Connect with us


Asti: Ranking West Virginia Football’s Key Losses, Impact on 2023



It’s been an off-season of only subtraction for the Mountaineers to this point. From losing more players to the Transfer Portal than any other Big 12 program, to offensive coordinator Graham Harrell leaving to accept the same role at Purdue, fans are left wondering what the 2023 team will look like.

Even though there’s still time to add through the portal, most of the departures have been about depth a solid recruiting class will be arriving on campus and a new OC can be hired to change the game plan, it’s tough to feel good about only seeing loss after loss for a program trying to get back to prominence and a head coach who is being evaluated throughout the next year.

But which loss of a player or coach making the decision to leave the program (not via graduation) will hurt the most moving forward?

Note: Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James deciding to declare for the NFL Draft are not going to be considered losses for the purpose of this post, mostly due to it being unlikely either were going to return, regardless of any factors. If they left after 2022, they obviously would have if their values were even greater and they didn’t choose to leave WVU for another college team, but to advance their careers by turning pro.

Kaden Prather

Kaden Prather is West Virginia’s biggest loss to this point. While I can see an argument for Jordan Jefferson, who I will address later, not having Prather in 2023 means having no experience in the receiver room at all. And an inexperienced receiver room is a recipe for disaster with an inexperienced quarterback. Assuming WVU does not dip back into the portal for a veteran quarterback, and rumors indicate they are likely staying out of it this offseason, at least in terms of high priced options, after swinging and missing with JT Daniels, they could very well be looking to Garrett Greene or even Nicco Marchiol to be the starting quarterback.

No matter what you may think of Greene or Marchiol’s talents, neither have done it for an extended period of time, let alone an entire season for a “Power 5” program. A veteran receiver, especially one who emerged as a favorite target in 2022 like Prather, could have provided a safety net and some leadership for whoever else joins the fold. With both Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James deciding to forgo their remaining eligibility and declare for the NFL Draft, that guy was going to be Prather, who caught 52 passes for 501 yards as the third option this Fall.

Kaden Prather Emerging as Favorite Target for WVU Offense

WVU has been making offers to veteran receivers in the portal and does have Rodney Gallagher and Traylon Ray as incoming freshman in the 2023 class, but there will now be 0 chemistry or continuity between whoever starts at quarterback and any receivers, whoever they end up being, that will be relied upon next season.

Jordan Jefferson

If not Prather, the other major departure that will make things more difficult to build a successful 2023 product is defensive lineman Jordan Jefferson. Much like Prather, he was going to be asked to step up even more in a pivotal season for the WVU program next year.

Jefferson recorded 31 total tackles and three sacks in 2022, but with Mountaineer tackles for a loss all-time record holder Dante Stills graduating and pursuing the NFL, like his brother before him, Jefferson was likely going to be cast as the leader and anchor of the defensive line.

Needing a new OC

The topic of Graham Harrell’s lone season as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator is a polarizing one. Some were actually pleased to hear he accepted the same role at Purdue while others wished they could see what would happen if he had another year to implement his system. No matter what you may think, having to replace an offensive coordinator in mid December isn’t ideal. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t ideal. Many prominent coaches have already been hired as team’s try to piece together what they are offering players in the Transfer Portal.

WVU will hire someone to fill the OC void. Either that or they will promote someone, but someone will do the job. But as mentioned earlier, if it’s Greene or Marchiol as the starting quarterback, having another season to work in the same system and with the same coach who had been teaching them would have been nice for their development. Constantly switching offensive coordinators and game plans rarely makes life easy on any QB.

Who Should be West Virginia Football’s Next Offensive Coordinator?

There’s also the notion that Harrell did run a balanced offense, even though some incorrectly labeled it the “Air Raid” and act like it’s too pass happy. The “Air Raid” offense got its name when the late great Mike Leach passed the ball over 70% of the time. Harrell runs the ball over 50% of the time. That saw every running back on the roster have success at one point or another in 2022. And while the offense was not good enough overall and struggled down the stretch, it can be argued Daniels’ three interception game in Lubbock was on the player, not the coach. It also can be argued Harrell was not why the team didn’t win more since the first two losses included games the offense scored 31 and 42 points and the offense was ranked among some of the best in college football based on analytics early in the season.

Harrell deciding a lateral move after only one year into a three-year deal was best for him speaks to instability within the program, which only adds to the negative perception looming over West Virginia football.

Charles Woods

How would the 2022 season have unfolded if Charles Woods was fully healthy? Unfortunately for WVU, that question will never receive an answer. Woods went from one of the leaders of the defense who the program sent to Big 12 Media Days and was on every watch list possible, to a player who was never healthy enough to make an impact and deciding to exit West Virginia seemingly bitter and in a cloud of drama.

Obviously head coach Neal Brown is not going to want a player back he feels “shut it down” at the end of the season, but his team will surely miss the actual player himself. Woods posted 29 tackles (21 solo) and two picks in 2021 and was expected to take an even greater leap this past season. Prior to Woods going MIA and then eventually announcing his intentions to transfer an hour before kickoff of the Mountaineers’ final home game, he had to be carted off the field in Pittsburgh in Week 1 and then had surgery in the middle of the season. Brown and defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley did rave about the presence Woods was in the few games he did play, regardless what the statistics may say.

Woods is a player the opposing offense has to know key on. He’s someone who can be trusted to cover the top weapon and help eliminate one side of the field. His experience could have been invaluable to the 2023 Mountaineers, but instead his final season wearing the Old Gold and Blue left a “what if?” story of his WVU career and a sour taste in the mouths of everyone involved.

Taurus Simmons

To round out the most hurtful losses so far, the choice was between Taijh Alston and Taurus Simmons. The defensive line is now a major question and most of the other transfers were players who did not see that much action, was always injured like Mike O’Laughlin or lost his starting job like Daniels. Simmons seems to be the guy here for two main reasons.

Alston’s production dropped off in 2022 compared to what he put up the year prior and Simmons was probably the depth guy who could have saw a big increase in opportunity come 2023.

Honorable Mention: Casey Legg

It’s tough to focus on losing a kicker when the team has lost so much overall, but Legg retiring is a hit. He had one more season left, but decided to instead walk away from the game all together. To say Legg had a quality WVU career, especially coming from a soccer background, would be an understatement. Two of the five 2022 wins came thanks to Legg field goals. He was also perfect across the board in kicks until late in the season. The kind of confidence WVU fans developed in Legg isn’t easy to find.

Get WVSN in your mailbox!

Enter your email address to subscribe to WVSN and receive notifications of new posts by email.