CFN 2013 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineers
West Virginia S Karl Joseph
West Virginia S Karl Joseph
Posted Jun 19, 2013 2013 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2013

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Dana Holgorsen
3rd year: 17-9
Returning Lettermen: 36
Off. 10, Def. 24, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best WVU Players
1. S Karl Joseph, Soph.
2. S Darwin Cook, Sr.
3. LB Isaiah Bruce, Soph.
4. RB Andrew Buie, Jr.
5. OT Quinton Spain, Jr.
6. WR K.J. Myers, Soph.
7. QB Ford Childress, RFr.
8. LB Doug Rigg, Sr.
9. QB Paul Millard, Jr.
10. DT Shaq Rowell, Sr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 William & Mary
9/7 at Oklahoma
9/14 Georgia State
9/21 at Maryland
9/28 Oklahoma State
10/5 at Baylor
10/19 Texas Tech
10/26 at Kansas State
11/2 at TCU
11/9 Texas
11/16 at Kansas
11/30 Iowa State
And to think, a year ago right about now, the West Virginia world couldn't have looked brighter.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen had a loaded team returning after blasting away on Clemson in the epic Orange Bowl blowout, and all appeared to be right with the world. Geno Smith was a top pro prospect, the rest of the skill players were special, and the move to the Big 12 was going to be the step up that everyone was waiting for ever since the Big East started its decline.

It might not seem like it now after six losses in the final eight games to ruin a brilliant and breathtaking 5-0 start to the 2012 season, but the Mountaineers might not be that far away from competing for a Big 12 title.

It'll be easy to use West Virginia as a punching bag with so many big personnel losses on offense and coming off the shocking collapse, but while the first half of last year was way overrated – the offense didn't play a defense with a pulse, Texas included – the second half wasn't totally and completely awful.

Yes, America tuned out after getting obliterated in back-to-back weeks by a combined score of 104-28 against Texas Tech and Kansas State, but the team actually bounced back relatively well and kept fighting. The double overtime loss to TCU could've gone either way, and the 50-49 shootout defeat to Oklahoma turned out to be a coin-flip in the wild battle. Geno Smith threw for 364 yards in the loss to Oklahoma State, and while the 55-34 final score might not look great, it was tight going into the fourth quarter before the defense collapsed.

Okay, so there's more to life than offense, and while defense is usually optional in the Big 12, West Virginia's simply failed to show up time and again, allowing 45 points or more in six of the final nine games of the regular season, and holding down Iowa State and Kansas wasn't exactly anything to chirp about. Worse yet was the bowl loss to Syracuse; the run defense got its manhood rudely removed by a pedestrian ground game that came up with a season-high 369 yards.

As bad as the 2012 season might have finished, it wasn't any quirkier than the 2011, Orange Bowl-winning season. Two years ago, the Mountaineers won ten games but came up with nail-biter victories in three late-season games that could've gone either way. The difference between 10-3 and 7-6 were the close calls, if the 2011 magic can rub off on the 2013 team and the breaks can start to come, this might turn out to be a deep sleeper in the Big 12 race – especially since everyone will likely predict a lower-tier conference finish.

Only four starters are back on offense, but it's West Virginia and it's Dana Holgorsen; the production will come. The defense can't and won't be any worse with a secondary that should be stronger and more consistent and with several strong young prospects among the front seven. Yes, this will be the proverbial X factor team that can beat anyone on the schedule, and on the right day, lose to anyone on the slate.

It'll be a fun, wild ride either way.

What to watch for on offense: More from the ground game. It's not like West Virginia is Texas Tech and gives a passing nod to the rushing attack. The Mountaineers ran the ball 322 times – only nine fewer times than its opponents – and the carries will only be jacked up with a new group of starting receivers trying to break in a green quarterback. WVU will never be Wisconsin powering the ball, but there's a nice group of runners to work around led by Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison, and they should be able to carry the load until the passing attack clicks. However, don't expect the air show to take too long to get off the ground.

