2012 West Virginia Preview - Offense
West Virginia RB Shawne Alston
West Virginia RB Shawne Alston
Posted May 29, 2012

CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineer Offense

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2012 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: Anything less than unstoppable will be disappointing. The team that rolled up 70 points on Clemson and averaged 470 yards per game gets all the key parts back including veteran quarterback Geno Smith. The Heisman potential is there if everything goes according to plan. He gets back all his top targets with Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney combining for 222 catches last year, and he'll get plenty of time to work behind a veteran line with four starters returning. The running game won't be deadly, but Shawne Alston leads an experienced crew that will do more than be along for the ride. Now the pressure is on. The offense has to be consistent and it has to produce for a full four quarters instead of needing to turn things up a notch after halftime like it had to do time and again.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Geno Smith
346-526, 4,385 yds, 31 TD, 7 INT
Rushing: Shawne Alston
97 carries, 416 yds, 12 TD
Receiving: Tavon Austin
101 catches, 1,186 yds, 8 TD

Star of the offense: Senior QB Geno Smith
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore OT Quinton Spain
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OT Pat Eger
Best pro prospect: Smith
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) WR Tavon Alston, 3) WR Stedman Bailey
Strength of the offense: Passing Game, Coaching Staff
Weakness of the offense: Consistent Running, Backup QB Experience


How fast would Geno Smith take to the higher-octane passing offense? After throwing for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns in what seemed like a breakthrough 2010, he went ballistic completing 66% of his passes for 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns with just seven picks in full command of the attack. While there were a few struggles with his consistency – throwing for just 237 yards with two picks against USF and 218 yards and two touchdowns against Rutgers – his down games weren't that bad and his great performances were awe inspiring. The 407-yard, six score day against Clemson in the Orange Bowl is what everyone remembers this offseason, but he also lit up LSU's great secondary like a Christmas tree throwing for 463 yards and two touchdowns with two picks. So now is it possible to take his game to another level? At 6-3 and 214 pounds the pro spotlight is on his mechanics and all the little things the NFL guys like, but at the very least the production will be there going into his third year as the starter and with a loaded receiving corps to work with.

6-2, 221-pound sophomore Paul Millard will be groomed to become the star of the future, but he has to also see a little time to show he can be the man if Smith goes down. He has decent size and a live arm with the passing ability to be a perfect fit for what the Mountaineers want to do. Now he needs to get on the field after completing 7-of-15 passes for 124 yards and a score with two picks in garbage time.

Also in the equation for the future is true freshman Ford Childress, a 6-5, 224-pound bomber out of Houston who threw for 3,171 yards and 41 touchdowns in just ten games last season. A pure pro-style passer, he has the size, the deep arm and the nice short-range touch to be exactly what the offense needs. After blowing off Oklahoma State and Florida State, he could be West Virginia's next great playmaker. However, he has to keep clean after getting arrested for a DUI this offseason.

Watch Out For … 5,000 yards for Smith? It might take a bowl game to get there, but 385 yards per game isn't out of the question considering Smith's mastery of the offense and the weapons around him.
Strength: Dana Holgorsen. He is proving to be one of the best offensive minds in all of football and his passing games always produce. With all the times logged in with Smith, the coaching staff and the star should be able to combine to be even better.
Weakness: Backup experience. Childress is a superior talent and Millard has been around just long enough to not come in cold if needed, but this is a Big 12 title contender that could see its hopes slip away with one Smith injury.
Outlook: The scary part is that Smith threw for close to 4,500 yards and he could still be better. The offensive numbers will be through the roof, but now the pressure is on to be special every time out. The O line has to do its job to keep him healthy, but the backups need to get on the field as soon as possible in case disaster strikes and to be groomed for next year.
Unit Rating: 9

Running Backs

The running game might have finished 92nd in the nation and might have taken a back seat to the passing attack, but it was still effective and it could be stronger with the talent returning. Senior Shawne Alston is a 5-11, 235-pound power back who started to reach his potential after coming to West Virginia as one of 2008's top recruits. He only averaged 4.3 yards per carry and ran for 416 yards, but he finished second on the team in rushing and led the way with 12 scores with ten in the final seven games.

