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2011 West Virginia Preview - Offense
West Virginia QB Geno Smith
West Virginia QB Geno Smith
Posted May 28, 2011 2011 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineer Offense

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2011 - Offense

- 2011 West Virginia Preview | 2011 West Virginia Offense
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What You Need To Know: Buh-bye, Jeff Mullen. Hello, Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers are making a dramatic shift on offense, installing Holgorsen’s version of the spread. It’ll be fast-paced and lean more heavily on the passing game, yet still strive for some balance. His last production at Oklahoma State, for instance, ranked third nationally in scoring and total offense, but also averaged more than 174 yards a game and five yards a carry. The system will be built around QB Geno Smith, who delivered a terrific debut as a starter, earning second team All-Big East honors. Once he learns the nuances of a new offense, he’ll just keep getting better. The situation at the skill positions is far more fluid. While there are some safe bets at receiver, like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, the backfield is a toss-up that won’t shake out until August. West Virginia also needs improved play from a veteran line that underachieved in 2010 and a better grip on the ball. Last year’s squad lost 20 fumbles, which tied Georgia Tech for most in the country.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Geno Smith
241-372, 2,763 yds, 24 TDs, 7 INTs
Rushing: Ryan Clarke
80 carries, 291 yds, 8 TDs
Receiving: Tavon Austin
58 catches, 787 yds, 8 TDs

Star of the offense: Junior QB Geno Smith
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior WR Brad Starks
Unsung star on the rise: Junior C Joe Madsen
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Senior LT Don Barclay, 3) Junior WR Tavon Austin
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, speed at skill positions, line experience, third down conversions
Weakness of the offense: Depth at quarterback, the backs, consistency of the offensive line, fumbles, red zone conversions


State of the Unit: For the first time in four years, West Virginia returns its starting quarterback, an ideal situation as the program begins installing a very different style of attacking. However, while the starter is set in stone and will be a candidate for national honors, the backup situation is far from certain. When last year’s backup Barry Brunetti decided to transfer to Ole Miss, it left the program with zero experience coming off the bench.

Junior Geno Smith was a revelation in his first year on the job, far exceeding all expectations. A top recruit, who could have chosen a much brighter spotlight, he earned a spot on the All-Big East second team, going 241-of-372 for 2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns, and seven picks. A throw-first quarterback, he still added 217 yards and a bunch of escapes to his opening stat line. Standing tall in the pocket, the 6-3, 214-pounder has tremendous poise, throws a catchable ball, and has a great feel for the game. In an offense that really features the quarterback, he’s set to explode in 2011.

Trouble behind center begins with the backups, which is comprised of true freshmen. In the first of many auditions, 6-1, 218-pound Paul Millard jumped ahead of 6-4, 216-pound Brian Athey . Millard has a quick trigger, throwing with nice touch and accuracy. Athey is a taller, harder throwing quarterback, but has been slower to pick up the offense.

Watch Out For .... Smith to embrace and flourish in Dana Holgorsen’s attack. More than just a gifted passer, he has a high football IQ, which will be particularly useful this fall. A smooth operator regardless of the playbook, he’s bound to start receiving more attention outside of the Big East walls.
Strength: Accuracy. Smith throws such a nice, soft ball, especially for a quarterback with just a single season as the starter. He makes life easier for his receivers, completing more than 64% of his passes to lead the Big East and rank among the Top 25 in the country.
Weakness: The backups. Smith better remain off the trainer’s table because the Mountaineers only want to see their rookies appear in blowouts. The offense is one hit or awkward plant away from handing the keys of a complex offense to a kid who was facing high school competition last fall.
Outlook: While there may never be another Pat White in Morgantown, the program has done a terrific job of building a bridge to one of its all-time great players. Smith is a rising star, who played with the skill and savvy of a veteran in his sophomore year. Things can only get better now that he has that experience and Holgorsen mentoring him. The margin for error, however, is thin, with the franchise being backed up by two wide-eyed rookies.
Rating: 7.5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: The changes about to come on offense are no more prevalent than at running back. Not only has all-time all-purpose leader Noel Devine graduated, but Mountaineer fans must get used to new terminology as well. There’s an A-back, the feature runner, and a B-back, which is code for fullback. The successful back in this offense will be a dual-threat, splitting defenses as a runner and receiver.

