After a 5-0 start last season, West Virginia was poised to be a contender for the Big 12 title, while quarterback Geno Smith was an early Heisman favorite. However, the season started to crumble after a 49-14 defeat at Texas Tech, which threw the Mountaineers into a five-game losing streak. Even though West Virginia rebounded with wins against Iowa State and Kansas to close the regular season, finishing 7-6 was a disappointment for a team loaded with offensive talent. Moving to the Big 12 was a step up in competition, but the defense was the primary culprit for the struggles. Fixing that side of the ball, along with reloading the offense are the top spring priorities for coach Dana Holgorsen. The Mountaineers will be picked near the bottom of the Big 12 in 2013, and this spring is crucial to finding the right answers on both sides of the ball.
West Virginia Mountaineers 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 7-6 (4-5)
Spring practice dates: March 10-April 20
Returning Starters: Offense – 3, Defense – 7
Passing: Paul Millard, 9 of 19, 87 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
Rushing: Andrew Buie, 179 car., 851 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving: Andrew Buie, 28 rec., 318 yards, 0 TD
Tackles: Karl Joseph, 104
Sacks: Kyle Rose and Shaq Petteway, 1.5
Interceptions: Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, 2
Redshirts to watch: QB Ford Childress, OL Tyler Orlosky, OL Tony Matteo, DL Noble Nwachukwu, WR Devonte Mathis, CB Brandon Napoleon
Early Enrollees to watch: LB Hodari Christian, S Malik Greaves, QB Chavas Rawlins, WR Daikiel Shorts, RB Wendell Smallwood, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White
JUCO Transfers to Watch: WR Mario Alford, WR Ronald Carswell, LB Brandon Golson, LB d’Vante Henry, DE Dontrill Hyman, P Nick O’Toole, RB Dreamius Smith, OL Stone Underwood, WR Kevin White
Aug. 31 William & Mary
Sept. 7 at Oklahoma
Sept. 14 Georgia State
Sept. 21 Maryland (Baltimore)
Sept. 28 Oklahoma State
Oct. 5 at Baylor
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Texas Tech
Oct. 26 at Kansas State
Nov. 2 at TCU
Nov. 9 Texas
Nov. 16 at Kansas
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 29 Iowa State
Offensive Strength: With just three starters returning, it’s hard to call any unit of West Virginia’s offense a strength. However, there’s some promising talent returning at running back, led by Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison. Junior college transfer (and all-name team selection) Dreamius Smith will also figure into the mix.
Offensive Weakness: After averaging 502 yards per game last season, West Virginia has some major question marks to answer in spring ball. Quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin won’t be easy to replace, while the offensive line loses three starters.
Defensive Strength: You have to look really hard to find a strength on West Virginia’s defense after a miserable 2012 season. If there’s a bright spot, it’s the play of youngsters Isaiah Bruce (LB) and Karl Joseph (S) last season. As sophomores in 2013, the Mountaineers need both players to be even better.
Defensive Weakness: Everywhere. West Virginia’s defense allowed 40 or more points six times in Big 12 play and finished near the bottom nationally in pass defense.
Spring Storylines Facing the Mountaineers
1. Is Ford Childress the answer at quarterback? West Virginia opens spring practice with four quarterbacks vying for time under center, but the battle is expected to come down to sophomore Paul Millard and redshirt freshman Ford Childress. Millard has thrown 34 passes in his career but does not have a start under his belt. Childress was regarded as one of the top 20 quarterbacks in the 2012 signing class and should be a good fit for West Virginia’s offense. Although Millard has the edge in experience, the redshirt freshman has more talent and should claim the No. 1 job. As with any new quarterback, there will be some ups and downs. However, Childress has the talent to post huge numbers in Dana Holgorsen’s offense.
2. Restocking the receiving corps. Losing Geno Smith is a huge blow to West Virginia’s offense, but that isn’t the only loss on this side of the ball. Gone are receivers Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, J.D. Woods and Ryan Nehlen. Running back Andrew Buie is the team’s top returner in terms of catches, with the top receiver being Jordan Thompson at just 13 receptions. The Mountaineers are counting on Thompson to become one of the top playmakers in this offense, while junior college recruits Kevin White, Mario Alford and Ronald Carswell need to emerge as impact players. Redshirt freshman Devonte Mathis and true freshman Shelton Gibson are other names to watch this preseason, as West Virginia will likely spend a lot of time mixing and matching to find the best four starting options for Childress or Millard.
3. Fixing the defense. Depending on how you view returning starters, West Virginia’s defense is in either good or bad shape. The Mountaineers return seven starters on that side of the ball, but this unit was horrendous last year. West Virginia ranked last in the Big 12 in points allowed, 118th nationally in pass defense and 108th in yards allowed. Ouch. Keith Patterson will call the plays on defense this season, and needless to say, he will have his hands full in spring practice. The Mountaineers need help at each level of the defense, but the secondary needs extra attention with the departure of cornerback Pat Miller and linebacker/safety Terence Garvin. Considering the passing offenses in the Big 12, West Virginia cannot afford to have a leaky secondary all year once again. Establishing a better pass rush is also crucial to addressing some of the holes in pass defense. Three junior college transfers will help add some competition to the defense, but the Mountaineers need some of their younger players, along with the returning starters to step it up in 2013.
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