Preview 2017: West Virginia Mountaineers
Previewing and looking ahead at the West Virginia Mountaineers season – and what you need to know.
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What You Need To Know About The West Virginia Offense
It worked just fine. It was explosive, balanced, and effective – right up until it got shut down cold by Miami in the bowl loss.
Despite the loss of QB Skyler Howard and the top two receivers, the passing game should be even stronger with the addition of Florida’s Will Grier – at least that’s the hope. Grier was great for half a season before getting suspended for PED issues, but after a year-and-a-half off, he’s ready. And, as always, the West Virginia receiving corps is going to be fantastic.
Justin Crawford is an explosive back who can carry the attack when Grier doesn’t, working behind a line that should be great again. There might be a few new starters up front, but there’s decent experience and excellent size across the board.
Biggest Key To The West Virginia Offense
Okay, so the line is a wee bit of a concern. It’ll be great with a little bit of time, but last year’s line was as effective and cohesive as any in the country. Colton McKiviitz should stay at right tackle, but that’s about it – everything else is a puzzle being put together.
Kyle Bosch was an All-Big 12 performer at right guard, and now he’ll move to the left side. Massive 319-pound Matt Jones brings more size at center than First Team All-Big 12 star Tyler Orlosky – the new guy has to be terrific.
What You Need To Know About The West Virginia Defense
It’s hard to come up with a big-time defense in the Big 12, but for the most part, the Mountaineers held their own. Go beyond the stats – West Virginia did a decent job against everyone but the elite. There’s going to be a rebuilding job in several areas, but the cupboard isn’t totally bare.
The line did an okay job of generating a pass rush and was solid against the run. Now, all three starters are gone, with just one player back who has any starting experience whatsoever. There’s bulk, there’s bulkier depth, and there’s not a whole lot of concern, but it’s still going to take a little while for this group to rock.
Al-Rasheed Benton is a solid starter in the middle of the linebacking corps, and David Long knows what he’s doing on one side. Replacing Justin Arndt is the one problem – he led the team in tackles – but there’s plenty of experience ready to step in and make the strongside fine.
The safeties are set at all three spots, but the corners aren’t expected to be as strong and the depth is lacking.
Biggest Key To The West Virginia Defense
Can the new corners hold up against the Big 12 bombers? Considering the front six will probably be a work in progress, the secondary will have to hold its own. That could be a problem until the cornerbacks start to shine.
Last year’s corner situation was excellent, led by All-Big 12 star Rasul Douglas, but the secondary had problems against Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, allowing nine touchdown passes in the three losses with just one pick, and giving up nine touchdown passes with 13 interceptions in the ten wins.
West Virginia Will Be Far Better If …
The Mountaineers ever come up with a decent punt return. Tavon Austin averaged 11 yards per try back in 2012 – that was the last time the program did much of anything for the punt return game.
Things were bad from 2013 to 2015, but last season, WVU bottomed out averaging a mere 1.86 yards per attempt. There’s plenty of speed and quickness to play around with, but can anyone finally help out the field position?
Best West Virginia Offensive Player
RB Justin Crawford, Sr. – The 6-0, 202-pound JUCO transfer from Northwest Mississippi CC was having a decent season, cranking out three 100-yard efforts in nine games, but having a few injury issues and living in a rotation with Rushel Shell. And then came the Oklahoma game.
The Mountaineers lost, but the Crawford put on a nationally-televised show, ripping off 331 yards – but no scores – on 23 carries against the Sooners. He added 209 yards against Baylor a few weeks later, but did almost nothing in the bowl.
Now, he’s the No. 1 back without any question. If he can stay healthy, the 1,184 yards and four scores of last year should be blown away.
2. QB Will Grier, Jr.
3. OG Kyle Bosch, Sr.
4. WR Ka’Raun White, Sr.
5. RB Kennedy McCoy, Soph.
Best West Virginia Defensive Player
LB Al-Rasheed Benton, Sr. – The 6-0, 237-pound man on the inside of the linebacking corps is a very smart, very tough quarterback for the front six. While he didn’t do much of anything in the backfield, that wasn’t his job.
He was about tackling, coming up with 80 stops including 14 against Oklahoma and ten against Baylor. While he doesn’t need anything funneled his way, he’ll eat up everything he gets.
2. LB David Long, Soph.
3. S Kyzir White, Sr.
4. S Dravon Askew-Henry, Jr.
5. DE Adam Shuler, Soph.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Will Grier, Jr. – No pressure – just be amazing.
He was fine for Florida, but the way many have tried to make it sound, his six games as the starter made him Tim Tebow, Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel all in one. He was really good, but it’s a small sample size.
Yeah, the Gators went 6-0, and sure, he was brilliant in the clutch in a win over Tennessee and brilliant the following week against Ole Miss, finishing the season with 1,204 yards and ten scores with three picks before getting busted. But now he has to be fantastic for a full season in place of the very good Skyler Howard.
It’s a rebuilding Mountaineer team in many ways. Now it’ll be up to Grier to be the magical force who can overcome all likely early issues.
The West Virginia Season Will Be A Success If …
The team finishes in the Big 12 top four. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are better, and going to Kansas State, Baylor and TCU will be a problem. Throw in the early date against Virginia Tech, and matching next year’s ten-win mark will be tough.
Even so, there’s still enough talent to shoot for a decent year. Last season’s team was No. 3 in the league. Being one spot lower wouldn’t be so awful considering all the concerns.
Key Game To The West Virginia Season
Oct. 7 at TCU – The Oklahoma State and Oklahoma showdowns only really matter if the Mountaineers come up with several big conference wins early on.
The road game at Kansas has to be a given, and then comes the trip to Fort Worth – WVU beat TCU 34-10 last year – as part of a run of three Big 12 away games in the first four conference dates. Win, and with Texas Tech up next at home, the Mountaineers should be off to a hot start.
2016 West Virginia Fun Stats
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 6 yards – West Virginia 1.9 yards
– Average Passing Yards Per Game: Opponents 257.7 – West Virginia 257.2
– Fumbles: Opponents 20 (lost 11) – West Virginia 13 (lost 10)