket. On the Flames’ first drive Liberty needed a third down conversion to match West Virginia’s opening field goal. Beecher ran the ball for 16 yards after the pocket collapsed, which was a reoccurring theme throughout the game. On his slide, a Mountaineer hit Beecher in the head, knocking his helmet off. The 15-yard penalty put Liberty in field goal range, which allowed them to tie the game 3-3.

“Beecher is a tough guy. I haven’t seen a quarterback get hit like that in a long time,” Mike Brown said.

“The most encouraging thing to me was we answered scores,” Coach Rocco said. “That does show character within your program.”

The Beecher-to-Mike Brown connection answered again with the one-handed grab and 20-yard swing pass for a touchdown.

“Beecher’s a competitor. He took shot after shot, and Mike’s a competitor. With these two guys we are going to be tough to beat because they won’t let us lose. We knew that about Mike and Tommy was a little bit new, but these are the types of guys you want leading your football team,” Chris Rocco said.

Contact Jordan LoSasso at jlosasso@liberty.edu.
 


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