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The big 2014 West Virginia football guide: Can Holgorsen stop the slide?

West Virginia has lost 14 of 20 games and, in terms of advanced stats, has regressed for five of the last six years. Dana Holgorsen has the X-and-O prowess, but will his 2014 Mountaineers have enough pure talent to stop the slide?

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. We'll always have January 4, 2012

Depending on how you want to look at it, West Virginia is on one of two slides, both of them relatively severe.

Slide 1: Since going 15-3 from the beginning of 2011 through the first five games of 2012, the Mountaineers are 6-14.

Slide 2: Since the drama of Dana Holgorsen taking over for Bill Stewart earlier than expected in 2011, WVU has fallen from 17th in the F/+ rankings in 2010, to 19th in 2011, to 47th in 2012, to 76th in 2013. For that matter, the Mountaineers have actually only improved from year-to-year once since 2007 and have regressed five times.

One slide is sudden, the other gradual. But they've both picked up steam, from beating Texas in 2012 and moving to fifth in the polls, to losing by 12 points to Kansas (and giving the Jayhawks their first conference win since 2010) near the end of 2013. Holgorsen, not so long ago one of the hot coaching up-and-comers, has yet to prove that he can recruit at a level high enough to maintain a program. And as we learned last fall, his natural offensive prowess isn't enough to automatically make up the difference. The same person who gave us this...

...also gave us this.

Holgorsen hasn't forgotten how to coach; he has just learned the same lesson that others at smaller schools have learned: tactics don't matter if your personnel isn't very good.

Just based on this game alone, Holgorsen and [offensive coordinator Shannon] Dawson alone were not the problem. The offense, by packaging concepts together and allowing the quarterback to make post-snap reads, allowed for variation in run/pass/screen throughout the game, but none of these concepts were effective behind a porous line and inconsistent quarterback reads. Kansas cheated on short passes and inside runs without fear of being exploited in the deep pass game, but it wasn’t because of a lack of trying.

So, as I seem to be asking in every Big 12 preview ... now what? How does Holgorsen manufacture actual improvement in Morgantown? How does he turn around what has almost been a six-year slide?

For what it's worth, I like some of the moves he's been making. Promoting Keith Patterson to defensive coordinator in 2013 worked out pretty well until injuries and a complete lack of depth led to a late slide. And when Patterson left for Arizona State, I liked what Holgorsen did to replace him; he promoted safeties coach Tony Gibson to coordinator and brought on coaching veteran Tom Bradley -- Joe Paterno's final defensive coordinator -- as defensive line coach and senior associate head coach. And while we don't know about overall depth of recruiting, one has to like the addition of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell and four-star freshman Donte Thomas-Williams at running back, among others.

Holgorsen's fate will be decided by whether he has enough talent, on the field and on his coaching staff. When WVU scored 70 on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, we thought we'd seen the future of football. Instead, we had seen what pace and talent could do against a shaky defense. Without talent, nothing else matters.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 3-9 | Final F/+ Rk: 76
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
31-Aug William & Mary N/A 24-17 W 25.3 - 32.4 L
7-Sep at Oklahoma 20 7-16 L 27.7 - 28.2 L
14-Sep Georgia State 121 41-7 W 31.6 - 14.0 W
21-Sep vs. Maryland 63 0-37 L 13.2 - 21.3 L
28-Sep Oklahoma State 8 30-21 W 21.4 - 17.8 W 1.1
5-Oct at Baylor 7 42-73 L 31.7 - 39.2 L 1.0
19-Oct Texas Tech 43 27-37 L 26.5 - 38.5 L -1.3
26-Oct at Kansas State 24 12-35 L 24.0 - 34.1 L -6.8
2-Nov at TCU 44 30-27 W 30.3 - 33.2 L -5.8
9-Nov Texas 35 40-47 L 25.2 - 24.8 W -6.4
16-Nov at Kansas 101 19-31 L 21.2 - 42.1 L -9.1
30-Nov Iowa State 78 44-52 L 32.7 - 39.1 L -8.0
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -7.2% 92 -0.4% 65 +0.9% 49
Points Per Game 26.3 79 33.3 100
Adj. Points Per Game 25.9 87 30.4 88

