West Virginia Mountaineers
8/30 Alabama (in Atl) L 33-23
9/13 at Maryland
9/27 OPEN DATE
10/11 at Texas Tech
10/25 at Oklahoma St
11/8 at Texas
11/15 OPEN DATE
11/20 Kansas State
11/29 at Iowa State
And You Care Because … Alabama broke open a tight game with two Adam Griffith field goals from 27 and 45 yards away, but it was a fight. West Virginia hung around with a Mario Alford kickoff return for a score and three Josh Lambert field goals, but the Tide controlled the clock and the game with the ground attack, keeping the Mountaineer offense out of the end zone after a 19-yard Kevin White touchdown catch early in the second quarter.
What Else? Dogs who chase cars, pro golfers who put for pars, and offenses that settle for field goals against Alabama – name three things that don’t last long. West Virginia was able to move the ball, and it had its share of chances, but there weren’t enough chances taken in key spots to turn around the momentum and take the game. There were opportunities, but WVU didn’t seize them scoring touchdowns on just one of three chances in the end zone.
- For the most part, everything went right for Alabama. The ground game was excellent, Blake Sims was fine, the team held on to the ball for 37:47, and the run defense was outstanding. But the team was a wee bit sluggish and needed too long to put the game away.
- Welcome back, Karl Joseph. The star West Virginia safety had a down 2013, but he was outstanding making 18 tackles with a tackle for loss. For the most part, despite allowing 538 yards, the Mountaineer defense held up.
- It’s not always going to be pretty, but Alabama can always pound away getting 126 yards and two touchdowns from T.J. Yeldon and 113 yards and a score from Derrick Henry. Blake Sims didn’t have to take many big chances and was solid hitting 24-of-33 throws for 250 yards with a pick and running for 42 yards. Amari Cooper made 12 catches for 130 yards.
Game Rating: B
Okay, so what’s missing? Why isn’t West Virginia better and why isn’t the whole Big 12 experience working out as planned?
In theory, this should be the perfect marriage between team and conference, but it's fallen on hard times. Head coach Dana Holgorsen knows how to crank up an offense and get it rolling, and the production was just fine when Geno Smith was bombing away and Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin were catching a bazillion passes, but the attack all of a sudden turned inconsistent midway through 2012 and it never pulled up out of the Too Low, Striker nosedive.
If you're going to hire an offensive-minded coach, it would be nice if the offense actually produced.
Meanwhile, the defense has been a complete and utter disaster under Holgorsen's watch, but that really shouldn’t be a big deal - you don’t need a killer defense to survive in the Big 12, and as Baylor proved last year, if the offense is explosive and dominant, then other issues tend to get overlooked.
Now, to be fair, the program was in a rebuilding mode after losing Smith and almost all of the top receivers, while the defense wasn’t able to pick up the slack. Again, it’s okay if the D isn’t Alabama's, but if you’re going to build a program around an offense, the attack has to be phenomenal.
Even with all the great parts of the puzzle in 2012, the offense sputtered and coughed a bit too much over the second half of the season, and now there might be a question mark about whether or not Holgorsen’s offense really does work against the better teams.
By most standards, cranking out 411 yards per game is okay, but that’s not getting the job done when Baylor yawns and rolls up 619 per outing, Texas Tech is averaging 100 more yards per game, and Oklahoma State and Oklahoma had more pop, too. Fortunately, the 2014 Mountaineers are loaded with experience to go along with some interesting new parts to potentially do all the things offensively it's supposed to.
It all starts with the quarterback situation that was never quite settled last year and isn’t likely to be a sure thing until someone comes out and steps under center against Alabama. The backfield is loaded with good running backs, and there’s upside at receiver, however, showing just how far things slipped, Daikiel Shorts led the receiving corps with 45 catches and 13 Mountaineers combined for 251 catches for 3,145 yards and 16 scores. In 2012, Bailey and Austin combined for 224 catches for 2,914 and 37 touchdowns.
The defense was young in key spots, but safety Karl Joseph and linebacker Isaiah Bruce are burgeoning stars for a group that returns nine of the top 12 tacklers. Now the experience has to lead to production, especially against the run.
