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Dana Holgorsen needs a big 2016. Can West Virginia do it?

The Mountaineers were three different teams in 2015. Holgo could really, really use four straight months of just the good one. This is Bill C's daily preview series, working its way through every 2016 team. Catch up on the Big 12 so far!

Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Expectations in a foreign land

West Virginia almost got it right last year. The Mountaineers came out on fire, beating opponents solid (Georgia Southern), mediocre (Maryland) and bad (Liberty) by a combined 130-23. They finished with a win over Texas Tech and romps over Texas, Kansas, and Iowa State. They took a 10-point halftime lead at Kansas State in the regular season finale. They beat Arizona State in the Sun Devils' backyard in a bowl.

For two-thirds of the year, WVU played at a breakthrough level, and the year-end S&P+ rating for Dana Holgorsen's squad was high. The Mountaineers finished 24th in S&P+, their highest rating since ranking first in 2007.

(Yeah, WVU ranked first in 2007 and would have had a chance to win a hypothetical Playoff. Sorry to dredge up bad Backyard Brawl memories out of nowhere, WVU fans.)

From 20,000 feet, this was undeniable progress in Holgorsen's fifth year. His team collapsed in 2013, and he was maybe a little bit lucky to be employed by 2014, but he rebounded that year, then rebounded again.

Unfortunately, the season was 13 games long instead of 8.5. After the 3-0 start, WVU got whipped by Oklahoma, then lost safety Karl Joseph, the heart of the defense, to injury.

In his absence, the defense briefly crumbled, allowing 135 points to Oklahoma State, Baylor, and TCU. WVU lost those games by a combined 61 points. WVU went from great to bad in a heartbeat.

The late-season rally took a hit when, clinging to a 23-17 lead in Manhattan, WVU accidentally kicked a ball to KSU's all-world return man Morgan Burns. The Mountaineers then got stuffed on fourth-and-1 near midfield with less than three minutes left and lost, 24-23, despite outgaining the Wildcats by 143 yards.

West Virginia set the bar high and then failed to clear it, first for a month, then for 30 key minutes.

That can be more frustrating for fans and administrators than simply being mediocre would be. Holgorsen and his squad showed what they were clearly capable of, then lost three games by 20-plus points and blew a double-digit lead.

Maybe it isn't surprising, then, that a few days after the loss to Kansas State, it appeared the school was considering firing Holgorsen. That didn't happen, but it revealed he's under pressure.

It also sparked a conversation about expectations. In WVU's 103 top-division seasons, the Mountaineers have, per S&P+ or Est. S&P+, ranked in the 90th percentile or better eight times, in the 80s 13 times, in the 70s 15 times, and in the 60s 16 times. That's the equivalent of ranking in the top 50 or better every other year and in the top 25 once every four years.

But since 1980, WVU has been in the 60th percentile or better 72 percent of the time and in the 80th or better 31 percent. Don Nehlen's run in Morgantown redefined what could be accomplished, and Rich Rodriguez's 33-5 run from 2005-07 raised the bar even higher.

It's an interesting thought. What should WVU sustain in a conference that requires infinite travel, far removed from the recruiting base, with no nearby rivals? The Mountaineers have won either seven or eight games three times in their four years in the Big 12 and were lucky to win even four in the other year. If Holgorsen can put 2013 further in the rearview and establish a rhythm in the eight-win range, is that enough? If it isn't ... shouldn't it be?

While his offense is experienced and explosive, his defense has to replace key pieces. But if the Mountaineers could put another top-30 product on the field while saving some of their good performances for good opponents, that might go a long way toward earning him a seventh season.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 10-3 | Final F/+ Rk: 31 | Final S&P+ Rk: 24
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep Georgia Southern 48 44-0 W 100% 100% +36.0 +24.5
12-Sep Liberty N/A 41-17 W 88% 100% -6.5
26-Sep Maryland 76 45-6 W 96% 100% +19.8 +22.0
3-Oct at Oklahoma 4 24-44 L 20% 0% -18.0 -13.0
10-Oct Oklahoma State 40 26-33 L 58% 49% -23.7 -14.0
17-Oct at Baylor 14 38-62 L 29% 2% -24.7 -3.0
29-Oct at TCU 19 10-40 L 16% 0% -25.6 -16.0
7-Nov Texas Tech 60 31-26 W 52% 52% -9.3 -3.5
14-Nov Texas 68 38-20 W 71% 91% -2.9 +9.5
21-Nov at Kansas 127 49-0 W 97% 100% +19.8 +21.0
28-Nov Iowa State 79 30-6 W 94% 100% +9.6 +10.0
5-Dec at Kansas State 81 23-24 L 77% 96% -14.9 -7.5
2-Jan vs. Arizona State 50 43-42 W 54% 58% -9.6 0.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 34.3 35 22.2 28
Points Per Game 34.0 35 24.6 44