2. Defensive tweaks worked ... for a while

Maintaining a football program can be like gathering sand with your hands. You collect some bits and pieces, while others slide through your fingers. The biggest issue for WVU in Holgorsen's first two years was the defense; after ranking fourth in Def. F/+ in 2010, WVU fell to 48th in 2011 and 69th in 2012. He made moves to rectify things in 2013, and while they appeared to be working, the offense disintegrated. And as the offense worked its way back to at least mediocre, the defense fell apart again.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 5 games): WVU 23.8, Opponent 22.7 (plus-1.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): Opponent 38.6, WVU 27.4 (minus-11.2)

Early-season defensive improvement was promising, but in the end there just weren't enough pieces. The defensive line basically had five players, not quite enough for a full two-deep. Only two of the top eight linebackers and three of the top seven defensive backs played in all 12 games. A couple of potential contributors missed the entire season. Eventually the attrition and shuffling were too much to handle, and WVU stopped handling it. And as a result of the season's ebbs and flows, WVU managed to lose conference games by both 16-7 and 52-44 margins.

Last year's injuries could help in the future tense, however. WVU has some work to do at defensive tackle, but the two-deep is otherwise loaded with experience. Now we just have to find out about the actual skill.

That goes for both sides of the ball, actually.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.26 17 IsoPPP+ 111.0 21
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 36.4% 116 Succ. Rt. + 88.0 102
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 33.1 112 Def. FP+ 94.4 111
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 103 Redzone S&P+ 99.5 62
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 30.7 ACTUAL 32 +1.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 63 83 103 62
RUSHING 83 109 120 90
PASSING 34 63 65 37
Standard Downs 75 101 17
Passing Downs 85 97 57
Q1 Rk 102 1st Down Rk 43
Q2 Rk 68 2nd Down Rk 105
Q3 Rk 73 3rd Down Rk 51
Q4 Rk 22

3. "But Holgorsen offenses produce at a top-15 level no matter who is on the field ... right?"

It's easy to assume that in losing them, WVU has no choice but to take a step backwards this coming season. But Holgorsen offenses produce at a top-15 level no matter who is on the field ... right? West Virginia's going to move the ball even despite a new quarterback, an almost entirely new receiving corps, and a sketchy offensive line ... right?

-- 2013 West Virginia football's 10 things to know

Wrong.

In the battle of System vs. Talent, Talent scored a knockout victory in Morgantown last year. Without Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, and Stedman Bailey, Holgorsen and Dawson fielded a young toddler of an offense, and the toddler couldn't walk very well. Two new quarterbacks combined to complete 55 percent of their passes with equal touchdowns and interceptions. The running game worked pretty well against Oklahoma and Iowa State and nobody else. The top three pass targets averaged 6.7 yards per target (in 2012: 9.3). The offensive line, already a bit of a liability in 2012, got worse.

To the extent that inexperience was a problem last year, that should be off the table. WVU returns two quarterbacks who threw at least 167 passes, two running backs who carried at least 100 times in their last seasons (including Rushel Shell's 2012 season at Pitt), four wideouts targeted at least 37 times in 2013, and four offensive linemen with starting experience. The question now comes down to pure talent ... a theme I've rather ungracefully hammered you with so far in this piece.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Clint Trickett 6'2, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 123 233 1605 7 7 52.8% 16 6.4% 6.1
Paul Millard 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 92 167 1119 6 6 55.1% 8 4.6% 6.1
Ford Childress


38 63 421 3 3 60.3% 4 6.0% 5.8
Skyler Howard 6'0, 200 So. 3 stars (5.5)
William Crest 6'2, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

4. Efficiency is a must

Moving away from the "talent!!!" discussion, WVU's problem was one of efficiency in 2013. The big plays were quite large, as evidenced by some of the highlight and per-catch yardage averages below. Charles Sims, Dreamius Smith, and Wendell Smallwood were all rather effective in the open field, and players like Kevin White (14.5 yards per catch), Mario Alford (20.4), and Ronald Carswell (20.7) were home run hitters. WVU ranked 21st in IsoPPP+, an opponent-adjusted look at the magnitude of big plays.

