Dana Holgorsen and his Mountaineer coaching staff welcomed their team back on Sunday, but today begins the first day of fall camp for the 2015 season. West Virginia has received attention during the off season due to what could be one of the best defenses in the Big 12 Conference.
But now the talk is over.
West Virginia enters the 2015 season with a new quarterback, questions on the offensive line and a receiving group that is untested and lacks game experience.
Even with those questions, most expect Holgorsen and the Mountaineers to find the right offensive balance, but can the same be said for the defense?
Offense in 2015
Gone are the likes of Clint Trickett, Mario Alford, Quinton Spain and Kevin White.
Last season, West Virginia finished in the top 10 nationally in passing yards and was No. 12 in total yards averaging 499-yards per game.
“We have a good running game and some young receivers, but our nucleus is back with the offensive line and some running backs who run the ball and then play good defense.” Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen has been sounding the alarm on taking care of the football, and right now Howard is the leader in the clubhouse.
The running game will be powered by Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, while Donte Thomas-Williams will be looking for playing time.
Shell finished 2014 with 788-yards on the ground, but was often hampered by an ankle injury.
Holgorsen likes to throw the ball around the yard, and that won’t likely change in 2015, but he knows running the football will bring success.
“That’s something I’m not really accustom to, but that’s going to have to be the formula this year.” Holgoren said.
When it comes to the offensive line and wide receivers, much of fall practice will be spent rotating the units to find the right balance and chemistry heading into Game 1 vs Georgia Southern.
Defense in 2015
West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson fired the first shot of the summer when he said he expects this defense to be the best in the country. Not in the Big 12 Conference, but in the country.
“I’m not going to hide behind it,” Gibson said during spring. “If we’re not great on defense, that’s directly on me.”
WVU ranked No. 63 last season against the run, with the bulk of the line returning.
Gibson returns an experienced unit that has played a lot of football, going back to the Big East days.
“We have 14, 15 guys that have been in our program for the last 3,4,5 years,” Holgorsen said.” They’ve helped me make the transition from the Big East to the Big 12. They’ve played in a lot of football games.”
Nick Kwiatkoski returns to lead the linebackers, but he was moved during the spring to make room for Jared Barber at the middle linebacker spot.
Karl Joesph, KJ Dillon, Dravon Henry and Daryl Worley all return to secondary which should be heart of the defense.
“I think we can be really good, as good as anybody in the country.” Gibson said.
Even with all the hype surrounding the defense, the smart play is to take the “wait and see” approach. This is a team and defense that has played ugly football at times over the last few years. Sure, they’ve had some bright spots, but they’ve had problems getting that big stop to win a football game (See TCU twice).
Here are some questions heading into fall practice:
Can the defensive line get a push against larger offensive lines and bigger backs? — See Oklahoma
Who will step up on the other side of Daryl Worley?
Will Kwiatkoski moving to the strong side hurt the defense?
Can the defense force turnovers? — Can the offense protect the ball?
Who will step up at wide receiver? — Can the freshmen make an impact?
Will Skyler Howard protect the football and make good decisions? Is he the guy?
Can the offensive line gel?
Can WVU survive the month of October? (at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, at Baylor, at TCU)
Has Dana Holgorsen grown as a head coach?
West Virginia finished 2014 7-6 and lost to Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl.
With all the returners back on defense, can this team improve? The answer is yes, but as WVU has improved, everyone else around the Big 12 has also improved.
WVU will need a good month of September to set the tone because October is brutal.
Overall, this will be an improved football team.
Final record: Best case – 8-4 Worst case – 5-7