2. A brief stumble wrecked everything

Even with the blown lead at KSU, West Virginia played at about a top-20 level for two-thirds of the season. But October was a truly miserable experience.

  • First 3 games:
    Record: 3-0 | Avg. percentile performance: 95% (~top 6) | Yards per play: WVU 6.8, Opp 4.7 (+2.1)
  • Next 4 games:
    Record: 0-4 | Avg. percentile performance: 31% (~top 90) | Yards per play: Opp 6.7, WVU 4.7 (-2.0)
  • Next 5 games:
    Record: 4-1 | Avg. percentile performance: 78% (~top 30) | Yards per play: WVU 6.0, Opp 4.3 (+1.7)

We can look at this in one of two ways.

1. The combination of getting rocked by OU and losing Joseph led to a funk. It's conceivable. When you suddenly lack for confidence and have to play Baylor and TCU on the road, bad things can happen.

2. Did you notice that the four-game slump happened against the four best teams? It's possible WVU's success was totally dependent on having an athleticism advantage and that, when that advantage didn't exist, the Mountaineers had little to offer.

If you're a WVU fan, you're hoping (1) rings truer than (2). But in such a small-sample season, either or both are possible.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.32 34 IsoPPP+ 106.6 47
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 44.2% 38 Succ. Rt. + 103.2 60
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.1 53 Def. FP+ 27.8 31
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.6 54 Redzone S&P+ 98.4 79
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.8 ACTUAL 22 +2.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 23 49 60 47
RUSHING 16 47 54 46
PASSING 42 53 67 48
Standard Downs 50 71 44
Passing Downs 47 42 54
Q1 Rk 67 1st Down Rk 54
Q2 Rk 29 2nd Down Rk 56
Q3 Rk 38 3rd Down Rk 59
Q4 Rk 109

3. Always be closing

WVU's biggest problems came late, either in drives or games. The Mountaineers ranked 79th in Redzone S&P+, settling too frequently for field goals, and even though Josh Lambert was pretty good (17-for-19 inside of 40 yards, 4-for-9 outside), he was still asked to kick 28 field goals.

My colleague Bud Elliott has a theory that close-game records are by a large portion random, but coaching, quarterback play, and place-kicking can sway games in your favor, just as a good bullpen can allow for a somewhat sustainable close-game record in baseball.

I'm all in on this theory; it makes perfect sense. But even if you have a kicker good enough to lean on, you don't want to have to do it.

Let's put it this way: Last year, 15 FBS teams asked their kickers to attempt at least 28 field goals each. They were 35-39 in one-possession games. There is no negative correlation there, but there isn't a positive one either. WVU was ill-served by stalling out in opposition territory.

To say the least, the Mountaineers were also ill-served by dreadful offense in the final 15 minutes of games. Granted, part of this sample includes blowout wins, but not all of it. In the first 45 minutes, quarterback Skyler Howard produced a completion rate of 58 percent, an interception rate of 3.1 percent, and a passer rating of 150.1. Fourth quarter: 41 percent, 4.9 percent, and 73.5, respectively. Yuck.

WVU's offense produced big plays but wasn't nearly efficient enough to succeed at its tempo. That resulted in quick three-and-outs. And when moving chains was a necessity late in games, or when the field shrunk in scoring opportunities, it resulted in incompletions and throwaways.