There just weren't enough of the home runs. An Air Raid attack, by nature, is one of efficiency first. Make your reads, catch the snap, throw the ball. In two years under Holgorsen, Geno Smith completed 68 percent of his passes; plus, in 2012, Smith's sack rate was 3.2 and his interception rate was 1.2 percent.

WVU quarterbacks in 2013: 55 percent completion rate, 5.7 percent sack rate, 3.3 percent interception rate. Gross.

Florida State transfer Clint Trickett was viewed as the most talented of last year's three quarterbacks, and Holgorsen recently named him the starter for the beginning of 2014. He's slight in build, and he took more sack than Paul Millard a year ago -- perhaps a sign that he was still getting used to the WVU system's read-and-react components. But he improved after a woeful start in 2013 (first two starts against Oklahoma State and Baylor: 42 percent completion rate, two touchdowns, three picks), and in terms of pure arm strength and upside, he's got it. Holgorsen seems to be banking on things clicking from a mental standpoint in Year 2. And if Trickett struggles then Millard, Skyler Howard, and incoming four-star freshman William Crest will be in a race to see who gets the first crack at replacing him.

If quarterback is a position of steadiness in 2014 (and it really wasn't to any major degree last year), the skill position cast could begin to thrive. Shell wasn't a home run guy at Pitt, but between Shell, Andrew Buie (WVU's leading rusher in 2012; he redshirted last year), Smith, Smallwood, Dustin Garrison (who somehow still has eligibility), and Donte Thomas-Williams, WVU will have one of the Big 12's deepest, most diverse sets of running backs. Buie caught 28 of 33 passes in 2012, which means the running back position should once again contribute via ground and air. And if a pair of redshirt freshman receivers -- four-star Shelton Gibson and run-and-pass threat Jacky Marcellus -- can contribute, the receiving corps might have enough exciting pieces to move the ball.

But the No. 1 receiver simply cannot have a 43 percent catch rate (as Kevin White did last year) in this, or any other system.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Charles Sims RB 208 1095 11 5.3 6.5 34.6%
Andrew Buie (2012) RB 5'9, 192 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 181 850 7 4.7 4.6 N/A
Dreamius Smith RB 5'11, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 103 494 5 4.8 8.6 30.1%
Wendell Smallwood RB 5'11, 200 So. 3 stars (5.7) 39 221 1 5.7 5.3 41.0%
Clint Trickett QB 6'2, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 20 62 1 3.1 2.3 50.0%
Mario Alford WR-X 5'8, 178 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 5 47 0 9.4 10.4 60.0%
Paul Millard QB 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 5 0 0 0.0 N/A 0.0%
Dustin Garrison RB 5'8, 185 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 4 19 0 4.8 6.5 25.0%
Vernon Davis WR 5'10, 172 So. 3 stars (5.6) 4 35 0 8.8 4.7 75.0%
Rushel Shell (Pitt 2012) RB 6'0, 218 So. 4 stars (6.0) 141 641 4 4.5 4.4 N/A
Donte Thomas-Williams RB 6'0, 221 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Kevin White WR-Z 6'3, 209 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 81 35 507 43.2% 18.5% 50.0% 6.3 -22 6.6 62.8
Daikiel Shorts IR-H 6'1, 196 So. 3 stars (5.5) 72 45 495 62.5% 16.4% 52.2% 6.9 -58 6.0 61.3
Charles Sims RB 55 45 401 81.8% 12.5% 54.0% 7.3 -85 7.2 49.7
Mario Alford WR-X 5'8, 178 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 51 27 552 52.9% 11.6% 46.8% 10.8 189 11.6 68.4
Ronald Carswell WR-X 42 20 413 47.6% 9.6% 52.9% 9.8 128 10.7 51.2
Jordan Thompson IR-Y 5'8, 168 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 37 22 175 59.5% 8.4% 57.1% 4.7 -103 4.5 21.7
Ivan McCartney WR-X 24 12 160 50.0% 5.5% 56.5% 6.7 -6 6.9 19.8
Cody Clay IR-H 6'4, 251 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 19 9 73 47.4% 4.3% 23.5% 3.8 -56 4.9 9.0
KJ Myers WR-Z 6'2, 196 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 18 11 111 61.1% 4.1% 46.2% 6.2 -26 6.5 13.8
Wendell Smallwood RB 5'11, 200 So. 3 stars (5.7) 15 11 132 73.3% 3.4% 53.3% 8.8 7 8.6 16.4
Vernon Davis IR-Y 5'10, 172 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 5 33 41.7% 2.7% 50.0% 2.8 -44 3.4 4.1
Devonte Mathis WR-X 6'1, 212 So. 3 stars (5.7) 9 7 82 77.8% 2.1% 100.0% 9.1 5 5.8 10.2
Dreamius Smith RB 5'11, 216 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 4 2 11 50.0% 0.9% 100.0% 2.8 -17 2.0 1.4
Shelton Gibson WR 6'1, 188 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9)
Jacky Marcellus WR 5'8, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Ricky Rogers WR-Z 6'1, 197 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Lamar Parker WR 5'9, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 86.9 2.39 3.28 34.9% 63.3% 22.1% 104.0 3.6% 6.8%
Rank 113 121 61 107 94 108 63 37 66
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Pat Eger C 28
Quinton Spain LG 6'5, 332 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 26
Curtis Feigt RT 18
Mark Glowinski RG 6'5, 310 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12
Nick Kindler LT 9
Marquis Lucas RT 6'4, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 4
Tyler Orlosky C 6'4, 303 So. 3 stars (5.7) 3
Michael Calicchio LT 6'9, 319 Sr. NR 0
Russell Haughton-James LG 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Stone Underwood RG 6'4, 293 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Adam Pankey LT 6'6, 304 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Tony Matteo C 6'5, 301 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0
Marcell Lazard RT 6'6, 314 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Tyler Tezeno LG 6'3, 319 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Grant Lingafelter LT 6'5, 298 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Justin Scott OL 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)
Sylvester Townes OL 6'6, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.5)

