Morgantown wasn’t a bad place to be back in 2012. In January, West Virginia fans watched as new head coach Dana Holgorsen led the Mountaineers to a 70–33 blowout of ACC Champion Clemson in the Orange Bowl. By July, the University’s athletic department completed the move from the sinking Big East to the newly solidified Big 12. Fans and media picked the ‘Eers to compete with Oklahoma for the conference championship.
Five games into the 2012 season, the Mountaineers were undefeated. Quarterback Geno Smith led the high powered offense to thrilling victories over Baylor and Texas. He threw for almost 2,000 yards, 24 touchdowns and no interceptions. Heisman pundits all but handed him the trophy in early October.
And then, Lubbock.
Since stepping foot inside Jones AT&T Stadium, the Mountaineers have lost 14 of 20 games. After losing six of their last eight in 2012, a rotating cast of quarterbacks and a paper-thin defense steered West Virginia to only four wins last year. A 12 point loss in Lawrence was the lowest of the lowlights, snapping a 27 game Big 12 losing streak for the Jayhawks.
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The upcoming season offers little in the way of hope for the struggling Mountaineers. The offensive unit is still full of questions, but according to our friend David Smith of the Smoking Musket, Clint Trickett looks like the frontrunner at the quarterback position. Trickett closed out 2013 starting seven of the last eight games, including a giant upset of Oklahoma State in Morgantown. Trickett was inconsistent at times and appeared to have trouble grasping the fast-paced air raid concepts of Holgorsen’s offense. With a full season under his belt, Smith believes the senior will pull it together this year, as long as he can stay healthy. If Clint can’t do the trick, a trio of upperclassmen led by senior Paul Millard are waiting in the wings. Four-star signee William Crest might also compete in the summer.
As shown in 2011, Holgorsen’s offense works best with athletic game-breakers at wide-out. Seniors Mario Alford and Kevin White look to line up outside with sophomore Daikiel Shorts in the middle. Junior Jordan Thompson shows as the starter in the Y slot. Smith says we should also keep an eye out for freshmen Shelton Gibson and Ricky Rogers. Both come in with a lot of promise to try to restore this receiving corps to it’s former glory.
Behind the quarterback, the ‘Eers might boast the most depth at any position in the conference. Senior Dreamius Smith returns after averaging 4.8 yards a carry last season. He’ll likely share a bulk of the carries with sophomore Wendall Smallwood. Pitt transfer Russell Shell and 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie join junior Dustin Garrison to round out the spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Donte Thomas-Willams also joins the group in the summer. Holgorsen’s system is known for its creative use of dynamic athletes. It will be interesting to see how many of these talented backs see significant time.
The offensive line should be solid at the guards with seniors Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. Outside of those two, the Mountaineers place their faith in sophomore Adam Pankey and junior Marquis Lucas at tackle and sophomore Tyler Orlosky at center. With only seven combined starts between the three of them, the line is one of the more questionable position groups on the team.
Inexperience is not a question on the defensive side of the ball. Most of the juniors and seniors on the squad saw significant playing time in 2012 as the defense struggled to gain a foothold against powerful Big 12 offenses. With Nick Kwiatkoski leading the linebackers and Karl Joseph patrolling the defensive backfield, the Mountaineers D should improve significantly from 2013. David Smith says not to expect any scheme changes with new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, but new “Senior Associate Head Coach” Tom Bradley might add more organization to a unit that’s been poorly managed for two seasons.
Smith also mentions the name Dravon Henry as a potential contributor on special teams. The four-star recruit is listed as a cornerback on West Virginia’s spring roster, but Smith says he might be the fastest player on the team and “absolutely has the tools to make something happen.”
Without some major surprises, Mountaineer fans shouldn’t expect too much from their squad again this fall. Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all have to travel to Milan Puskar Stadium, but no one on the BOTC staff expects a setback for the ‘Cats, and the other two teams should be fine as well. This is college football and air raid teams are known for their surprises, but more than likely, it will be another tough year in Morgantown.