Efficiency is the goal in 2016. And without running back Wendell Smallwood or inside receiver Jordan Thompson, it might be difficult to improve.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Skyler Howard 6'0, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8532 221 403 3145 26 14 54.8% 31 7.1% 6.8
William Crest Jr. 6'2, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8837 11 25 124 0 1 44.0% 1 3.8% 4.2
David Sills 6'4, 204 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8711
Chris Chugunov 6'1, 203 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8241
Cody Saunders 6'1, 202 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8479

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Wendell Smallwood RB 238 1519 9 6.4 4.6 51.3% 2 1
Rushel Shell RB 5'10, 220 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9844 161 708 8 4.4 3.5 39.8% 2 1
Skyler Howard QB 6'0, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8532 126 698 6 5.5 5.5 41.3% 5 3
William Crest Jr. QB 6'2, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8837 19 121 1 6.4 4.6 52.6% 0 0
Elijah Wellman TE 6'1, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7933 14 73 1 5.2 3.0 57.1% 1 0
Donte Thomas-Williams RB 14 43 0 3.1 3.2 14.3% 1 0
Jacky Marcellus RB 8 18 0 2.3 1.4 37.5% 0 0
Justin Crawford RB 6'0, 200 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8793
Kennedy McKoy RB 6'0, 201 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8594
Martell Pettaway RB 5'9, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8721







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Shelton Gibson WR 5'11, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9341 80 37 887 46.3% 19.7% 11.1 57.5% 41.2% 2.69
Daikiel Shorts Jr. IR 6'1, 204 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8317 66 44 511 66.7% 16.3% 7.7 72.7% 57.6% 1.31
Jovon Durante WR 6'0, 165 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9293 55 25 395 45.5% 13.5% 7.2 74.5% 43.6% 1.65
Jordan Thompson IR 47 32 509 68.1% 11.6% 10.8 48.9% 59.6% 1.62
Wendell Smallwood RB 34 26 160 76.5% 8.4% 4.7 50.0% 38.2% 0.98
Ka'Raun White WR 6'1, 198 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7883 26 15 275 57.7% 6.4% 10.6 50.0% 46.2% 1.95
David Sills QB/WR 6'4, 204 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8711 26 7 131 26.9% 6.4% 5.0 61.5% 23.1% 2.14
Rushel Shell RB 5'10, 220 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9844 20 16 101 80.0% 4.9% 5.1 60.0% 40.0% 1.22
Gary Jennings WR 6'2, 207 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8389 13 7 116 53.8% 3.2% 8.9 61.5% 46.2% 1.73
Devonte Mathis IR 6'1, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8540 12 6 47 50.0% 3.0% 3.9 66.7% 33.3% 1.03
William Crest Jr. QB 6'2, 210 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8837 9 4 29 44.4% 2.2% 3.2 55.6% 33.3% 0.76
Elijah Wellman HB 6'1, 235 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7933 5 5 16 100.0% 1.2% 3.2 80.0% 60.0% 0.62
Trevon Wesco HB 6'4, 275 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8255 3 2 8 66.7% 0.7% 2.7 66.7% 66.7% 0.51
Ricky Rogers WR 6'1, 203 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8742 2 2 51 100.0% 0.5% 25.5 100.0% 100.0% 2.26
Michael Ferns (Michigan) HB 6'3, 242 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9284
Stone Wolfley HB 6'4, 247 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8705
Steven Smothers WR 5'9, 154 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9033
Marcus Simms WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8585

4. Wanted: efficiency options

Smallwood gained at least five yards on 51 percent of his carries; that made him one of the steadier feature backs in college football. WVU was only decent in short-yardage situations, but Smallwood was an efficiency back for a team desperately in need of one. Second-stringer Rushel Shell found five yards only 40 percent of the time.

Of the 11 players targeted by at least nine passes in 2015, only two had a success rate better than 46 percent: inside receivers Daikiel Shorts Jr. (58 percent) and Thompson (60 percent). Shorts is back, Thompson is not.

It's impossible to overstate how important efficiency can be for a tempo offense. West Virginia ranked seventh in the country in Adj. Tempo, but 41 drives lasted three or fewer plays before a punt or turnover. On nearly one of every four possessions, WVU's defense got off the field only to have to go right back on. That's a tricky combination.

