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An in-depth look at the WVU offense (long)

A few weeks ago, I posted a write-up where I discussed the high turnover rate of the WVU coaching staff as well as their use of JUCO personnel. That post is linked below in case someone missed it and wants to read it. Today I want to preview the projected WVU offense we'll face on September 3.


WVU loses 7 of their 11 starters from their 2016 spread offense. Senior running back Rushel Shell was listed as a starter, but in truth played sparingly over the last half of 2016 due to injuries and having better backs behind him. Those 2016 departures include: 3 offensive linemen, 2 wide receivers, 1 running back, and 1 quarterback. Collectively though, WVU returns some very talented players at the skilled positions.

QUARTERBACK: Gone is 2-year starter Skyler Howard and his 291.6 yards per game of total offense. Many WVU fans had a love-hate relationship with Howard, who, despite his small stature, was a “tough-as-nails” competitor who would rather try to run over a defender rather than slide. For the season, Howard was 247-404 (61.1%) passing with 3328 yards (256 ypg). He tossed 26 touchdowns and had 10 interceptions. He also rushed for a net of 463 yards on 142 carries (35.6 ypg) for an average of 3.3 ypc.

The heir-apparent at quarterback is former Florida Gator all-everything Will Grier, from Davidson, North Carolina. Grier brings his 6-1 and 212-pound frame to Morgantown after sitting out the 2016 season after transferring from the University of Florida following the 2015 season. Grier played in 6 games for the Gators in 2015, but was then suspended by the NCAA for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug (Note: Grier was recently cleared by the NCAA and will be available for the 2017 season). In his 6 games at Florida, the Gators were 6-0 with wins over Ole Miss and Tennessee. He completed 106 of 161 pass attempts (65.8%) for 1,204 yards (201 ypg), 10 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. During his short 6-game stint with the Gators, his QB rating was 145.4.

As a high school senior in 2014, Grier was Parade’s All-America Player of the Year. ESPN’s preseason Big 12 unit ranking of Big 12 quarterbacks comes in at No. 6 for WVU, but with the caveat being this ranking could rise significantly with Grier becoming eligible.

RUNNING BACKS: Gone is 2016 starter (actually part-time starter) Rushel Shell and his 514 yards (51.4 ypg); however, WVU will go at least 3 deep at running back in 2017. The starter will be former 2015 JUCO offensive player of the year and rising senior Justin Crawford, who toted the pigskin 163 times in 2016 for 1,184 yards (91.1 ypg). That total included a 331-yard performance against the Oklahoma Sooners in Morgantown. Crawford has a combination of strength, speed, and vision (as evidenced by his 7.3 ypc) that will make him one of the top backs in the Big 12 during 2017, and one of the best backs the Hokies will face next season. Likely backing up Crawford will be rising true sophomores Kennedy McKoy (472 yards and 6.5 ypc) and Martell “House” Pettaway (260 yards and 5.3 ypc). McKoy is more of a speed back, while Pettaway is a big back who can take it between the tackles. ESPN ranks the Mountaineer running backs as the No. 1 unit in the Big 12 coming into 2017. I see that ranking as fully justified, and WVU will likely have the best collection of running backs we'll see all year.

