2015 – The Year Of The Mountaineers?
By: Jeff Vickers (@JVickers78)
After a disappointing finish to the 2014 season, the Mountaineers go into the off season searching to find a way to turn the small improvements from last season into big improvements for 2015. The 2014 saw the return of national respect for the Mountaineers, but the turnovers, and the lack there of, and decline in offensive production caught up to Mountaineers in the 2nd half of the season. There was a short run of being ranked in the top-25, but after it was all said and done the Mountaineers limped home with a 7-6 record.
Now that the dust has settled from an up and down 2014 campaign, let us take a quick glimpse at the 2015 season. First off, WVU returns a senior class that talent wise, might rival any senior class in the history of the University. The current weakness for next year is the schedule, just based off of the Playoff Selection Committee this season, WVU will most likely have to go undefeated in order to make it into the Playoff next season.
Defense – Depending on off-season decisions by players, WVU could have at least 2 Seniors at each level of the defense.
Defensive Line – Kyle Rose and Eric Kinsey
Linebackers – Isiah Bruce, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Shaq Petteway
Cornerbacks – Terrell Chestnut, Keishawn Richardson, and Jaylon Myers
Safeties – KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph
Kyle Rose moved to interior defensive lineman in 2014, while his name might not have been called as much as it could have this season, his importance multiplied this season. In 3 seasons, Rose has accounted for 112 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 fumble recovered. He has already established himself as a leader on the defense, and will be an important part of the defenses progression this spring.The move to the interior defensive line resulted in a 30% decline in total tackles between the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Nick Kwiatkoski has developed into the do it all linebacker that Mountaineer fans have grown accustom to over the last 20 + years. Nick has led the team in tackles the last 2 season, registering 103 this season, and 86 in only 10 games last season. With an average season in 2015, Nick could finish his career at WVU in the top 10 in Unassisted tackles, top 15 in total tackles, and top 25 in tackles for loss.
Karl Joseph is already 13th in career solo tackles at WVU. Joseph has indicated that he wants to be evaluated for the NFL, and it is possible that this off season could be searching for a
replacement for him.
Terrell Chestnut and to-be Junior Darryl Worley will return in 2015 as quite possibly the best combination of corner backs in the Big 12 conference.In their combined careers, Worley and Chestnut 5 interceptions and 18 pass break ups.
KJ Dillon and Dravon Henry have the other 2 safety positions locked down. Dillon has 110 total tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries in his career. Dravon Henry came on strong this season as a freshman, finishing his award winning freshman season with 45 tackles and 2 interceptions.
There is a lot of positives for the defense transitioning into 2015. For starters, there will not be any changes at the defensive coordinator position, departing Athletic Director Oliver Luck locked up Tony Gibson with a lucrative multi-year contract, and Gibson will be able to recruit players that fit into his 3-3-5 stack scheme. With so many experienced returning players, the defensive coaching staff can look to find depth and solidify positions this off season.
Offense – 2014’s offensive production, at times, was solely based off of Quarterback Clint Trickett throwing the ball deep to Kevin White. Both are now gone. Trickett saw an early departure due to career ending concussions, and Kevin White to the NFL draft. Skyler Howard had the opportunity to claim the lead in the quarterback race heading into spring practice, but his lackluster performance leads to an off season questions about who will be the Signal Caller in 2015. Pitt transfer Rushel Shell provided a solid option in the running game, but injuries limited his abilities in the final games of the season, but will perhaps be the biggest offensive weapon for the Mountaineers in 2015. The biggest offseason worry on the offensive unit will be finding replacements for Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski.
Running Backs – Wendell Smallwood – a true multipurpose back, Smallwood enter 2015 with over 1500 offensive yards in 2 seasons at WVU. Rushel Shell had 788 yards rushing and 140 yards receiving in 2014. Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison have combined for over 2,000 rushing yards in their careers at WVU. Perhaps the most interesting thing in the backfield this offseason will be the emergence of Dontae Thomas-Williams, who turned heads in preseason drills in 2014, and force the coaching staff to make a difficult decisions in red shirting him.
Mister Versatile Cody Clay will be returning for his senior season, the West Virginia native made a few brief appearances in the stat column, but spent most of his time opening holes for the running backs and protecting the quarterback.
The receiving corps lost their top 2 receivers, but there are others waiting in the wings to fill their shoes. Jordan Thompson will be the leader of the group next season, the senior -to-be has 861 career receiving yards. Daikiel Shorts and Shelton Gibson will look to provide the speed lost by Mario Alford.
Special Teams – Perhaps the most Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde unit in the country in 2014. The Special teams unit provided excitement and disappointment. Mario Alford will be most missed as a kick returner. The biggest off season challenge for the WVU Special Teams coordinator this spring will be finding someone who can field a punt, and possibly return one for positive yards. Shelton Gibson will likely see playing time in 2015 as a kick returner, and possibly a punt returner.
The kicking unit returns everyone but holder Michael Molinari. Nick O’Toole will bring the Boom ‘Stache back on a farewell tour.
Josh Lambert had a record setting 2014, breaking the record for field goal attempts, and tying the record for made field goals in a season at West Virginia. Lambert will play 2015 as a Red Shirt Junior, and will enter the season 6th all time in Field goal attempts (62), 6th all time in field goals made (47), 9th all time in Point after attempts (81), 8th all time in point after attempts made (80), and 13th all time on the WVU career scoring list with 221 points accounted for.
Time will tell what next season holds. The first thing to happen will be signing day in February, perhaps some we will know about before hand, depending on if there are any early enrollees. Then Spring and Summer Practice, where hopefully there will be productive position battles and leaders come forth. Before you know, September will roll around, and it will back into the fire for the Mountaineers.
And on a sad note, I’d like to give a shout out to the
@FauxHolgorsen twitter account. The account will be retired as we close out 2014. I do have to say it has been fun following and interacting with the “Faux” Coach the last few years. Where ever he is retiring to, I hope it is some place that is nice and doesn’t have a no-pants policy