So is this it for Holgorsen? Can the program that tasted so much success in 2011 with an epic Orange Bowl win withstand another losing season?
It’s not like there were a bunch of cheap losses last year, and the Texas and Iowa State defeats came in overtime. If those two had gone the other way, West Virginia finishes 6-6, goes to a bowl and the narrative changes. Yeah, there was a win over Oklahoma State, but that was offset by an inexplicable loss to Kansas. There was a great defensive performance in a loss to Oklahoma, but that was followed up a few weeks later with a 37-0 pasting from Maryland.
So what’s missing? Consistency. That, and an offense that blows up everything it its path. With 47 lettermen and almost all the key starters back, it’s time to make some real noise in Year Three of the Big 12 experience.
What to watch for on offense: The running back situation. Most of the spotlight will be squarely on the quarterback situation as the program looks for the next Geno Smith, but the Mountaineers have an abundance of riches in the backfield to play around with. Charles Sims turned out to be the biggest positive in a dismal season earning First Team All-Big 12 honors running for 1,095 yards and 11 scores while catching 45 passes as a do-it-all back who did everything possible to bail out the inefficient passing game. He’s gone, but Pitt star Rushel Shell is joining the fun after transferring over, and Dreamius Smith is a strong, tough back who finished second on the team with 494 yards and five touchdowns. Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie all have experience and could be the No. 1 back on the right day. Don’t be shocked if the Mountaineer offense concentrates more on the ground attack with this group.
What to watch for on defense: The front six has to be far, far stronger against the run, and the secondary can’t make all the big plays. Like every other area of the Mountaineers, there were way too many mistakes and inconsistency was the key word. Baylor’s ground attack ran in lots and lots of open spaces on the way to 468 yards and eight touchdowns, Oklahoma controlled a tight game with 316 rushing yards, and Kansas came up with 315 yards and four touchdowns – the Jayhawks ran for just five touchdowns and just over 1,300 yards against the other FBS teams on the schedule. Big Shaq Rowell was the mainstay in the defensive interior on the nose, and now the rotation of Christian Brown and Darrien Howard will have to get the job done. The linebacking corps has promise with Isaiah Bruce back, but if the front three isn’t holding up better, it won’t matter. By the way, Alabama is first up on the schedule.
The team will be far better if … the offense can convert on third downs and the defense can stop a few. The Mountaineers were dead last in college football in fourth down conversions – getting the job done just 4-of-18 times, and with two of those coming against William & Mary and Georgia State – but the bigger overall problem was on third downs, converting a horrendous 32% of the time and only hitting the 40% mark three times. By comparison, the 2012 offensive juggernaut converted 44% of the time and was only under 40% four times. On the other side of the ball, the defense wasn’t even close in Big 12 play against everyone but the Oklahoma teams, and it allowed Baylor, Texas Tech and Kansas State to each convert over 60% of their third down chances over a three-week stretch.
The schedule: Yeeesh?! Who wants to be the team that faces Alabama team looking to get back on the field after a rough Sugar Bowl performance? West Virginia will be the sacrificial lamb, and after getting a win over Towson, there’s a possible make-or-break game against the Big Ten’s Maryland on the road. Lose that, and there’s a real problem with Oklahoma up to open the Big 12 season.
The Mountaineers get a week off before hosting Kansas as part of a run of three home games in the first four Big 12 dates, and the road games are spread out without two coming in a row. However, they have to go to Oklahoma State and Texas. Baylor has to come to Mountaineer Field, and so does Kansas State after WVU gets a week off. It’s likely the road game at Iowa State to close out the year will matter in the bowl picture.
Best offensive player: Senior OG Quinton Spain. There might be flashier players on the Mountaineer offense – at least that’s the hope – and it’s quite possible that a star emerges at quarterback or any one of a number of good running backs becomes an All-Big 12 star – again, that’s the hope – but Spain is the one who can kickstart the offense, at least for the ground game. Very big and very strong, he likely would’ve been a mid-round draft pick had he left early, and now his stock could go up in a hurry as a team captain and an anchor to work around.
