MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–For the sixth consecutive season, the Oklahoma Sooners are predicted to win the Big 12 while West Virginia is picked to finish sixth. However, Neal Brown’s Mountaineers are looking to break that trend.
Despite only receiving 180 points, WVU could crack the top half of the standings this season.
In Brown’s second season, the Mountaineers finished sixth in the conference without playing Oklahoma and they went on to win their bowl game.
Now, in the Danville, Kentucky native’s third season, WVU is trying to break out of the bottom of the conference standings.
The Mountaineers’ defense was their strength last season. They ranked first in the Big 12 Conference in three of the five major statistical categories –
scoring (20.5 ppg), total defense (291.4 ypg) and passing (159.6 ypg). The defense was second in pass efficiency (121.5) and fourth in rushing defense
WVU’s pass defense was at the top in the entire nation, not just the conference.
“We have two elite players, without question,” Brown said. “I think Dante Stills has the chance to move up and be one of the top defensive linemen in our league, if not all of college football, He understands what’s at stake now. He’s had a great off-season, a really productive spring.
“And Akheem Mesidor is a guy you are going to be talking about for a long time. He’s really talented, a difference maker. We moved him more into an
interior role and I think he will be able to take advantage of his quickness.”
Heading into fall, the main concern for the Mountaineers is depth. They lost some key contributors on the defensive end and will need younger guys to step up right away.
Offensively, WVU struggled at times last season. However, the Mountaineers are expected to be much improved on that side of the ball.
From a depth perspective, WVU has a lot of contributors offensively.
Running back Leddie Brown returns for another year after a solid junior season, where he averaged 101.0 yards per game. He finished the season with nine touchdowns and 1010 yards.
At the helm of the offense is quarterback Jarrett Doege. In 10 games, the 6-foot-2, 208-pound redshirt senior threw for 2587 yards and 14 touchdowns with four interceptions. He had a competition percentage of 63.9 percent.
During the Big 12 Media Days, Brown tabbed Doege as the team’s most improved offensive player.
If the Mountaineers want to be a legitimate contender, their offense needs to be more consistent and effective than last year.
Last season’s offensive woes don’t fall on Doege alone. His wide receivers dropped numerous catchable passes. This is an issue that WVU is looking to fix.
The Mountaineers are returning nine wide outs who saw game action last season, including Sam James, Reese Smith, Sean Ryan, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Winston Wright and Sam Brown to name a few. While T.J. Simmons and Ali Jennings are significant loses, the addition of Kaden Prather is key.
The returning nine caught 162 passes for 1,898 yards. The potential is there but the group needs to develop more consistency.
In his sophomore season, Wright emerged as a crucial piece of the WVU offense. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound receiver led the Mountaineers with 47 catches for 553 yards. He finished fourth in the Big 12 in receptions per game (4.7).
Ford-Wheaton, James and Ryan were also huge pieces in the offensive scheme for WVU and will play big roles this coming season.
Prather is a highly touted incoming freshman that could see significant action and is expected to play a major role. In the spring game, he had three
receptions for 62 yards.
The offensive line had its share of problems last year especially when it came to taking unnecessary penalties. Losing Michael Brown and Chase Behrndt are big losses. However, the additions of Doug Nester, Wyatt Milum and Tomas Rimac help.
Last year, the Mountaineers run game improved drastically. This year the team will need to continue that trend while improving their run game in late game situations.
Everyone has learned who Leddie Brown is and just what he can do on the field. He will need some help behind him though.
Redshirt freshman Tony Mathis was a highly-recruited prospect out of high school. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound running back has seen action in 10 games, rushing 22 times for 69 yards.
With the departure of Alec Sinkfield, WVU will need someone to step up and help Brown carry the workload.
During high school, Mathis rushed for 1,042 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior.
A’Varius Sparrow is also hoping to see time on the field this year. As a senior, he rushed for 2,135 yards and helped his team make an appearance in the championship.
Behind Doege at the quarterback position is redshirt freshman Garrett Greene. The 5-foot-10, 193-pounder has a lot of promise. He was a standout
dual-threat in high school.
As a senior, Green passed for 1,155 yards and 12 touchdowns along with 865 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Mountaineers have a lot of potential on both sides of the ball. If they can put together four solid quarters, WVU could set Brown up for his best year yet as a head coach in Morgantown.