In 2014 the West Virginia Mountaineers opened the season at 2-2 with both losses coming against top five competition. It was apparent West Virginia was much better than their record would indicate, and they built on moral victories with actual victories, and went on a four-game win streak highlighted by a big win over fourth-ranked Baylor.
Junior QB Clint Trickett proved to be a gamer, and no couch was safe in Morgantown. WVU was officially a dark horse to win the conference.
What could have been was not to be though. The Mountaineers went on a three-game losing streak down the stretch in which Clint Trickett was knocked out of the game against Texas with a concussion.
West Virginia pulled out a win against Iowa State to close out conference play, and limped into the postseason at 7-5.
As WVU prepared for their bowl game, Trickett made the shocking decision to hang up his cleats. It was revealed that he had suffered at least five concussions in just 14 months, including two that he had hidden from trainers.
Faced with finding a new starting QB, Head Coach Dana Holgorsen is looking to build on last year’s mid-season success. As the Mountaineers prepare for the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game on April 25, let’s take a look at what 2015 could have in store for WVU.
I spoke with Matt Kirchner (@MKirchner12) from SB Nation’s West Virginia blog, The Smoking Musket, and he was kind enough to give us his thoughts on the upcoming season. He gives some fantastic insight, so be sure to head over TSM for more coverage on West Virginia!
Clint Trickett was one of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks last season, but after retiring from football before his senior year, coach Holgorsen is looking for a new QB. With junior Skyler Howard and redshirt freshman William Crest leading the competition, can you tell us about each QB? What kind of playing styles do they have, and who do you expect to be named the starter come fall?
Both add a mobile element to Holgorsen’s offense, in a different way. I’m really excited for that to become part of our offense, because when you have a zillion receivers all over the field, it becomes harder to devote the defensive personnel to defend a dual-threat quarterback.
Skyler is a little bit in the mold of Johnny Manziel (if there’s a Johnny Manziel mold at all), in that his running is a bit more improvisational, scrambling as opportunities down the field emerge. He played pretty well last year, and gave a bit of a spark to the offense after it stalled a bit when Clint was dealing with injuries. He has some accuracy issues, but hopefully it’s something that can be coached out.
Crest is a bigger guy, and more along the lines of a “traditional” zone read kind of guy. He actually reminds me a ton of former WVU QB, Jarrett Brown, but hopefully doesn’t have the injury and/or accuracy issues of JB. He played a bit this season in a shut-out win over Towson, but got an injury redshirt by sitting out the rest of the way.
I’m going to go out on a limb a bit and say that Crest is going to win the job. He has a ton of potential, and is built a bit bigger to potentially take more hits than the smaller Howard. Four years of William Crest could put WVU in a very, very good position.
Along with finding a new QB, the Mountaineers are looking for answers at wide receiver. With stand out receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford headed to the NFL, coach Holgorsen has a lot of production to make up for in the passing game. Is anyone standing out as the next ball-hawk, or will it be production by committee in 2015?
Guys like Dakiel Shorts and Jordan Thompson are good veteran players, and will probably have very good seasons for us. Neither, however, are game breakers. We’ll be looking to replace the home run production that Kevin White and Mario Alford brought to the table last season.
Shelton Gibson was a top recruit a few years back, and has a ton of talent. He’s had some issues at WVU, but this a put up or shut up season for him. He’s going to get a ton of reps, and will need to be a big play guy for us. I think that we’re going to give some freshmen a big chance to contribute early as well. Someone like Jovon Durante is going to have a big opportunity to become a star in this system very early on.
So yeah, we’re looking at production by committee.
Are there any other position battles you will be paying attention to in the spring game? Who could turn heads this season that we might not have heard of?
Our RBs are a pretty good corps right now. I think you’re going to see Holgo run it a ton, because we have a ton of talent. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood were both very productive last year, with Smallwood being a fantastic receiver out of the backfield.
The guy to watch, however, is redshirt freshman Donte Thomas-Williams. He was a four star recruit out of North Carolina in 2014, and he’s going to get some looks this year, and I see him growing into a star. I don’t think he’ll be beating out Rushel Shell for a ton of carries, but people in the Big 12 are going to know about DTW going into 2016.
The Mountaineer defense has looked sharp so far this spring. Can you tell us about some of the play-makers on that side of the ball, and what style of defense fans will see in the fall?
WVU’s defense finally looks like it has the depth and talent to consistently compete in the Big 12. We had flashes last season, but just not enough depth to bring it on every possession. We’re going to, in my opinion, continue to be a blitz-heavy 3-3-5/3-4 hybrid that’s going to play a ton of man and bring heat. That’s the kind of DC that Tony Gibson became last season.
The secondary is stacked. We’ve done an awesome recruiting job and have a ton of talent. Darryl Worley is a shutdown number one corner, and Dravon Henry was a true freshman last year, started every game, and played beyond his years. He’ll be a special ball-hawking safety for years to come.
Nick Kwiatkoski is everything you want in a linebacker. He’s a leader on the field and an absolute wrecking ball as a tackler. As long as he’s on the field, I trust that our defense is making the right adjustments and everyone, for the most part, will be doing their job.
I know that this is the third year in the row that we’re saying I SWEAR GUYS WVU IS GOING TO HAVE A DEFENSE, but I really think it’s true. We might be living in a world where Dana Holgorsen runs the ball and wins with defense and oh my god…..
The start of conference play looks brutal for WVU this year. The first four Big 12 games are at Oklahoma, home against what should be an improved Oklahoma State team, and then back on the road to face Baylor and TCU. How do you see the Mountaineers fairing during that stretch? Can they pull off a surprise or two? And what’s your overall expectations for the season? What would be a good year, what would be a disaster?
That’s such a brutal stretch. I almost vomited when I saw it. If it means anything, we’ve been better at the beginning of seasons so maybe that helps. But this has to be the season where we don’t collapse down the stretch. We have a non-conference schedule that should leave us at 3-0, and as long as we don’t completely catch on fire during that awful four games, we need to be AT LEAST 7-5 with a bowl win. We can’t regress. That’s really my motto for the season.
If someone can emerge as a threat like Kevin White or Mario Alford, we have a chance to get hot and be a 9-3 team, but realistically, I go back to that 7-5, 8-4 number as a successful year for WVU.
Lastly, Dana Holgorsen is ranked the 17th-most coach on the hot seat for 2015 according to CoachesHotSeat.com. With questions at key roster positions and a tough schedule, is this a make or break season for Holgorsen?
I think that it is. This is his first year without Oliver Luck as his AD, and that means something. Holgo can’t regress or Shane Lyons will likely look to bring in his guy to try to get the program where it needs to be.
I’m one of the most pro-Holgo guys out there in the WVU world, but he cannot regress. Anything less than 7 wins–especially with another late season collapse–probably brings about a new era in Morgantown. I think that Holgo will rise to the occasion and get us where we need to be, but the pressure is very much on for him in year five.