West Virginia

West Virginia Mountaineers Football Preview 2016

Jan 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Rushel Shell (7) runs with the ball against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half of the 2016 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field. The Mountaineers won 43-42. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 2, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Rushel Shell (7) runs with the ball against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the second half of the 2016 Cactus Bowl at Chase Field. The Mountaineers won 43-42. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports


West Virginia football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Mountaineers, best players and season prediction.


2016 West Virginia Preview: Top 10 Mountaineer Players
2016 West Virginia Preview: The Mountaineers need to be better

What You Need To Know About The West Virginia Offense

Known mostly for the high-octane passing offense under Dana Holgorsen, it was the running game that rolled last season finishing 16th in the nation for an offense that finished 23rd in the country. The ground attack will still work, but it’ll mostly be back to the air now.

Senior Skyler Howard is a solid, veteran quarterback who finished up last season with a flourish, blowing up in the wild bowl game against Arizona State. It might not be quite that crazy on a regular basis, but he’ll get things cranked up thanks to a loaded receiving corps with a potentially devastating starting threesome of Daikiel Shorts, Shelton Gibson, and Ka’Raun White.

The backfield loses leading rusher Wendell Smallwood, but Rushel Shell is a veteran who could be even better if the light goes on each and every week. There’s decent enough depth to keep Shell from wearing down, and again, the passing game will do most of the heavy lifting.

It’ll be easy to keep paving the way with a strong line returning. C Tyler Orlosky leads a veteran group that’ll play around with the lineup this fall – there are options try fitting into the right spots.

Biggest Key To The West Virginia Offense

The backup running back situation has to be solid. If all goes well, Rushel Shell will light up as an All-Big 12 star who balances out a big-time offense that should be able to roll without a problem. But last year, it was the combination of Shell and Smallwood – especially when Smallwood got into a groove – that made the Mountaineers so effective. Kennedy McKoy looked like a terrific new option this spring who should be the next Smallwood, only this time Shell will be the No. 1 option. If McKoy can be good for 15 touches a game, everything will be rolling.

What You Need To Know About The West Virginia Defense

Not that bad considering the world of Big 12 offenses the Mountaineers had to deal with, they came up with a strong defensive season allowing 24 points or fewer in seven games.

The front three is loaded with upperclassmen working around Darrien Howard on the inside and all-star Noble Nwachukwu on one end. There’s good enough potential among the backups to form a good rotation as the season goes on.

Losing leading tackler Nick Kwiatkoski along with Shaq Petteway and Jared Barber from the linebacking corps is a problem, but this was a good enough offseason for the group to keep this from being a huge issue. The veteran backups of last year are ready to step up and shine, with junior Al-Rasheed Benton about to become a standout.

Even with the loss of Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon from a strong secondary – of course Joseph was out with a knee injury early – the Mountaineers should be solid starting with Dravon Askew-Henry at one safety job. This could be the team’s biggest work in progress as it tries to find the right starting five, but there’s no one like Joseph.

Biggest Key To The West Virginia Defense

Is there pass rushing help for Noble Nwachukwu? He’s going to be an All-Big 12 performer coming off an 8.5 sack season, but the next four sackers from last season are gone and almost all are from the linebacking corps. By far, the 29 sacks the team came up with last season were the best in the last few years, and it’s a big deal for a defense that thrived at times on the disruption. With the Mountaineer alignment, the pressure will have to be manufactured from all sides.

West Virginia Will Be Far Better If …

The defense gives up fewer than 30 points. How much of an anomaly was the 43-42 Cactus Bowl win over Arizona State? Over the last 25 games, West Virginia is 3-22 when allowing 30 points or more, going 1-4 last season with that one win over the Sun Devils being the bright spot. The offense will be a little bit better this season and should average well over 30 a game – it averaged 34 a game last year – but the defense should be a bit worse. Either the Mountaineers need to get better in shootouts, or the defense has to come up with a few more stops.

Best West Virginia Offensive Player

RB Rushel Shell, Sr. – It’ll likely be Skyler Howard by the end of the season if the passing game does what it’s supposed to do, but Shell is the one who could carry the offense all by himself at times. The former Pitt transfer has the blend of quickness, size and power to be exactly what the Mountaineers need, and he should be a solid workhorse from the start. As long as he’s doing what he’s expected to, everything else will work.

Best West Virginia Defensive Player

DE Noble Nwachukwu, Sr. – He’s the difference-maker for a front three that needs to generate a decent pass rush. While he might not look the part with the body of a brick of a defensive tackle, but he’s always working and he’s quick enough off the ball to find ways to get into the backfield no matter if he’s keyed on or not. The secondary has to be stronger without some key parts, and the linebacking corps should be fine in time, but if Nwachukwu isn’t doing what he normally does, the D is in trouble.

Key Player To A Successful Season

S Dravon Askew-Henry, Jr. – He stepped up his game when the secondary got banged up throughout last year, and now he’ll have to be the veteran leader. He’s a tall, thin player with range and good toughness for his size. Able to play just about anywhere in the middle of the secondary, he can do whatever the defensive backfield needs. If he gets hurt or isn’t great, though, it’ll be panic time.

The West Virginia Football Season Will Be A Success If …

This is the first ten-win season since 2011. It’s not going to be easy, but if the Mountaineers can beat Missouri and get by BYU, there’s a good chance at getting to a nine-win regular season campaign and then hope to get to ten with a bowl victory. Oklahoma is a home game, and so is TCU, and so is Baylor. Last year was when things were all coming together for the Mountaineers, but this season could be even better, especially if they can beat …

Key Game

Oct. 15 at Texas Tech – Again, almost all the big games are in Morgantown with just four true road games on the season. If the team is any good, it should be able to win at Iowa State and at least generate a split between Oklahoma State and Texas. Forget about beating the Cowboys or Longhorns, though, if WVU isn’t good enough to beat Texas Tech. If everything goes well, and there aren’t any problems in non-conference play, there’s an honest shot of being 5-0 going into the TCU game with a win in Lubbock. The Mountaineers have won the last two meetings.

West Virginia Football Stats From 2015

– Interceptions Thrown: Opponents 23 – West Virginia 15
– First Half Scoring: West Virginia 238 – Opponents 142
– Fourth Down Conversions: West Virginia 9-of-19 (47%) – Opponents 12-of-28 (43%)