The Summer Football Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Justin K. Aller

We take a look at Texas Tech's 6th opponent of the year in the West Virginia Mountaineers as Dana Holgorsen looks to rebound after a 4-8 season in 2013.

Quick Hits:

Opponent: West Virginia Mountaineers
Last Year's Record: 4-8
Coach: Dana Holgorsen
Game 6: October 18th

Five Things:

1. Don't Underestimate Holgo. I think there are some folks who are dismissing West Virginia a little too quickly. I think last year's misstep was somewhat predictable as they lost a ton on offense and defense. Highly rated and very productive players graduated (or went to the NFL) and then there were injuries. Lots and lots of injuries. It starts at the quarterback spot, where there are a handful of candidates to do something other than what happened last year. Paul Millard, Clint Trickett, Skyler Howard and William Crest are all candidates for the spot. Other than last year, Holgorsen has had tremendous success with his quarterbacks year-in-year-out so it's easier to consider that last year was an aberration rather than the norm. It would be like assuming that the quarterback ceiling for Kingsbury is Davis Webb's freshman year and that's not accurate at all. Personally, I'm not a fan of Trickett and prefer Millard over him, even last year, I wasn't sure why Holgorsen stuck with Trickett, but there were times where I wondered why Kingsbury stuck with Baker Mayfield as long as he did at times.

2. Surprise Recruiting. The most surprising thing about West Virginia is how well they did on the recruiting trail, both last year and this year. They ranked #37 according for 24/7 Sports, while Texas Tech ranked 41st. Holgorsen is recruiting Florida really hard, much like what WVU did a few years ago. It's the idea that there are so many great and good players there that WVU will take any over-flow. It's not a bad way to do it and I think it will help turn around WVU sooner rather than later, especially if they keep up the recruiting. Currently, West Virginia has the 16th best recruiting class according to 24/7 Sports.

3. Defense was Wheels-Off. The defense was completely wheels-off last year and I think the lack of leadership from the top-down was maybe the most frustrating thing to Holgorsen. I seen Holgo and Kingsbury being from the same school of thought, "Let me handle the offense and the defensive coordinator will have complete autonomy on that side of the ball." Other than making a timeout call or something really odd, they want to leave the defense to the coordinators so they can do what they do best. Tony Gipson is the defensive coordinator now as he replaces Keith Patterson. Holgo then hired Tom Bradley from Penn St. as associate head coach and defensive line coach. He was at Penn St. a long time and he was quite good there and highly regarded. If I can speak to anything, it's the idea that some consistency on the defensive coaching staff is a really good thing and maybe they have that with Gipson, but Holgo has to stick with some of these coaches for a few years.

4. Sophomores Are Now Juniors. Some of the best freshman two years ago still were putting things together a bit as sophomores and now those players are juniors. Linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Isaiah Bruce should theoretically make a leap in production and simply making that horrid defense a bit better. Plus, Karl Joseph at safety will be a junior and he's seen it all for the past two years. That sort of experience will help tremendously.

5. Skill Players. The running back spot is incredibly deep, with Dustin Garrison, Andrew Bue and Dreamius Smith. They are all terrific runners, the question is if and how the offensive line will be better than they were last year. I'm still trying to figure that out. Oh, and don't forget about Rushel Shell, the Pittsburgh transfer that was pretty good for the Panthers. The receivers are set with Mario Alford, Daikiel Shorts and Kevin White. There's some numbers that just aren't there that you normally see at receiver, but with a shaky quarterback, there doesn't appear to be a dominant receiver. There's numbers there, just not the sort of outstanding production that we're used to seeing.

Q&A with The Smoking Musket:

Much thanks to WVUIE97 for taking the time to answer some questions.

1. What are your expectations for 2014?

In a word: Improvement. With the brutal schedule, that may not necessarily translate directly to more wins. I say that because the Big 12 is so good and so deep, even a much better team than last season may not come away with the wins that are easy to point to as that improvement. Using our basketball team as an example, the record wasn't much better than the previous edition but you could just see that it was a much better team. With more guys who have been in the system another year (on both sides of the ball), there should be improvement across the board, barring another injury decimated season like last year. I expect more close games with the teams that are better than us and a much improved offensive showing compared to last year's unevenness.

2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the West Virginia?