It’s early, but coming out of spring, 5-9, 182-pound true freshman Vernard Roberts held the top spot at A-back. While not off-the charts in one particular area, he’s looked the part so far, making people miss, changing direction, and showing soft hands as a receiver. At 5-10 and 180 pounds, sophomore Trey Johnson is a similarly-sized runner, with one added dimension; he can fly, getting to top gear faster than any Mountaineer back.

If the staff wants to go jumbo at A-back, it’ll have multiple options. Both 6-0, 232-pound junior Ryan Clarke and 5-11, 219-pound junior Shawne Alston missed time to injury in the spring, but will have roles in the fall. A terrific power back in short yardage and lead blocker, Clarke has run for 541 yards and 16 touchdowns on 140 carries over the last two seasons. Alston also does his best work between the tackles, running for 248 yards on 56 carries in 2010. A key recruit from 2008, he has the vision and leg drive to pick up more yards after contact.

When the Mountaineers employ a B-back, 6-0, 236-pound junior Matt Lindamood will be the likely choice. Strictly a blocker and special teamer, he still plays with the passion and intensity of a former walk-on.

Watch Out For .... Clarke’s role to continue to shrink. A possible feature back before Dana Holgorsen was hired, his skill set no longer matches what the Mountaineers are looking to do in the running game. He does have value, however, whether it’s as the B-back or as a change-of-pace at A-back.
Strength: Balance. Okay, so it’s not exactly Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt, but West Virginia boasts a nice mix of talent coming out of the backfield. The young A-backs are playmakers in the Devine mold, and Clarke and Alston will provide short yardage punch when it’s needed.
Weakness: Proven players. Now that Clarke and Alston, last year’s second and third most productive backs, respectively, are being demoted, the Mountaineers will roll the dice with untested runners. Roberts, Johnson, and sophomore Daquan Hargrett are talented, but have also combined for just 18 career carries.
Outlook: Holgorsen has long had a habit of creating offenses that put backs in a position to flourish, but who will that be in Morgantown? The coach seems to have taken a liking to his young runners, favoring undersized backs who can do a little bit of everything. It’s unlikely one Mountaineer will command the bulk of the touches, meaning a committee approach might be employed.
Rating: 6.5


State of the Unit: More than at any point in recent memory, the development of the receivers will play a vital role in the success of the offense. Under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, the ground game drove the engine, but now that the passing attack is king, the program will be seeking a higher degree of consistency and playmaking ability from the athletes on the outside. Top receiver Jock Sanders has graduated, but there’s a wave of eager Mountaineers looking to take his place.

The new star of the group at “H”, or slot receiver, is 5-9, 174-pound junior Tavon Austin . An incendiary object with the ball in his hands, he has track speed and the hops to play bigger than his size. One of the nation’s top multi-purpose weapons, he caught 58 passes for 787 yards and eight scores, ran 16 times for 162 yards and a touchdown, and contributed on special teams. He’s the kind of player that the West Virginia staff wants to get in space, where he can turn a five-yard slant into a 50-yard momentum-changer.

When the Mountaineers go four-wide, the other inside spot, “Y” receiver, will be occupied by a bigger pass-catcher who’s more in the mold of a tight end or H-back. The perfect fit will be 6-5, 251-pound senior Tyler Urban, who has started 14 career games. Geno Smith’s biggest target, he’s caught 17 career passes for 203 yards and three scores.

The staff is excited about its situation on the outside, beginning with “X” receiver. Sophomore Stedman Bailey looks poised to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new playbook. A top recruit from the 2009 class, he broke into the lineup last fall, finishing with 24 catches for 317 yards and four touchdowns. The 5-10, 192-pounder has great hands and a budding chemistry with Smith going back to their high school days together. Behind him, 6-0, 190-pound junior J.D. Woods is sure to be in the rotation. A reliable option off the bench, he made 18 grabs for 205 yards and a touchdown last year.

The most heated competition is taking place on the other flank, “Z” receiver. The incumbent is 6-3, 193-pound senior Bradley Starks, the former quarterback who’s made a nice transition to receiver. The passing game’s long ball threat, he has big mitts, catching 19 balls for 317 yards and four touchdowns in 2010. However, he was dinged up last fall and again this spring, which opened the door for 6-2, 204-pound junior Ryan Nehlen to rise to the top of the depth chart. The grandson of West Virginia coaching legend Don Nehlen, he has limited experience, but seemed to catch everything thrown his way in March and April. Not to be forgotten is 6-3, 176-pound sophomore Ivan McCartney. While still young and inconsistent, he’s one of last year’s can’t-miss recruits, with great length and a knack for making difficult grabs.