What to watch for on defense: Lots of playing around with the alignment. The Mountaineers like to use a 3-4 alignment with a hybrid Buck position that's more like a defensive end at times than a true outside linebacker, but it's flexible. The D has the ability to monkey around with five defensive backs on a regular basis, and it might have to in order to start coming up with more big plays after a woeful year from the secondary. The problem, though, is that the pass rush has to be better and more consistent. Plays behind the line weren't an issue, but there has to be more pressure to help out the torched corners. Last year's formula didn't work, and even with seven starters back it could take awhile to find just the right combination.

The team will be far better if … the defense could get off the field. For all the fireworks and all the fun, this isn't the Oregon offense when it comes to scoring quickly. The Mountaineers can strike from anywhere on the field, but there's a ball control method to the madness. Even with one of the most dangerous passing games in the nation, West Virginia still lost the third and fourth down conversion battles and got crushed in time of possession 31:22 to 28:38. Opponents converted a whopping 46% of the time on third downs and 58% of the time on fourth downs, and now it's time for the secondary to start generating the stops to shut drives down.

The schedule: Unlike most Big 12 teams, the Mountaineers need to deal with a nasty conference game early on, warming up against William & Mary before having to make a trip to Oklahoma. With Georgia State to follow, the offense will have a little bit more time to get some easy work in before dealing with a sneaky-tough non-conference date against Maryland in Baltimore. And then come the firefights with Oklahoma State, at Baylor and a week off before going against Texas Tech.

The team needs the week off before facing the Red Raiders considering it's followed up by three road games in four weeks going to Kansas State, TCU and Kansas wrapped around a home game against Texas. In a strange and unfortunate twist, the second week off comes at the end between Kansas and Iowa State. In all, WVU has to play five conference road games and only get six games total in Morgantown.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Andrew Buie. The best offensive playmaker will probably be the starting quarterback, but the position might not be 100% settled all season long. Buie should be the steady part of the attack after leading the team with 851 yards and seven scores. He's a strong, quick back with a ton of tread still on the tires, and he could and should be relied on early and often until the passing game clicks.

Best defensive player: Sophomore S Karl Joseph. It seems strange that one of the nation's worst pass defenses welcomes back two of the Big 12's better safeties, but Darwin Cook and Joseph are terrific tacklers who should be better. Cook is a strong veteran, but Joseph is the better all-around producer coming up with a brilliant true freshman campaign with a team-leading 104 stops highlighted by a 13-tackle game against Iowa State. Great in the open field, he doesn't miss a tackle, but now he has to come up with more picks and has to be more of a ball-hawker on deep plays.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Paul Millard or redshirt freshman QB Ford Childress. Feel free to throw true freshman Chavas Rawlins into the mix, too. Millard is the veteran option while Childress is the more talented one, and it's going to be a battle to find the right triggerman to replace Smith. There was no question about who the main man was last year, but this season the starter will have to be looking over his shoulder all season long. With Millard's accuracy and the gun on Childress, there might be a combination at times, but one of them has to own the gig as soon as possible.

The season will be a success if … the Mountaineers win ten games. They won't be good enough to win the Big 12 title, and they won't be consistent enough to not give away at least one game they shouldn't, but the firepower will be there to battle with anyone in a weakened Big 12. With Texas and Oklahoma State at home, WVU has to take advantage of the break, and it needs to come up with road wins at Baylor and Kansas State to truly make the season interesting. Coming up with nine regular season victories and a bowl win is a fair – but lofty - carrot at the end of the stick.

Key game: Sept. 7 at Oklahoma. The Mountaineers had the Sooners in big trouble, but the defense gave up a five-yard touchdown pass with 24 seconds to play in the gut-wrenching shootout loss. It's the Big 12 opener this season, and with Georgia State and Maryland to follow, a win would not only mean a likely big start to the year, it would also show that the rebuilding job might be done faster than expected.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 3rd Down Conversions: Opponents 89-of-195 (46%) – West Virginia 80-of-182 (44%)
- Passing Yards Per Game – West Virginia 330.2 – Opponents 312.5
- Turnovers: Opponents 20 – West Virginia 13
- 2013 West Virginia Preview | 2013 West Virginia Offense
- 2013 West Virginia Defense | 2013 West Virginia Depth Chart