5. Dire up front

Here's what I said about the line in last year's preview:

WVU's offensive line was terribly hit-or-miss in 2012, opening up holes for Buie, Austin, etc., but also allowing defenders into the backfield with frequency. And while the line's sack rates were pretty good, well, they better be good when you're throwing one-third of your passes behind the line of scrimmage.

And now it must replace three starters who combined for 126 career starts. There is some experience here, but the depth is questionable at best. And the last thing you need when you've got a green passing game is a line with holes.

It went about as poorly as feared. Combined with inexperience at quarterback and inconsistency at the skill positions, the line neither kept defenders out of the backfield nor opened up consistent holes for the runners. Improvement elsewhere will help the line, and the combination of strong interior line play (guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski have combined for 38 career starts) and Rushel Shell could make for better between-the-tackles rushing. But there's almost nowhere to go but up here.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.26 110 IsoPPP+ 91.6 105
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.7% 45 Succ. Rt. + 98.0 62
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 28.9 93 Off. FP+ 97.5 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.4 80 Redzone S&P+ 96.7 71
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 24.7 ACTUAL 28.0 +3.3
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 102 86 62 97
RUSHING 91 62 31 104
PASSING 108 102 105 83
Standard Downs 58 48 92
Passing Downs 110 98 99
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 75
Q2 Rk 81 2nd Down Rk 74
Q3 Rk 68 3rd Down Rk 111
Q4 Rk 108

6. Wanted: depth

The defense really was getting somewhere in 2013. It didn't get there, mind you, but with the combination of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley pulling the strings, we could see more sustainable improvement in 2014. At least, we will if injuries don't wreck the show again. That means either WVU is the recipient of better injuries luck, or the injury fill-ins fare a lot better.

The 2013 turnaround attempt got off to a bad start with the loss of both linebacker Shaq Petteway (knee) and cornerback Nana Kyeremeh (shoulder) to season-ending August injuries. Both were expected to start, and when other players went down, WVU had to dip pretty far into its reserves.

