KSU’s 2nd-Easiest Big 12 Game? WVU

July 23, 20140 Comments

By John Kurtz

 

Head coach: Dana Holgerson (21-17, 6-12 Big 12)

2013 record: 4-8 (2-7 Big 12)

Returning starters on offense: 6

Returning starters on defense: 7

 

Putting a Thursday night road matchup in Morgantown as the second-easiest conference game on K-State’s schedule may seem crazy, but West Virginia seems destined to stay in the bottom tier of the conference in 2014. I’ll take my chances in late November against a team that will have already run through road trips to Maryland, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas, plus games with Alabama, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU. Think the Mountaineers may be demoralized by November 20th? K-State’s early-season road trip to Ames seems much more dangerous.

Dana Holgerson’s reputation as an offensive whiz took a major hit last season. The Mountaineers finished seventh in the Big 12 in scoring offense (26.3 PPG), fifth in total offense (410.8 YPG) and eighth in pass efficiency (115.5). They also had 32 turnovers, fifth most in all of FBS. That led to West Virginia becoming the first team in the Big 12 since 2007 to lose to both Iowa State and Kansas in the same season.

Much of the blame for West Virginia’s offensive struggles can be traced back to their quarterback carousel that netted only marginal results. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress combined for 3,148 passing yards, but completed just 54 percent of their passes and threw just as many interceptions (16) as touchdowns. Childress tore his pectoral muscle and didn’t play after week four, while Trickett battled injuries all season and shuffled back-and-forth with Millard. Childress transferred this offseason, and Holgerson already named Trickett, who is fresh off of offseason shoulder surgery, the starter for week one.

The Mountaineers lose a dynamic playmaker in rent-a-star running back Charles Sims, who racked up 1,496 total yards and 14 touchdowns after transferring from Houston. However, they are loaded at running back in 2014 with plenty of candidates waiting to pick up the slack. Pitt transfer Rushel Shell, who rushed for 641 yards in 2012, may be the frontrunner. Dreamius Smith, who played at Butler Community College, may see more time now with recent legal trouble for RB/Slot WR Wendell Smallwood, who seemed poised for a breakout year. Andrew Buie led the Mountaineers in rushing two seasons ago (851 yards) and is back after taking a redshirt season in 2013. A lot will fall on this group of playmakers to produce.

The receiving corps isn’t spectacular, but it is solid with the top three receivers from last season back in Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts. Much like K-State, the Moutaineers tackle situation is a concern on the offensive line. They must replace both bookends and break in a new center. Only 45 career starts return here.

The defense should be better than most would expect, thanks in large part to seven returning starters. They will be breaking in their fourth defensive coordinator in four years. Tony Gibson moves up from safeties coach to replace Keith Patterson, who left for Arizona State. He’ll try to improve a defense that was 99th nationally in scoring defense (33.3 PPG).

Isaiah Bruce’s move from safety to linebacker may make that unit the strongest of the bunch. He’ll join last year’s leading tackler Nick Kwiatkoski (86 tackles) and developing former JUCO transfer Brandon Golson, who can also play defensive end. Nine different linebackers started a game last year and seven of them are back in the fold this year.

Holgerson raved this spring about his secondary, especially because of the improvement of true sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley. Karl Joseph stands out on the back end of the defense as a three-year starter at safety.

The Mountaineers will stick with a base 3-4 defense this year and a big key to that is the versatility of Christian Brown on the line. He can play both nose guard and defensive end. They will have to replace two starters, including 2nd team all-Big 12 selection Will Clarke.

Holgerson said at Big 12 media days earlier this week that he’s more excited this year than he’s ever been to get a season started. It’s a very important year for a coach who is sitting on the hottest seat in the league. He’s just 6-14 since that 5-0 start with Geno Smith in 2012. This team should be improved, but surviving the Big 12 schedule, plus games with Alabama and Maryland in September, will probably be too much to overcome.

 

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