WIDE RECEIVERS: WVU loses leading receiver Daikiel Shorts (63 catches for 894 yards) to graduation, and was stung by the early departure of big-play man Shelton Gibson (43 catches for 951 yards and a ridiculous 22.1 ypc average), but returns a wealth and mix of talented veterans and youngsters. The leader of the returnees will likely be Ka’Raun White (48 catches for 583 yards). Jovon Durante was likely going to be their Z-Receiver (35 catches for 331 yards); however, he and the team were dealt a severe blow recently by his suspension over academics. Possible backups will be Gary Jennings (10 catches for 165 yards) and Marcus Simms (6 catches for 95 yards). Former WR David Sills (7 catches for 131 yards as a true freshman in 2015) left WVU after his freshman season to pursue his dream of playing QB and transferred to a JUCO school. He recently returned to WVU and will be slotted as a WR in their offense. (Sills is probably most famous [or infamous] for originally committing to Lane Kiffin at USC-W as a 13-year old middle schooler in February 2010.). Collectively, WVU may have one of the most talented group of receivers we will see all year. While ESPN ranks this unit as the 9th best in the Big 12, I would bet the farm (to steal a phrase from our own Ricky LaBlue) that ranking will be in the top 25 percent of the conference by years’ end. The recent loss of Durante will hurt, but WVU has always had good receivers. While I'm not familiar with their JUCO's, they do have 16 JUCOs and 4 transfers on their roster now who will be eligible to play against our Hokies. I would imagine at least 1 or 2 of those are receivers.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The 2016 Mountaineer offensive line featured 3 senior starters (LT, LG, and C). Right Guard Kyle Bosch and Right Tackle Colten McKivitz return to a unit which led the way for WVU to rush for nearly 230 yards per game in 2016. While 60% of the offensive line will be replaced, WVU did play several different linemen during 2016 that have game experience, and return a starter from Game 1 in 2016 who was injured and lost for the season. Since WVU will break in 3 new starters along the line in 2017, I do expect them to experiment with interchanging linemen at various positions early in the season. Below are several of the returners who could factor into the rotation (playing time is for the 2016 season):
• Kyle Bosch (Returning starter)
• Colten McKivitz (Returning starter)
• Marcell Lazard (6 starts; 12 games played)
• Rob Dowdy (0 starts; 8 games played)
• Grant Lingafelter (0 starts; 9 games played)
• Yodny Cajuste (1 start)-Injured ACL in 2016 opener and missed rest of season
• Matt Jones (0 starts; 1 game played)

WVU also brought in ESPN top 50 JUCO Kelby Wickline, son of offensive line coach Joe Wickline, as well as fellow JUCO Isaiah Hardy. Wickline was the top-rated recruit in the Mountaineer’s 2017 class. Look also for Tennessee transfer Ray Raulerson to get a serious look at playing time. ESPN ranks this group as the 5th best unit in the Big 12. While they do lose three starters from the end of the year, they do return early 2016 starter Cajuste, and many of their newcomers are physically and mentally more mature (through the JUCO or transfer route) than the true and redshirt freshmen.

Overall Thoughts on the Offense: ESPN ranks the Mountaineer’s overall offense as the 6th best unit in the Big 12 going into the 2017 season. I believe that ranking to be too low, maybe way too low. I fully expect that the 2017 version of the Mountaineer offense will be better than the 2016 version. It may take a few games to get rolling, but I think they’ll be much better at some point during the season than they were last year . Losing nearly 300 yards of offense in Skyler Howard will be difficult to replace, but once Will Grier and his new offensive linemen get settled in and knock off some rust this offense has the potential to be very potent with all of the returning talent at the skilled positions. When that happens though is anybody’s guess. The wide receiver group was expected to be one of the better units in the nation, but the loss of Gibson and his big-play ability will hurt. However, I don’t believe there can be much dispute over WVU’s running back unit to be the class of the conference.

Several publications and pundits have predicted WVU to field a top 20 offense in 2017. I've also read pieces from those close to the program that have mentioned that Head Coach Dana Holgorsen has privately mentioned he thinks this offense has the chance to be very special and one of his best ever. The skill position people will be very good, and how fast the offense reaches their potential may be dependent upon how fast the offensive line can mature and gel.

Next week I'll post my thoughts on the WVU defense.

Link: WVU Coaching Staff and JUCOs

Posted: 08/07/2017 at 09:56AM


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Current Thread:
An in-depth look at the WVU offense (long) -- Nortazhokie 08/07/2017 09:56AM
  Re: An in-depth look at the WVU offense (long) -- Muddywolf 08/07/2017 3:56PM
  Re: An in-depth look at the WVU offense (long) -- Peaceful_Mountaineer 08/07/2017 11:54AM
  Re: An in-depth look at the WVU offense (long) -- Millpoint 08/07/2017 5:54PM

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