Last Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers closed the book on the first half of their season. They certainly look to turn the page after a disappointing 30-14 loss to Iowa State in Ames. But while there has been some disappointment in the past few games, the Mountaineers have treated fans to some solid football over the first half of the season. Either way, the bye week affords the perfect opportunity to present our Mountaineers’ mid-season review.
Mountaineers’ Mid-Season Review
The Mountaineers have played six games. They enter the bye week 5-1 and ranked 12th in both the AP Poll and our own Last Word on College Football poll. And while the offense has sputtered recently, the team continues to show promise.
The Iowa State game was marked by extreme offensive inefficiency. Several issues converged to cause it. Two running backs, including the Mountaineers’ best power back, missed the game. The offensive line continued to shuffle through injuries. And, simply, the staff simply called a bad game.
For example, the Mountaineers averaged north of five yards per carry using simple delayed draws and misdirection plays. The Mountaineers gave up eight different negative yardage plays in the passing game, including seven sacks, and only completed three passes for more than ten yards. Iowa State dared West Virginia to throw under their prevent defense, rushed three to four successfully, and the Mountaineers could not adapt. They abandoned the run at critical times and failed to use the quick slants and misdirection that made the most of the space Iowa State did give them.
With the combination of speed and size the Mountaineers possess, the play-calling was mind-boggling, to be honest. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital dialed up plays that either took too long to develop or were simply ineffective against the Cyclones’ defensive scheme. Either way, the staff failed to adapt. And the Mountaineers went back to Morgantown with their first loss of the season.
Plenty of Season
That said, the Mountaineers still have five games on the schedule, three at home. In football, past results do not necessarily predict future results. Teams suffer upset losses and find ways to overcome all the time. It is a part of the game, especially the college game.
Regardless, the “all is lost” cloud hanging over the West Virginia fan base is still thin. A few adjustments in all three phases can guarantee future success.
Assessing Pre-Season Predictions
While the Mountaineers evaluate and adapt, we assess our pre-season predictions at the halfway point.
Five Defensive Surprises
To start our preseason predictions, we crafted our list of five surprise players for the Mountaineers defense. First, we picked Charlie Benton. During the first few stands of the Tennessee game, this pick looked prescient. Unfortunately, Benton suffered a season-ending injury during the game. As a result, we count this as a wash.
Next, we picked two defensive linemen, Dante Stills and Kenny Bigelow. Stills has not disappointed. In limited snaps, he forced a fumble and accumulated six tackles (and one sack). Steam-rolling Tennessee’s transfer center and causing a big loss of yards, Bigelow telegraphed his impact on the first play of the season. Bigelow loves the game of football, and it shows. He has accumulated four tackles for loss, a sack, a forced fumble, and a huge blocked field goal against Iowa State. We consider both of these predictions wins.
Finally, we picked two defensive backs, Derrek Pitts, Jr., and Joshua Norwood. Norwood racked up 27 total tackles, three for loss, and forced a fumble. Despite showing an early tendency to over-pursue, Norwood has settled in well. Pitts has played both corner and bandit safety. And he has earned more opportunities at both. So far, Pitts produced 23 tackles, five for loss, and one sack. He also returned Bigelow’s field-goal block for a touchdown. Again, we consider both wins.
Five Offensive Surprises
Our offensive predictions were mixed. Game flow has limited Jack Allison‘s snap count. As a result, he has thrown four passes. Two of those were needle-threading would-be touchdowns that receivers dropped in or near the end zone. Absent those drops, Allison would be 3-4 with two touchdowns. Though we would like to consider this a draw, it is a miss for now.
We also picked Jacob Buccigrossi. He currently rotates between guard and center. But while Matt Jones has looked uncomfortable at times snapping the ball, Buccigrossi has not truly challenged the much-improved Jones. We continue to believe Buccigrossi will develop into a strong veteran leader on this line. But, for now, we consider this a miss.
Next, we picked Alec Sinkfield. Like Benton on the defense, injury limited Sinkfield’s early-season production. Nonetheless, he looks the part of game-breaking playmaker. Either way, because of early injury, we call this a draw.
Finally, we picked two transfers, Jovani Haskins and T.J. Simmons. Haskins caught the first touchdown reception by a tight end for West Virginia since Trevon Wesco in 2016. Haskins has averaged 10.5 yards per reception and looks like an athletic, play-making tight end. Unfortunately, Will Grier did not look his way on two touchdowns early in the season. Otherwise, this pick would look even better. As for Simmons, he averages 16.2 yards per reception. He has a touchdown to his credit and has settled in well as the team’s fourth receiver. We consider both picks wins.
Five Bold Predictions
Finally, we move on to our five bold predictions.
First, we predicted that Simmons would end the season with the second-most receiving yards in Morgantown. It was supposed to be bold. It was. Simmons is currently fourth on the team. His future is clearly bright. But Simmons is not the number two yet.
Next, we predicted that the tight ends would catch seven touchdown passes. They have one. They should have at least four, but that is a different story for a different article. They have work to do to convert this from a miss to a win.
We also predicted Kenny Robinson would force six turnovers. So far, he has two interceptions. The Mountaineers’ turnover production, however, has increased substantially since Tony Gibson unveiled the turnover coal miners’ helmet. So the jury is still out on this prediction.
Next, we predicted the Mountaineers would field a much-improved defense. In fact, we predicted a top-30 unit. So far, this prediction is exact. The defense currently ranks 30th in both scoring defense and defensive efficiency. If West Virginia evens out its nearly three-minute time of possession gap, then the defense may even finish in the top 25.
Finally, we predicted Will Grier would be in New York for the Heisman ceremony. Despite two bad games, Grier remains in the conversation, though his window is closing quickly. He still appears between number three and six on most Heisman watch lists. That said, his candidacy has cooled. And, honestly, fans probably welcome that reality. The focus should shine on the team as a whole, as it has at various times through the season, when the Mountaineers were perfecting the art of celebration.
The Mountaineers seem poised to overcome the adversity of their loss to Iowa State. The team says the right things. They look forward. They raise each other up. They seek to learn. By maintaining the close-knit family mentality that catapulted them to their 5-0 start, the Mountaineers can end the season strong, too. The margin of error is thin, as it always is. But it can be done.
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