- Morgantown, WV – Today is the official start to the 2018 football season as fall camp is slated to begin this evening. The Mountaineers are coming off a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2017, but return a tremendous amount of star power, especially on the offensive side. The expectations are through the roof for this years team. There are still some questions that need answered.
Let’s take a peek at the five biggest questions heading into the 2018 season.
#1. Will the backup quarterback situation be better in 2018?
This is something that is often overlooked, but with the injury to Will Grier last year we all saw the importance of a capable backup. Although Chris Chugunov came in and did what he could, it just wasn’t exactly what Dana Holgorsen and company were hoping for. The pass game became an after thought, which took the ball out of the offenses best play makers hands.
This year, Miami transfer Jack Allison will be eligible after sitting out the 2017 season due to the typical NCAA transfer protocol. Allison, a former four star recruit, has a legitimate cannon on him. He was named the teams offensive scout team player of the year last year, the year prior Will Grier won that same award, so he’s in pretty good company. Being in the system for a year, one could assume that he has an edge over freshman Trey Lowe III for the backup spot.
True freshman Trey Lowe III will be in the mix, but you probably won’t see him on the field much in 2018 if at all. With the new redshirt rule it will be interesting to see if Coach Holgorsen gives Lowe III a few snaps here and there early on and still retain his redshirt status.
2. Will a feature back emerge or will it be done by committee?
There’s no question that West Virginia saw a little bit of a dip in its production from the running game a year ago as it slid from 228.4 yards per game in 2016 to 150.3 in 2017. Justin Crawford was seen as the, “feature back” for the majority of the past two seasons, but he has now moved onto the NFL.
So the question arises, will someone like Kennedy McKoy assume that role? Or will they all get their fair share of touches?
McKoy will likely be the starter week one in Charlotte vs Tennessee, but fellow junior running back Martell Pettaway and redshirt freshman Alec Sinkfield have been receiving praise from the coaching staff. Holgorsen has very rarely relied on one back for an entire season so I wouldn’t expect that to change anytime soon. At times last year fans expressed their displeasure of not running the ball enough and rightfully so. The Mountaineers ranked dead last in the Big 12 last year in time of possession at a little over 27 minutes per game, so leaning on the three headed horse of McKoy, Pettaway and Sinkfield should be emphasized.
3. Which newcomers will become impact players immediately?
Offense- Quarterback Will Grier does have three of his top four aerial weapons returning, but he gets two more guys he can add to the arsenal. Alabama wide receiver transfer T.J. Simmons and Miami tight end transfer Jovani Haskins will likely have rather large roles on the offense in year one in the old gold and blue. Simmons is a speedy, reliable target and Haskins is a match up nightmare for linebackers and corners across the league.
Defense- Yes, questions are certainly everywhere among the defense, but there will be some new bright spots. Junior college linebacker transfer Charlie Benton has been a name that consistently seems to surface among the coaches and players when talking about guys who are stepping up. Former Ohio State corner/safety Josh Norwood is another that has all the tools to be an elite player on this defense. Norwood is currently listed as a backup, but will be seen all over the field as early as week one. Defensive line grad transfers Jabril Robinson (Clemson) and Kenny Bigelow Jr. (USC) are two more names to keep an eye on.
4. Can defense overcome lack of experienced cornerbacks?
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has certainly had success putting corners into the NFL, but 2017 and 2018 have been much more challenging. This season the Mountaineers enter camp with only six scholarship corners on the roster, with redshirt junior Hakeem Bailey being the only returnee with legitimate experience at the position. Sophomore Derrek Pitts Jr. played safety and special teams last year and was moved to corner officially in the spring. Redshirt sophomores Jake Long and Sean Mahone should start contributing more regularly, but have been used sparingly thus far. Former Michigan corner and junior college transfer Keith Washington is a guy they hope can become that solid third option for the rotation.
The talent is there at corner, it’s just not the exact amount of bodies nor the experience you’d normally like to have.
5. The run defense must improve, but will it?
Ranking dead last in rushing defense a year ago (204.2 ypg) is one thing, but giving up 291 yards to a Kansas running back is another. No disrespect to the Jayhawks, but they’re not usually known to produce a dominating rushing attack. Having two new starters on the defensive line won’t be easy, but with a healthy David Long at linebacker those numbers should improve some. “Tackling has been our main emphasis, but right now I really like where we’re at.” Coach Tony Gibson said back in March.
If the defensive line can create more push up front and the linebackers shoot the gaps with success, we can expect that dead last ranking to be a thing of the past. It will depend on the time it takes for the newcomers to get a grasp of the system and continuity with the other players on the field.