In 2014, however, Petteway and Kyeremeh return, as do seven of the eight non-line starters. The back eight is loaded with juniors and seniors, as is the defensive end position. There are far fewer depth concerns overall, though nose tackle could be a bit scary.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 106.7 2.43 3.60 35.8% 60.0% 23.0% 72.4 3.4% 3.6%
Rank 40 10 96 31 24 17 105 96 118
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Will Clarke NT 12 43.0 5.7% 17.0 6.0 0 3 1 0
Kyle Rose DE 6'4, 298 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 39.0 5.1% 8.5 1.0 0 1 0 0
Shaq Rowell NT 12 34.5 4.6% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dontrill Hyman DE 6'4, 285 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 12 13.0 1.7% 3.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Eric Kinsey DE 6'2, 267 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 10 11.5 1.5% 3.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Darrien Howard NT 6'2, 290 So. 4 stars (5.8) 4 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Noble Nwachukwu DE 6'2, 275 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 4.5 0.6% 1.0 1.0 0 0 1 0
Trevor Demko DE 8 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Christian Brown NT 6'3, 290 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Davonte James DE 6'0, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)







7. Wanted: pass rush

At 6'7, 273 pounds, Will Clarke made for an oddly sized nose tackle. But the man made plays. He led the Mountaineers in both sacks (6.0) and non-sack tackles for loss (11.0), and with help from end Kyle Rose and linebacker Brandon Golson, he helped to provide an active, disruptive overall presence. Over the first half of the season, this resulted in high-caliber play for the WVU defense overall. But now he and nose Shaq Rowell are both gone.

Rose and Golson are back, as are 10 other WVU defenders who logged at least three tackles for loss last year. But without Clarke, the Mountaineers are missing the heart of a pass rush that needed Clarke desperately a year ago. Even with Clarke, WVU ranked 105th in Adj. Sack Rate. His absence could be huge. The WVU secondary needed more help from the pass rush than it got last year and gave up far too many big plays. Depth is great, but the Mountaineers will still need to replace Clarke's play-making ability.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nick Kwiatkoski MIKE 6'2, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 70.0 9.2% 6.5 2.0 3 0 2 0
Jared Barber MIKE 6'0, 232 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 10 57.0 7.5% 5.0 0.0 0 2 1 0
Brandon Golson WILL 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 36.0 4.7% 7.0 4.0 0 2 5 0
Isaiah Bruce SAM 6'2, 232 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 11 34.5 4.6% 5.0 0.0 0 0 3 1
Shaq Petteway (2012) WILL 6'0, 226 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 34.0 4.3% 4.5 1.5 0 3 0 0
Doug Rigg SAM 8 31.5 4.2% 2.5 1.0 0 3 0 0
K.J. Dillon SPUR 6'1, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 9 25.5 3.4% 3.0 0.0 0 6 0 0
Tyler Anderson WILL 12 13.5 1.8% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Marvin Gross SPUR 6'4, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 11.5 1.5% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Wes Tonkery SAM 6'1, 218 Sr. 2 stars (5.0) 5 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Arndt WILL 5'11, 215 So. NR 9 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jewone Snow MIKE 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 9 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sean Walters WILL 6'2, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 12 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Al-Rasheed Benton MIKE 6'0, 238 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Isaac McDonald SAM 6'6, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Hodari Christian WILL 6'0, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Edward Muldrow SAM 6'3, 206 Jr. 3 stars (5.6)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Darwin Cook BS 11 64.5 8.5% 4 1 4 3 0 0
Karl Joseph FS 5'10, 196 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 61.5 8.1% 3 0 1 4 1 1
Travis Bell CB 6'1, 188 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 41.5 5.5% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Daryl Worley CB 6'1, 198 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11 40.5 5.3% 3 0 1 5 0 0
Ishmael Banks CB 6'0, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 12 30.0 4.0% 0 0 2 1 0 0
Jeremy Tyler FS 5'11, 205 So. 3 stars (5.7) 8 14.5 1.9% 3 0 0 1 1 0
Nana Kyeremeh (2012) CB 5'11, 188 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 13.5 1.7% 0 0 0 2 0 1
Terrell Chestnut CB 5'10, 188 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 10 8.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Jarrod Harper S 6'0, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 12 8.0 1.1% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Ricky Rumph CB 5'11, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 9 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
William Marable S 9 4.5 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Napoleon CB 5'10, 185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 10 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Avery Williams CB 6 2.5 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Malik Greaves S 6'2, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Jaylon Myers CB 6'2, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.7)
Keishawn Richardson CB 5'9, 166 Jr. 2 stars (5.3)
Dravon Henry CB 5'11, 185 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Daejuan Funderburk S 6'1, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.7)

8. Wanted: big-play prevention

A poor pass rush can drag down any secondary, but WVU's was still quite poor in 2013. Opponents completed 61 percent of their passes in 2013 -- neither great nor terrible -- but when WVU got gashed, it got gashed. The Mountaineers allowed 29 passes of 29+ yards, 122nd in the country (ahead of only Cal, Fresno State, and Troy).