The offensive line is experienced, which could help Shell and new backups like JUCO transfer Justin Crawford be efficient. But WVU's outside receivers are terribly all or nothing -- Shelton Gibson and Jovon Durante: 20.7 yards per catch with only a 46 percent catch rate -- which pressures the inside receivers. It also means quite a few passing downs for Howard.

Holgorsen has stocked up on interesting H-Back candidates (half-fullback, half-tight end), and it could be interesting to see if players like Michigan transfers Michael Ferns, redshirt freshman Stone Wolfley, or rare options Elijah Wellman or Trevon Wesco are featured more frequently. The ability to dump to them for five or six yards could make a huge difference in determining which defense is exhausted late in games.

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 113.7 3.31 3.86 45.1% 66.0% 17.1% 91.1 6.9% 9.7%
Rank 14 12 12 8 65 27 76 100 102
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Marquis Lucas LT 13 30
Tyler Orlosky C 6'4, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8799 13 29
Adam Pankey LG 6'5, 316 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8082 12 25
Kyle Bosch RG 6'5, 308 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9589 13 15
Marcell Lazard RT 6'6, 310 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8672 6 6
Yodny Cajuste LT 6'5, 300 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8506 6 6
Stone Underwood C 1 2
Tony Matteo LG 6'4, 300 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389 1 1
Amanii Brown C 6'5, 303 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8205 0 1
Sylvester Townes OL 6'6, 298 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7988 0 0
Grant Lingafelter RG 6'6, 306 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8169 0 0
Dontae Angus OL 6'6, 328 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8595 0 0
Matt Jones OL 6'3, 317 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8707


Rob Dowdy LT 6'4, 290 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640


Colton McKivitz RT 6'7, 295 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8202


Craig Smith OL 6'6, 310 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8156


Josh Sills OL 6'6, 315 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8450


5. Strength up front

It does appear the line will be solid. The sack rates were higher than you would want last year -- that's another sign of inefficiency -- but some can probably be pinned on Howard. He carried nearly 10 times per game not including sacks, and he was frequently good at it. But the downside to mobility is trusting it too often.

When it came to run blocking, WVU's line passes lots of tests (with help from Smallwood). The Mountaineers ranked eighth in opportunity rate and 27th in stuff rate. They kept a relatively clean backfield, and now they basically return three starters and two half-starters. Marcell Lazard and Yodny Cajuste each started six games as freshmen, and with Cajuste taking over for departed Marquis Lucas at left tackle, this line could end up just as successful.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.43 118 IsoPPP+ 118.0 16
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 34.1% 8 Succ. Rt. + 126.8 4
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.8 65 Off. FP+ 31.0 41
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 3.7 16 Redzone S&P+ 135.8 3
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.5 ACTUAL 31.0 +4.5
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 61 9 4 16
RUSHING 51 3 3 13
PASSING 83 22 16 35
Standard Downs 9 4 20
Passing Downs 16 12 20
Q1 Rk 6 1st Down Rk 16
Q2 Rk 19 2nd Down Rk 35
Q3 Rk 42 3rd Down Rk 11
Q4 Rk 4

6. Be! Aggressive! Be! Be! Aggressive!

There's something so appealing about a defense that forces the issue. You can win with a bend-don't-break style -- waiting for a college offense to make a mistake pays off frequently -- but defenses that attack and risk big plays in the name of turnovers and three-and-outs are pleasing to the eye.

Coordinator Tony Gibson's WVU defense, therefore, was all sorts of fun to watch, especially before Joseph's injury. The Mountaineers hit you really hard and took away the thing you wanted to do the most. (In September and November, anyway.)

Adjusting for opponent, WVU prevented big plays reasonably well. The Mountaineers allowed 31 gains of 30-plus yards (90th in FBS), but that was in the Big 12, home of five of the 22 teams with the most 30-yard gains. If you didn't have big-play ability, you had no chance of moving the ball against WVU.

WVU's ability against the run was encouraging. This defense ranked third in Rushing Success Rate+ and returns three of its top four up front. But the line will be thin and under pressure. Outside of the three key returnees, no other returning lineman recorded more than 5.5 tackles last year, and with the top four linebackers and four of the top six defensive backs (plus Joseph) gone, the line could have to cover for some inexperienced moments in the back.