Also back is the team's leading rusher, Dustin Garrison, who ripped it up as a true freshman who ripped off 291 yards and two scores on 32 carries against Bowling Green on the way to finishing with 742 yards and six scores. Also a receiver, the 5-9, 166-pound speedster caught 24 passes for 201 yards. Can he be back in time for the season? He suffered a knee injury in preparations for the Orange Bowl and it's asking for way too much to be back at 100% and ready to roll by the start of the season.  He's expected to be ready to roll and be a big part of the attack again.

With Garrison hurting, 5-9, 187-pound sophomore Andrew Buie will have to do even more. He didn't have the true freshman season that Garrison had, but he came up with 51 yards and a score in the dogfight against Maryland and ran for 45 yards on 13 carries against Clemson. Extremely quick and with nice hands, he caught 13 passes for 85 yards.

The offense doesn't always use a fullback to carry the ball, but 6-0, 231-pound senior Ryan Clarke got five starts and worked as a good blocker. Big, strong and good as a lead blocker, he didn't get any carries last season but ran for 541 yards with 16 scores over a two-year span. 6-1 241-pound former linebacker Donovan Miles has moved over to be another strong blocker with great size and toughness. He'll never get the ball, but he can hit.

Watch Out For … Buie. Garrison was the star out of last year's recruiting class, but now the offense needs a second running back to help out Alston and Buie needs to be it early on. Garrison isn't being ruled out, but he still has to prove he can be back to norm.
Strength: The passing game. The running game won't be ignored, but the passing attack does all the heavy lifting. Defenses are going to be so freaked out by Geno Smith that the lanes will be there for the backs to fly through.
Weakness: Receiving backs. It's not that the West Virginia backs can't catch; it's that they don't do much with the ball when they get it. Alston isn't a receiver catching just two passes last season. Garrison averaged just 8.4 yards per grab and Buie average a mere 6.5 yards per try.
Outlook: The Holgorsen offense always seems able to get running backs in the right position to crank out big plays. However, the Mountaineers only averaged 3.9 yards per carry and wasn't quite as effective as it should be. If the running game can get to around 4.5 yards per pop and the backs can balance things out a bit, the offense will get what it needs.
Unit Rating: 6.5


The hope was that senior Tavon Austin could turn things up a notch last year after catching 58 passes for 787 yards and eight scores in 2010, and he did making 101 grabs for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns with four games with double-digit catches. Great all year, he saved some of his best performances for the biggest games catching 11 passes for 187 yards against LSU and ripping up Clemson for 12 catches for 123 yards and four scores. With track speed, terrific athleticism, and the running ability to finish third on the team with 182 rushing yards and a score, he's a great all-around playmaker who holds up well at just 5-9 and 174 pounds. He's also an elite, All-America caliber return man averaging 14.1 yards per punt return and 26.1 yards per kickoff. Geno Smith might be the star of the show, but Austin will help him shine and will start getting more national attention on his own.

Austin is the star on the inside, while junior Stedman Bailey will once again work at the outside X position. The team's leading deep threat averaging 17.8 yards per grab making 72 catches for 1,279 yards and 12 scores. Steady, he hit the 100-yard mark seven times in an eight-game span before closing out with 80 yards or more in each of his final three games. The 5-10, 193-pounder took to the new offense perfectly and showed why he was one of the stars of the 2009 recruiting class. Dangerous deep and creative with the ball in his hands on the move, he should be a lock for 1,000 yards again.

6-2, 182-pound junior Ivan McCartney returns on the other side of Bailey at the Z after finishing third on the team with 49 catches for 595 yards and three scores. He took advantage of single coverage to catch eight passes for 101 yards against Maryland and make six grabs for 131 yards against Connecticut, but his production fell off the map over the second half of the season catching just 15 passes over the last seven games. He'll be in the mix with 6-3, 205-pound senior Ryan Nehlen, a veteran and ten-game starter who came up with five catches for 64 yards and a score.

6-1, 189-pound senior J.D. Woods is a big inside target at the H catching seven passes for 67 yards in a limited role. A reliable pass catcher over the years, he's mostly a backup who'll get a little more time after starting six times over the course of his career. He'll be a short-to-midrange receiver, but he could be keeping the seat warm for star recruit Jordan Thompson, who could be another Austin with a little bit of time. He's only 5-7 and 159 pounds, but he can fly and is a perfect big-play threat for the offense catching 66 passes for 1,117 yards and 17 scores in his senior year at Katy High in Houston.