Best defensive player: Junior S Karl Joseph. Linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Isaiah Bruce might turn out to be just as important, and the linemen need to be better, but Joseph, when his game is on, is a true difference-maker. Fine, so he suffered a sophomore slump after a phenomenal freshman season, but he still had a decent year and he was active at coming up with big plays. With good size and great range, he’s a tremendous hitter who’s great in the open field and a good last line of defense against the run. Expect a bounceback.
Key player to a successful season: Anyone who can take over the quarterback spot and make it his. No one’s asking for Geno Smith – at least not right away – but JUCO transfer Skyler Howard has a world of upside, top freshman pickup William Crest will get his chances, and Clint Trickett can be the easy option once he gets healthy after overcoming a shoulder problem. Is Paul Millard going to make a big statement? Millard and Trickett are low-ceiling, no-risk options, and Howard is the one everyone is hoping becomes The Guy with good mobility and more flash and pop to his game. Whatever happens, there can’t be a revolving door at the position again.
The season will be a success if … the Mountaineers win eight games and get back to a bowl. That might be a little bit of a reach for a team that has to start out the season against Oklahoma and needs to go to Maryland. There’s just enough experience to be two games better – there won’t be a home loss to Kansas this time around – and it might take road wins at Texas Tech and Iowa State to get the job done, but if this really is going to be a good Big 12 program, it’s time to turn things back around and be able to ball against the better teams. With Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State coming to Morgantown, the chances will be there to make a statement.
Key game: Sept. 20 vs. Oklahoma. The Mountaineers played one of their better defensive games of the year in a 16-7 loss to the Sooners, and while this year’s OU team is better, a win in the Big 12 opener could do wonders. The alternative is a potentially disastrous start with Alabama and a trip to Maryland to deal with in September, but with winnable games against Kansas and Texas Tech to follow, beating OU could make WVU one of the hot teams everyone would be talking about.
2013 Fun Stats:
- West Virginia 3rd Quarter Scoring: 44 - West Virginia 4th Quarter Scoring 105
- 3rd Down Conversion Percentage: Opponents 85-of-199 (43%) - West Virginia 59-of-185 (32%)
- Penalties: Opponents 86 for 720 yards - West Virginia 63 for 591 yards
- 2014 West Virginia Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players
- V cccc
2014 West Virginia Preview
What You Need To Know
- 2014 West Virginia Preview
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: The Geno Smith era is long gone - the Mountaineers have to find their pop and explosion again after an inconsistent and frustrating year. The attack almost never game up with a big play at the right time, not able to make up for a bad defense that gave up with points and yards to keep up the pace. Can the offense settle on a quarterback for the entire season? That's not a sure thing, even if one does rise up and becomes the main man at the start of the year. Fortunately, the running back situation is fantastic with Pitt transfer Rushel Shell joining a crowded backfield full of talented options. The big key will be a passing game that wasn't nearly as dangerous as it should've been far, far more efficient and effective. The receivers need to be more explosive and the quarterbacks have to be better at moving the chains.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: The defense hasn't shown up since joining the Big 12, and now it'll be up to new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is trying to make the D more physical and tougher after getting beaten up and blown away time and again by anyone who tried to bring a punch. The pass rush was non-existent at times, finishing with just 17 sacks, but that's about to change with a more aggressive attitude and a focus on getting behind the line. The back seven should be better with a nice-looking linebacking corps, more overall depth, and a safety in Karl Joseph with potential and abilty to be among the Big 12's best. If the pass rush is better, the secondary will be, too.
Players You Need To Know
1. S Karl Joseph, Jr.
An absolute killer as a freshman, the 5-10, 194-pounder made 104 tackles with a sack, two picks and three forced fumbles, but he took a step back last year and wasn’t in on as many big plays against the run, coming up with just 68 stops with 12 of those coming against Kansas State. Even so, he’s still an excellent hitter with great range, and it shouldn’t take that much to get back to his All-America level. Wanted by a slew of SEC teams and some of the bigger Big 12 big boys, he was a great get for West Virginia, and he’s about to show why again. With NFL upside, he needs to be the star of the secondary again.