And that was WITH both Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph at safety. Cook's gone now, and while his is the only absence, the secondary still bears the burden of proof. Joseph has made 10 tackles for loss, three picks, and 10 break-ups in two years in Morgantown; he could be a legitimate play-maker. But he'll need help from his corners. Kyeremeh's return, along with the fact that returning starter Daryl Worley is no longer a freshman, can't hurt.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Nick O'Toole 6'3, 220 Jr. 73 44.1 5 23 22 61.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Michael Molinari 6'2, 210 Sr. 53 63.2 14 1 26.4%
Nick O'Toole 6'3, 220 Jr. 6 59.8 3 0 50.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Josh Lambert 5'11, 212 So. 35-36 11-12 91.7% 6-11 54.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Wendell Smallwood KR 5'11, 200 So. 30 18.0 0
Mario Alford KR 5'8, 178 Sr. 11 20.8 0
Jordan Thompson PR 5'8, 168 Jr. 10 1.8 0
Ronald Carswell PR 6 7.5 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 49
Field Goal Efficiency 36
Punt Return Efficiency 110
Kick Return Efficiency 93
Punt Efficiency 13
Kickoff Efficiency 22
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 68

9. WVU attempted 23 field goals

Need a clear sign that Holgorsen lost his mojo? WVU attempted 23 field goals last year; only 25 teams attempted more. Holgorsen made a name for himself with his ruthless, Red Bull-powered scheme, one that mixed pace with the ability to use every inch of the field.

Jet sweeps, touch passes, deep balls ... the Holgorsen offense was able to do just about everything. In 2013, the Holgorsen offense had to settle for 23 field goals.

Josh Lambert did make most of those field goals, at least the ones under 40 yards. Plus, Nick O'Toole (punting) and Michael Molinari (kickoffs) were lovely field position weapons. Special teams was a relative strength overall, but the loss of Tavon Austin was further felt in the return game, which produced next to nothing.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug vs. Alabama 2
6-Sep Towson NR
13-Sep at Maryland 51
20-Sep Oklahoma 17
4-Oct Kansas 104
11-Oct at Texas Tech 46
18-Oct Baylor 14
25-Oct at Oklahoma State 18
1-Nov TCU 31
8-Nov at Texas 38
20-Nov Kansas State 41
29-Nov at Iowa State 80
Five-Year F/+ Rk 8.4% (35)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 29
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -4 / -6.1
TO Luck/Game +0.9
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (7, 7)

10. Not the schedule for a turnaround

In theory, you can talk yourself into WVU improving a decent amount in 2014.

Since, again, the Mountaineers have only actually improved once since 2007, that's a good thing. Not as good: the schedule might not be conducive to much improvement in the win column.

An improved WVU team could finish 1-2 in non-conference play with a neutral-field battle against Alabama and a road trip against a healthy Maryland squad; then conference play begins with a visit from Oklahoma. And by the end of October, WVU will have visited Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and welcomed Baylor to Morgantown. If WVU improves from 76th in the F/+ rankings to 50th, the Mountaineers could still be 2-6 heading into November. And by that point, the Holgorsen-on-the-hot-seat buzz will have very much taken over the narrative.

Oliver Luck is regarded as a strong athletic director, but his Holgorsen gambit -- hiring Holgorsen as Bill Stewart's coach-in-waiting, then promoting him earlier than expected when Stewart rebelled (more or less) and resigned -- hasn't produced the results it was supposed to produce. I think Holgorsen is making the right moves in attempting a turnaround, but he probably won't make any serious headway in that regard until 2015; we'll see if it's too late by then.

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