Watch Out For .... Bailey to be the next best thing to Austin in the passing game. He’s really looked sharp in the passing game, even catching three long touchdown passes in the spring game. For a sophomore, he’s a mature receiver who runs good routes and has the polish to abuse older defensive backs.
Strength: Athleticism. “Y” receiver aside, West Virginia will be able to put skilled, dangerous athletes at every starting spot. Austin, Starks, Bailey, and McCartney come in all different sizes, but share the ability to get behind the secondary and stretch a defense with their speed.
Weakness: Consistency. This remains a raw collection of pass-catchers, even more so now that the Mountaineers must dig deeper into the roster. Still young and unpolished in the finer areas, such as running routes and consistently being hand-catchers, they’ll grow up alongside the rest of the evolving offense.
Outlook: As a work-in-progress goes, the Mountaineers have a solid base to build around. Austin is a dual-threat, Bailey the rising star, and Starks is about to deliver his best effort in his final year. Oh, and don’t discount the value of Urban and Nehlen, who both drew high praise from the staff in the spring.
Rating: 7

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: West Virginia is welcoming back four of last year’s starters, needing only to replace RG Eric Jobe. The biggest concern, though, will be adjusting to a faster-paced offense and a new leader, former Arizona assistant Bill Bedenbaugh. Bedenbaugh wants to makes sure that the Mountaineers are in top shape and prepared to do a better job of winning the battles up front. The 2010 edition ranked 71st nationally in sacks allowed and blocked for a ground game that averaged less than four yards a carry.

The anchor up front will once again be 6-4, 305-pound senior LT Don Barclay , a reigning All-Big East second teamer. A third-year starter, he plays with the physicality of a guard, locking on to his man and sending him in reverse. A tough, no-nonsense blocker in the mold of a typical West Virginia blocker, he had offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected back in time for summer camp.

At right tackle, 6-4, 320-pound junior Jeff Braun is every bit as physical as Barclay at the point of attack. A durable blocker, he started all 13 games, had a team-high 49 knockdowns and was second on the team with six thunderbolt blocks. One of the strongest members of the team, he’s also versatile, able to play guard or center. His backup is 6-6, 296-pound sophomore Pat Eger , a former top recruit from 2009 still adjusting to this level.

Returning for a third year at left guard is 6-3, 305-pound senior Josh Jenkins , the former mega-recruit still looking to fulfill all of his potential. On the cusp of being an all-star last season, he had a team-high seven thunderbolt blocks and 42 knockdowns. More than just a powerful blocker, he operates with great footwork, technique, and overall awareness. On the right side, 6-3, 296-pound senior Tyler Rader has taken an improbable lead on 6-5, 296-pound sophomore Cole Bowers, who began spring as the favorite. Rader has played sparingly during his career, including just 35 plays in 2010, but doesn’t look as if he’s going away. Bowers, on the other hand, started three games in his debut, showing good upper body strength and gradually improving as the season unfolded.

The undisputed starter at center will be 6-4, 300-pound junior Joe Madsen, who has started all 25 games he’s played in during his career. A technically-sound blocker, he yielded just one sack all season, adding 33 knockdowns and six thunderbolt blocks. The Mountaineers feel they’ve got a budding all-star at the pivot.

Watch Out For .... the progress of redshirt freshman Quinton Spain . The massive 6-5, 348-pounder isn’t going to win one of the tackle spots, but he is being groomed to replace Barclay in 2012. An elite recruit who can engulf his man, the staff wants to see him drop weight before seriously considering him for playing time.
Strength: North-south blocking. Regardless of the changes to the offense, this is still a West Virginia line that does its best work in a phone booth. The Mountaineers are largely blue-collar blockers, who excel at moving a pile and physically wearing down opponents late in games.
Weakness: Pass protection. Even with an agile quarterback taking snaps, the Mountaineers had too many breakdowns in pass protection last season. The team ranked 71st nationally in sacks allowed, struggling to contain some of the Big East’s quicker rushers coming off the edge.
Outlook: Bedenbaugh wants to see improved play from an offensive line that failed to play up to its potential in 2010. He inherits a veteran unit that expects to start five upperclassmen, but one that is also digesting an entirely new playbook and set of directions. If the Mountaineers can get up to speed without many stumbles, the line should be much improved versus a year ago.
Rating: 7.5

- 2011 West Virginia Preview | 2011 West Virginia Offense
- 2011 West Virginia Defense | 2011 West Virginia Depth Chart
- West Virginia Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006