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 110 2.76 3.15 33.6% 64.7% 19.5% 79.3 6.1% 5.0%
Rank 32 44 58 17 57 73 99 29 107
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Kyle Rose NT 13 42.5 5.5% 5.0 4.0 0 0 0 0
Noble Nwachukwu DE 6'2, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8429 13 42.0 5.5% 13.0 8.5 0 1 1 0
Christian Brown DE 6'2, 298 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8509 13 28.5 3.7% 4.5 2.0 0 0 0 0
Darrien Howard NT 6'1, 297 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8884 13 14.5 1.9% 3.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
Eric Kinsey DE 12 12.5 1.6% 3.0 0.5 0 1 0 0
Isaiah Bruce DE 13 11.0 1.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jaleel Fields NT 6'1, 290 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8312 4 5.5 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Jon Lewis DL
6 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Larry Jefferson DE 6'5, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568
Xavier Pegues DE 6'2, 282 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8266
Adam Shuler II DE 6'4, 270 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8492








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Nick Kwiatkoski SAM 13 74.5 9.7% 10.0 3.0 3 7 1 0
Shaq Petteway WILL 13 57.0 7.4% 11.5 3.5 0 3 0 0
Jared Barber MIKE 12 55.5 7.2% 11.0 2.5 0 1 0 1
Edward Muldrow III WILL 12 24.5 3.2% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Al-Rasheed Benton MIKE 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8707 13 17.5 2.3% 4.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Sean Walters WILL 6'2, 228 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8227 12 16.5 2.1% 1.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Xavier Preston SAM 6'2, 236 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8449 13 14.0 1.8% 3.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Justin Arndt SAM 5'11, 215 Sr. NR NR 13 7.5 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Hodari Christian MIKE 6'0, 225 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8526 7 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
David Long WILL 5'11, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8550
Brendan Ferns LB 6'3, 220 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9351
Zach Sandwisch LB 6'2, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8531
Adam Hensley LB 6'3, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8305








7. Starting over

As solid as the line was, the linebacking corps was a unique source of havoc. Nick Kwiatkoski, Shaq Petteway, and Jared Barber combined for 32.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, and 14 passes defensed in 2015; WVU didn't make a ton of plays behind the line of scrimmage, but the chaos created by the linebackers resulted in a lot of confused quarterbacks. It also meant a lot of one-yard rushes.

All three starting LBs are gone, as is top backup Edward Muldrow III. The new batch of linebackers could be just as disruptive -- while 17.4 percent of the starters' tackles were TFLs, the average was a nearly identical 16.7 percent for Al-Rasheed Benton, Sean Walters, and Xavier Preston.

Still, these are tough shoes to fill. And if there are any injuries, Gibson might end up fielding a defense that is simply too young and thin to be as efficient as he needs.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dravon Askew-Henry FS 5'11, 198 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9353 13 53.0 6.9% 1 0 1 4 0 0
KJ Dillon SPUR 13 49.0 6.4% 6.5 0 2 8 0 0
Daryl Worley CB 12 47.5 6.2% 2 0 6 12 2 0
Terrell Chestnut CB 12 33.0 4.3% 1 0 3 11 2 0
Jarrod Harper BS 6'0, 210 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8361 13 32.5 4.2% 3 0 0 4 0 0
Rick Rumph III CB 12 20.5 2.7% 1 0 0 3 0 0
Jeremy Tyler BS 5'11, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8212 12 19.5 2.5% 0 0 1 2 1 0
Antonio Crawford (Miami) CB 5'10, 185 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8406 13 18.0 2.5% 1 1 0 5 1 0
Nana Kyeremeh CB 5'10, 186 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8382 13 17.5 2.3% 0.5 0 1 1 1 0
Karl Joseph BS 4 17.5 2.3% 2 1 5 1 0 0
Marvin Gross Jr. SPUR 6'3, 208 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8514 13 12.5 1.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rasul Douglas CB 6'2, 208 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8969 11 7.0 0.9% 0 0 1 1 1 0
Khairi Sharif FS 5'8, 181 Sr. NR NR 13 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Shane Commodore BS 6'0, 205 Jr. NR NR 5 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jordan Adams CB 5'11, 175 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640
Kevin Williams S 5'11, 196 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414
Deamonte Lindsay SPUR 6'2, 196 RSFr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8192
Kyzir White SPUR 6'3, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9010
Elijah Battle CB 6'0, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8342
Toyous Avery S 5'11, 194 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8093
Jacquez Adams CB 5'10, 160 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8429
Jake Long CB 6'0, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8189
Sean Mahone CB 5'10, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8450

