Mountaineers: Previewing the Wolfpack
It is hard to believe, but, after this weekend, the West Virginia Mountaineers will have completed one-quarter of their season. They face the NC State Wolfpack coming off of a lopsided defeat to Missouri. Earlier this week, we lamented the hard loss and took a look at where the team failed. Now, we are previewing the Wolfpack. Last season, of course, the matchup was canceled due to adverse weather. This weekend, the teams will meet for the first time since 2010, a Wolfpack win. Kickoff is at 12:00 at Milan Puskar Stadium. Fox Sports 1 will televise the game.
Previewing the Wolfpack
NC State comes to Morgantown with a familiar face helping lead the defense. West Virginia native Tony Gibson acts as Co-Defensive Coordinator for a Wolfpack team surrendering just under 25 yards per game on the ground. Fans will see a familiar defensive set as NC State runs the 3-3-5 that West Virginia has employed much of the past two decades.
Sophomore safety Tanner Ingle leads the way for the Wolfpack, as he has accumulated 13 tackles in his first two games. Junior cornerback Chris Ingram follows on his heels with ten tackles and one interception. Sophomore defensive end Xavier Lyas leads NC State with two sacks. Several others, including senior tackle Larrell Murchison, have one.
While NC State may employ the same defensive set Gibson ran in Morgantown, the Wolfpack have had sustained success recruiting on the defensive line. As a result, pressure has been a particular strength for NC State over the last several seasons.
Offensively, redshirt sophomore signal-caller Matt McKay replaced Ryan Finley. Over two games, McKay has completed 66% of his passes for two scores and no interceptions. Senior transfer Tabari Hines caught one of those two touchdown passes. Junior tight end Cary Angeline caught the other. The Wolfpack feature a pair of freshmen running backs who have each run for over 100 yards. Zonovan Knight and Jordan Houston both average over six yards per carry so far this season.
Mountaineers Seeking Improvement
During the week, Mountaineer coaches lamented the lack of physicality with which their team has played. The offensive line could not win their blocks. Receivers were not winning their battles. The running backs could not get yards after contact. Finally, Austin Kendall threw two interceptions. Offensively, nothing went right for the whole game.
Defensively, Vic Koenning’s unit did not perform much better, though they did limit Missouri to only one score in the second half. The Mountaineers missed over 20 tackles during the game, a number Koenning thinks is a school record. And, to pile it on, Koenning’s defensive line depth took a hit with the season-ending knee injury suffered by Taijh Alston in the first half.
The good news for fans is that there is not much room left to fall. For a team that has asked fans to “trust the climb,” that seems like a good thing. Expect some improvement from the Mountaineers as the staff continues to rotate different personnel to keep the players moving forward. In fact, redshirt freshman Briason Mays could end up with his first start at center this weekend. And true freshman Winston Wright is penciled in as the starter over Tevin Bush. The staff offered that Wright’s classmate Ali Jennings, whom we profiled here, would see some playing time as well.
Explosive running back Leddie Brown is also ready to go after suffering an offseason injury. Brown should offer a boost to the Mountaineers’ woeful running game that averages just over one yard per carry so far. How much of a boost remains to be seen. The offensive line looks like it needs a lot of work, and the Wolfpack’s run defense has been stout so far, albeit against inferior competition.
We hated to pick against the Mountaineers last week, but we did. The Tigers were looking to dust off an upset loss to Wyoming in their home opener. We did think that the game would be much closer than it was, however. This week, the Mountaineers will look to play spoiler and end the Wolfpack’s perfect season. Look for West Virginia to run a more efficient offense using the middle of the field a lot more. Given the weakness of the 3-3-5 against the tight end, maybe even look for Jovani Haskins or Mike O’Laughlin to get involved early and often. We know we’re going against the odds here, but it feels like the Mountaineers have a lot to prove this week. So we’ll call this a nail-biting 24-21 win for West Virginia.