Strengths: We have as deep and as talented a backfield that I've ever seen on the team at one point. There are 5 guys (Rushel Shell (Pitt transfer), Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison & Andrew Buie) who the coaches believe all could carry the load as a starter, two of which (Garrison & Buie) had led the team in rushing in years past and are probably the least likely to win the starting job. There's the possibility of seeing a couple of these guys line up at insider receiver on occasion to keep them all involved in the offense.

Weaknesses: Offensive tackle scares me on both sides of the center. It's not that I don't think they have the ability, it's the experience factor. If they can be serviceable and keep the opposing defensive lines out of the backfield, we'll get back to the offense we WVU fans are used to seeing. If they can't...I expect more offensive struggles this year.

3. Who are two of the best players to watch on offense and defense for West Virginia?

Offense: Recently named starting QB Clint Trickett. When he was healthy (which wasn't much) played well and the offense seemed to click, despite his relative unfamiliarity with the offense. Now he's fully recovered from shoulder surgery and has a full year working within the system. Holgorsen has always had quarterbacks put up gaudy numbers until last season. It will be interesting to see if the Holgorsen offense of old returns with a healthy Trickett behind center.

Receiver Mario Alford showed glimpses of explosiveness once he moved to the outside and seemed more comfortable. Again, another year in the system should prove beneficial to him (and most of the offense, for that matter; we had almost an entire new set of offensive personnel who hadn't played together until last year).

Defense: First and foremost is Karl Joseph. The kid is an absolute ball hawk and will really pop you once he finds you with the ball. NFL.com just listed him as the hardest collegiate hitter right now. He even knocked one of our own guys out of a game last year with one of his hits.

Cornerback Daryl Worley showed great promise as a true freshman out on the corner. A full season's experience covering the quality receivers in the Big 12 has us eager to see how much he's developed.

BONUS: I think last time we spoke, I asked you what the best thing about West Virginia was and I think you answered that the people of West Virginia are the best. Building on that question, what's the best tradition at WVU? I sorta feel like we don't know a lot about WVU, so I'll do my best to find out more.

There's nothing like the entire stadium sticking around after a win (especially a big one) and singing Country Roads together. Here's one of the best instances:

As he's a Texas Tech guy, I figured you folks would appreciate that a bit more than the rest of the conference.

From the Spring:

Holgo speaks after the spring game. Opening Statement:

Overall just a couple of quick comments. I thought we got done what we needed to get done today; I thought the tempo was good. First team defense played excellent, so I started to take a lot of those guys out and once we started taking those guys out, offensively, we moved the ball a little bit, which as a head coach is what you want to see.

I thought the guys played hard. It's been a successful spring. We got somewhere around 850 snaps that we filmed, and we'll be able to make those cut ups and all summer we'll be able to make some corrections.

On the production of the offense:

He (Mario Alford) probably didn't make as many plays at receiver as I would have liked. We have to get Mario (Alford) the ball quite a bit more. I've been happy with the way the backs and the tight ends, as far as their production, it's not necessarily the stats that make a difference with them, but those guys are tough and playing hard and we're able to do a lot of things with them.

We need to get those guys the ball a little more. I was a little disappointed with that. Once we get settled on a quarterback; that will help. When you're rotating quarterbacks and you're playing a bunch of different people, it's hard to get into a rhythm. So obviously that is going to have to be something that we focus on all summer and as quickly as we can in August to let them develop a relationship with all those guys.

On the production of the team:

I thought it was fun. It was fun watching those guys get hit. They weren't making the progress we wanted, and about six practices ago, we let them get hit and the sense of urgency picked up. It's really been good for our defense to see a lot, I mean how many teams do we face that are going to run their quarterbacks a lot? It's good for our defense to see it and their production picked up. I was pleased with their performances this last six practices.

We'll study the cut ups carefully and see where they're at. We'll monitor their progress and come June and July, we'll have to make a decision.

All of June, less vacation time for coaches-we don't want to be around them so much that when August rolls around, they're sick and tired of us. When August rolls around, we'll have a lot of contact with them. For about four weeks in June we'll be able to have team meetings, split into offense and defense and it will be easier to monitor where they're at and what we'll be doing.

I've been happy with the progress of the defensive line. Those guys are learning to be unselfish and hold their lines. We have so many guys with experience. We have guys on that second level who have played a bunch, but the biggest difference I see-with KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph-those guys are extremely disruptive off the edge. Daryl Worley has been phenomenal this spring.

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