2. OG Quinton Spain, Sr.
At 6-5 and 342 pounds he’s a massive run blocker who’s the one everything works around. With NFL size, he’s build for the interior, and while he’s not a tackle at the next level, he can move just well enough to be decent in pass protection and get out on the move. He’ll start out the season at left guard, where he found a home last year starting eight times, and while he can move out to tackle if needed – he started 13 times at left tackle as a sophomore – he’s far stronger and far better inside.
3. LB Isaiah Bruce, Jr.
The two-year playmaker took a step back last year after coming up with 94 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in a fantastic freshman season, he struggled a bit last year. At 6-2 and 232 pounds, he’s a big hitter with track speed – he’s a former Florida state champion hurdler – and he’s special in the weight room. It took a little while to get things going last year, and he was fine, but he’s too talented and too good to not be one of the team’s leading tacklers again.
4. LB Nick Kwiatkoski, Jr.
Somewhat out of the blue, the 6-2, 230-pound junior stepped up and became a physical presence coming up with 86 tackles with two sacks, and he surprisingly turned good against pass making three picks on the way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. Able to play inside or out, he worked on the weakside, but he’ll get a shot in the middle this year while being able to move back out if needed. With 11 tackles against both Oklahoma and Kansas State, and 14 against Iowa State, he can be the star of the defense at times, and he’s also one of the steadiest defenders to count on.
5. WR Mario Alford, Sr.
After a hot finish, he could be just scratching the surface. Is it time to break out and be a superstar target who takes the offense to another level? He’s not Tavon Austin, but the 5-9, 175-pounder is extremely quick and can be a big-time playmaker when he’s on. In a wildly disappointing year, he did next to nothing most of the way, and then he showed what he’s capable of catching eight passes for 215 yards and a score against Iowa State. The talent is there to go from okay to great, averaging 20.44 yards per catch, but he has to get the ball in his hands more.
6. RB Dreamius Smith, Sr.
Can he stand out in a crowded backfield? The 5-11, 224-pound former JUCO transfer did a nice job in a complementary role behind Charles Sims rushing for 494 yards and four scores, and while he might be at his best in a rotation, he’ll get his shot. He hit the weights and bulked up a bit after leading Butler CC to the NJCAA national title, and while he’s not going to hit the home run on a regular basis, he’ll bring some thump and will move the chains.
7. WR Daikiel Shorts, Soph.
Is the 6-1, 197-pound sophomore the next big thing? He surprised as a key part of the passing game, starting nine times and turning into a surprisingly nice target catching 45 passes for 495 yards with two touchdowns – with both scores coming against Georgia State. Now he has to be more of a regular playmaker on the inside, and if the quarterback play is better, he’ll become a bigger part of the offense with the speed and skill to grow into a No. 1 target.
8. FB Cody Clay, Jr.
Part tight end, part fullback, the 6-4, 256-pound junior earned All-Big 12 honors as a great blocker who can catch a little making nine grabs for 73 yards and a touchdown. Smart and a good leader, he’s used in a variety of ways with good hands and the potential to be used more in the passing game, but he’s at his best when he’s hitting someone.
9. P Nick O’Toole, Jr.
The West Virginia punting game was a miserable nightmare in 2012, but Toole came in from the JUCO ranks and changed things around right away – West Virginia finished seventh in the nation in punting - averaging over 44 yards per kick and putting 22 inside the 20 while forcing 23 fair catches. At 6-3 and 215 pounds, the junior who earned Second Team All-Big 12 honors can blast away and get the team out of jams.
10. RB Rushel Shell, Soph.
Is he in shape? Are all his problems left back at Pitt? If he’s back to his 2012 form, he has the talent and potential to be the best back in the Big 12. At 6-0 and 218 pounds he has good size, great balance, and the ability to be a workhorse to work around. However, he has to be ready to make the most of his abilities after getting suspended at Pitt before making the move to Morgantown. A superstar prospect, if he wants to be special and he’s looking to play in the NFL, the opportunity is there, and he seems ready to be fantastic. At some point this year, watch out – he’ll bust out and don’t be shocked if he takes over the offense.
- 2014 West Virginia Preview