West Virginia has won six games in back-to-back years under coach Neal Brown, but the program is only 17-18 overall and 11-15 in Big 12 play in the last three seasons. The Mountaineers haven’t had a breakthrough year under Brown, and entering his fourth year at the helm, showing on-field progress to consistently contend in the top half of the Big 12 is crucial.
Improvement off last season’s 6-7 mark starts this spring with significant concerns on both sides of the ball. New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell inherits five starters off an improved line, but a quarterback battle looms large this offseason. West Virginia’s defense held teams to 23.8 points a game last season and returns one of the Big 12’s top lines this fall. However, major holes must be filled at linebacker and in the secondary.
What’s on tap for West Virginia this spring? Here are five things to watch in Morgantown:
5 Storylines to Watch During West Virginia’s Spring Practices
1. Graham Harrell’s Debut
After finishing ninth in the Big 12 (conference-only games) in scoring (22.8 a game) and yards per play (5.4), changes are in store for West Virginia’s offense. Brown adjusted his offensive staff and hired Harrell, formerly at USC, to serve as the team’s play-caller in ’22. In the last two full seasons of action in Los Angeles, the Trojans reached 500 passing attempts (’21 and ’19) – something that hasn’t happened for West Virginia since ’14. What tweaks could Harrell have in store for the Mountaineers this fall? Harrell’s track record suggests more passing is in store, but he will likely blend his offensive philosophy with many of the concepts Brown already had in place.
2. The Quarterbacks
For Harrell’s offense to take off this fall, he has to solve the quarterback position. Entering spring ball, this is the biggest concern for West Virginia. Jarret Doege started all 13 games and threw for 3,048 yards and 19 touchdowns for the Mountaineers last season. However, he transferred to WKU this offseason, leaving sophomore Garrett Greene, redshirt freshman Will Crowder, and true freshman Nicco Marchiol to battle for the job. Even if Doege returned, Brown needed better play and more overall consistency from the quarterback position. Greene and Crowder have combined for 32 attempts in Morgantown, while Marchiol – a four-star recruit in the ’22 signing class – is the most intriguing option in his first spring on campus. Also, a transfer addition after spring practice can’t be ruled out.
3. Who Replaces Leddie Brown at Running Back?
After leading the team in rushing for three straight years and posting back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns, Brown departed Morgantown for the NFL. This spring is all about finding the next standout back, and the staff has a couple of candidates vying for the top spot on the depth chart. Tony Mathis rushed for 312 yards over 72 attempts as Brown’s backup last fall, but he’s not guaranteed the starting nod going into the spring. Sophomore Justin Johnson (90 yards last year) and redshirt freshman Jaylen Anderson (a four-star recruit in the ’21 signing class) are in the mix for carries. Also, Lyn-J Dixon transferred to West Virginia after running for 1,420 yards over four years at Clemson. The Mountaineers don’t necessarily need a defined starter, but this spring is the first opportunity to figure out a pecking order going into the fall.
4. Good News and Bad News Up Front on Defense
It’s a mixed bag going into spring practice for West Virginia’s defensive front. On the positive front, the line should be among the best in the Big 12. This group is anchored by first-team all-conference selection Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor on the interior. Taijh Alston (11 TFL last year) is back to man the edge. This group has quality depth with Jordan Jefferson, Jalen Thornton and Sean Martin returning, with Cincinnati transfer Zeiqui Lawton poised to contribute in ’22.
While the line is in great shape, the same can’t be said right now for the linebackers. Josh Chandler-Semedo’s decision to enter the transfer portal was a setback for West Virginia’s defensive front. The Ohio native was one of the team’s top defenders last fall, recording 110 tackles (5.5 for a loss), two interceptions, and three pass breakups. Chandler-Semedo leaves a void at middle linebacker, but junior college recruit Lee Kpogba is an impact addition to the mix. Lance Dixon and Exree Loe split the job on the weak side last year and both return to battle for snaps in ’22. The starting nod at bandit is also up for grabs, but both Jared Bartlett and Lanell Carr made starts there last year.
5. A Revamped Secondary
West Virginia finished fourth in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense last season, but coordinator Jordan Lesley has work to do to keep the secondary performing at a high level. Cornerbacks Daryl Porter Jr. and Nicktroy Fortune opted to transfer prior to spring ball, leaving a major (and unexpected) void at cornerback. With Jackie Matthews also departing Morgantown, Charles Woods (176 snaps and four starts) is in the driver’s seat for a starting job at cornerback. Also, Murray State transfer Marcis Floyd and incoming freshman Jacolby Spells should be near the top of the depth chart by the season opener.
The outlook at safety also is unsettled, as starters Scottie Young Jr., Alonzo Addae and Sean Mahone have all finished their eligibility in Morgantown. There’s not much in the way of proven experience at safety, so this spring is all about getting new faces quickly acclimated to the scheme and ready for the opportunity to win a starting job in the fall.
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