Looking to make a splash to be a part of the rotation are a pair of redshirt freshmen. 6-2, 201-pound K.J. Myers will see time at the X behind Bailey. A good recruit out of Jacksonville, he'll be the deep threat of the near future, while 6-4, 215-pound Dante Campbell is a big inside target who's far more physical than Austin at the Y.

Watch Out For … Thompson. Austin and Bailey are the stars, but there's room for a bit of an upgrade at one of the inside spots. Thompson is too good to keep off the field and he should be devastating with all the attention paid to the two main men. In a receiving corps full of quick players, he might be the most athletic on the lot.
Strength: Production. Austin, Bailey and McCartney combined for 222 grabs for 3,050 yards and 23 scores. They're about to do even more.
Weakness: A big tight end. It's nitpicking, but it might be nice to have a true tight end to count on once in a while on short-to-midrange passes. 6-3, 251-pound Cody Clay has the size and the receiving ability, but he's just a redshirt freshman and has to find a fit.
Outlook: Everything the Mountaineers were hoping for came true. TCU's receiving corps is fantastic. Baylor's is going to be explosive, Oklahoma State's will be fantastic, and Texas and Texas Tech will get big numbers from their targets. West Virginia's receivers are as good as any in the conference and could be the most productive. Expect more than 200 catches again from Austin, Bailey and McCartney and lots and lots of big plays.
Unit Rating: 10

Offensive Line

The offensive line returns loaded with experience, but the left tackle spot is the lone question mark with sophomore Quinton Spain needing to shine. At 6-5 and 335 pounds, he's huge and has a little bit of experience getting a start and seeing time in every game. While he's built to be a guard and he's physical, he's a mauler who has to prove he can shuffle and slide against the quicker speed rushers to keep Geno Smith upright.

6-4, 291-pound senior Josh Jenkins is a former superstar recruit who's back after missing last year with a knee injury. He might be built like a tackle, but he's a left guard with 22 starts under his belt and with the talent to be an all-star if he can be back to 100%. A great fit for the inside, he can blast away with power as well as work as a technician to wall off his man.

The rock of the veteran line will once again be Joe Madsen, a 6-4, 310-pound center going into his fourth year as a starter. Big, smart, and technically sound, he's terrific in pass protection and can maul with any defensive tackle in the Big 12. He'll be on the short list for all-star honors and could be in the hunt for the Rimington. He's that good, while 6-4, 308-pound senior John Bassler is a nice backup who has seen time over the last three years and could step in without a problem. With his size and experience he could be used in other spots in a pinch.

6-4, 321-pound senior Jeff Braun might be the team's most physical blocker and is one of the line's most dependable producers. Going into his third year as the starter, the right guard has been the best blaster for the running game with the strength to intimidate and bury his man. He'll be backed up by 6-5, 316-pound redshirt freshman Russell Haughton-James, a massive blocker out of Miami who could move to tackle if needed.

Junior Pat Eger stepped into a starting role and now owns the right tackle job. One of the star recruits in the 2009 class needed a year to get his feet wet, and while he struggled a wee bit in pass protection at times, he showed enough to become a potential all-star with 6-6, 301-pound size and decent enough athleticism to get by. Adding even more size is 6-7, 316-pound junior Curtis Feight, a former defensive lineman who got a start and can be physical on the outside.

Watch Out For … Spain. He's a bit too big and bulky to be a left tackle, but it's his job to protect Geno Smith and it's his gig for the next three years if he can prove he can handle the work. If not he'll be a whale of a guard with next-level potential.
Strength: Experience. With Jenkins coming back the line basically gets back four starters. That doesn't even count Spain who might be the best on the lot. This should be a tight line that knows exactly what it's supposed to do.
Weakness: Pass protection The line wasn't that bad considering the Mountaineers threw the ball 542 times, but the 26 sacks were still a bit too many to allow. The line did a decent job for the running game at times, but it wasn't consistent.
Outlook: The line was good enough last year and now it could be fantastic. It held its own against LSU and dominated at times, but it wasn't consistent. With so much experience returning and so much size, the line should be even better and should go from being good to being a strength. The line has spent a few years to get to this point, and now comes the payoff.
Unit Rating: 8
- 2012 West Virginia Preview | 2012 West Virginia Offense
- 2012 West Virginia Defense | 2012 West Virginia Depth Chart