Last week, this article predicted the five biggest surprise impact players for the Mountaineers’ defense this season. The national media expects fireworks from the Mountaineer offense. Predicting “surprise” performers on that side of the ball is more challenging. Nonetheless, early input indicates that the following players will be West Virginia’s five biggest offensive surprises for the 2018 Mountaineers.
Predicting WVU’s Five Biggest Offensive Surprises
Like Will Grier, Jack Allison is a 4-star transfer from a Florida program looking to prove his worth in Morgantown. Allison, a redshirt sophomore, was the 8th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the class of 2017. He attended the University of Miami for a single season but transferred to West Virginia after red-shirting his first season. Also like Grier, Allison earned Scout Team Player of the Year accolades last season for West Virginia.
Offensive Coordinator and Quarterbacks Coach Jake Spavital said that Allison has matured immensely this offseason. Allison understands the calls Spavital is dialing up for the offense. He has also learned how to communicate those calls efficiently to the rest of the offense. According to Spavital, this allows Allison to relax in the pocket and focus more on timing and footwork. The advancement has paid off, as Spavital and Allison’s teammates have raved about Allison’s poise and leadership in this camp. Senior wideout Gary Jennings has been particularly impressed. “He’s threading needles all over the place,” shared Jennings.
Most importantly, perhaps, for Mountaineer fans is this: Spavital feels 100% comfortable inserting Allison into the game if Grier were to suffer an injury. It should be clear that Allison is far more advanced than last season’s backup, Chris Chugunov. This should provide Mountaineer fans with some comfort that, even if the worst case scenario unfolds, the offense will be in good hands.
Allison will be a surprise contributor this season. Mostly, because Spavital will have plenty of opportunities during garbage time to show off Allison’s arm and get him game reps. Allison’s performance will impress fans and give the conference notice: the Mountaineers are well-represented in the quarterback room for the next several years.
Redshirt sophomore Jacob Buccigrossi is now over a year removed from an ACL injury that ended what Offensive Line Coach Joe Wickline anticipated would be a breakout season for Buccigrossi. Buccigrossi pushed one-time 4-star recruit Matt Jones at the center position until suffering his ACL tear during Spring practice. Now, Buccigrossi has returned. The 6’4, 306-pound sophomore is getting the majority of the reps with the first team during fall camp.
Buccigrossi impresses with his work ethic and athleticism at the position. As a result, he will likely earn the starting role for the Mountaineers. To step in after an injury and replace a 13-game starter is a difficult task. But, his development also means that the versatile Buccigrossi can slide over to guard where necessary without the Mountaineers losing any experience up front. Either way, Buccigrossi will no doubt surprise as he anchors a veteran West Virginia line.
ESPN called Alec Sinkfield the breakout player for the Mountaineers after the conclusion of Spring Camp. Kennedy McKoy, the presumptive workhorse, and Martell Pettaway, the power back, still command most of the attention received by the backfield. Fans, however, should heed the early words on Sinkfield. He has only continued to impress the staff, including Running Backs Coach Marquel Blackwell, this summer.
Sinkfield is a redshirt freshman standing at 5’9 and weighing in at only 187 pounds. Sinkfield has a striking combination of devastating cuts and explosive speed and acceleration that truly warrant the “big play back” prediction that has been bestowed on Sinkfield. His size and speed should remind fans of the prototypical scatback/slot receiver combinations that featured in some of West Virginia’s best offenses this millennium. Those first few massive chunks of yardage earned by misdirecting defenses will no doubt dominate mid-season highlight reels.
Another redshirt sophomore transfer from the University of Miami, Jovani Haskins earned a 4-star rating from 247Sports and was that publication’s number six tight end for the class of 2017. Haskins earned Head Coach Dana Holgorsen’s praise as early as last fall. Holgorsen said repeatedly that Haskins simply was a different body than the other guys playing fullback or tight end for the Mountaineers. Haskins also earns praise for being able to stretch the field, for having deceptive speed for such a large frame (6’4, 245), and for being extremely athletic.
This season, the staff has preached versatility among their tight ends. In fact, the staff has been hesitant to even call their tight ends by that name. They prefer H-back on most occasions. Clearly, the staff wants its “tight ends” to run, block, and catch. And, while Haskins could improve his blocking skills, his athleticism simply cannot be ignored. Because the Mountaineers haven’t incorporated a true tight end (or really anything even close) for many years now, even modest use of Haskins on passing downs would come as a big surprise. Expect Haskins, however, to factor heavily into the offense, particularly on 3rd down and in the red zone.
Yet another redshirt sophomore transfer, this time from the University of Alabama, T.J. Simmons earned extraordinary praise from many Alabama sportswriters when he committed. One writer even called T.J. Simmons’ ability to track and haul in passes a “superhuman” skill. Simmons earned a 4-star rating from Rivals and worked hard enough for Nick Saban’s squad to earn a spot on special teams as a true freshman. Holgorsen has referred to Simmons a number of times as a consummate professional. He has speed, and his work ethic is oft-described as second-to-none.
The Mountaineers return three of their top four receivers from a season ago. The three returning receivers accounted for 192 receptions, 2,740 yards, 24 receiving touchdowns. That is better than 2/3 of the production from the passing game. Absent an injury from Will Grier late in the season, the Mountaineers would have finished with three different 1,000-yard receivers (two of whom are returning, in Jennings and David Sills) and another 750-yard receiver (Marcus Simms). As a result, many members of the national media are calling the receiving corps in Morgantown the best such corps in all of college football. Those same media outlets will be surprised then when the season concludes and relative newcomer Simmons ends up being the second-most productive receiver on the team. Yet Simmons’ skill set lends itself easily to this projection.