8. So many play-makers gone

It's a similar story in the back. WVU won't lack for experience -- of the eight returnees who played last year, five are seniors and three are juniors (plus, Miami transfer Antonio Crawford is a senior as well) -- but the Mountaineers still must replace a ton of known play-makers. Corners Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut combined for nine picks and 23 PBUs, plus four forced fumbles. K.J. Dillon had 6.5 tackles for loss from the SPUR position. Joseph had five interceptions in just four games.

This was a uniquely active secondary, and that's a lot of havoc to replace. Still, it could be worse. Safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Jarrod Harper are solid, and Crawford and three JUCO transfers (including four-star Kyzir White) join to assure WVU doesn't have to rely on freshmen.

The biggest concern could be that last year's linebackers (Kwiatkoski in particular) were excellent at support in pass defense. Without them, and without as much of a blitzing presence, the DBs will have to cover longer and take fewer risks.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Nick O'Toole 71 45.4 15 18 21 54.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Nick O'Toole 75 62.0 18 3 24.0%
Mike Molina 5'8, 180 Jr. 7 63.6 3 0 42.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Josh Lambert 6'0, 203 Jr. 53-54 17-19 89.5% 4-9 44.4%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Jovon Durante KR 6'0, 165 So. 14 22.6 0
Shelton Gibson KR 5'11, 195 Jr. 11 32.8 1
Gary Jennings PR 6'2, 207 So. 13 5.3 0
KJ Dillon PR 8 6.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 37
Field Goal Efficiency 64
Punt Return Success Rate 90
Kick Return Success Rate 28
Punt Success Rate 28
Kickoff Success Rate 64

9. Decent

Punt returns were an issue, but in most aspects WVU's special teams were perfectly decent -- neither great nor terrible. It's probably more of the same this year, the Mountaineers do lose a strong punter in Nick O'Toole. And opponents would be well-served by making sure kickoffs result in touchbacks instead of returns by Jovon Durante and Shelton Gibson.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Missouri 47 7.6 67%
10-Sep Youngstown State NR 27.3 94%
24-Sep vs. BYU 35 0.8 52%
1-Oct Kansas State 67 10.7 73%
15-Oct at Texas Tech 43 -0.8 48%
22-Oct TCU 31 3.0 57%
29-Oct at Oklahoma State 23 -6.9 35%
5-Nov Kansas 112 25.2 93%
12-Nov at Texas 34 -3.5 42%
19-Nov Oklahoma 4 -9.3 30%
26-Nov at Iowa State 71 4.4 60%
3-Dec Baylor 13 -3.7 42%
Projected wins: 6.9
Five-Year F/+ Rk 10.3% (46)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 42 / 50
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 9 / 6.7
2015 TO Luck/Game +0.9
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 62% (86%, 38%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.5 (-0.5)

10. Questions to answer

WVU relied on a fun but fragile recipe: big plays on offense, efficiency on defense. The former can fail you in its lack of steady chain-moving, and the latter can fail you when the opponent has more big-play guys than you have big-play stoppers.

It will be interesting to see how the recipe changes. Two of WVU's three most efficient offensive weapons are gone, and so many important guys from the linebacking corps and secondary are, too. The defense might have to scale back its intentions, and the offense might still struggle with all-or-nothing drives.

I'm a little shaky about WVU this year. The offense returns a ton of last year's production but might not be any more consistent, and the defense might not be as reliable. That's a bad combination.

A few sustained drives or a few big defensive stops could go a long way. S&P+ gives WVU between a 42 and 57 percent chance -- a virtual tossup -- in five of 12 games and between 35 and 67 in eight. A little improvement could result in nine or 10 wins; a little regression brings 5-7 into view.

It's a big year for Holgorsen's volatile team, and it could go in a lot of directions.