Predicting the Mountaineers’ Season Opener
Surreal as it may seem in light of all of the challenges posed by 2020, the Mountaineers’ season officially begin Saturday. West Virginia opens a season that Head Coach Neal Brown confessed he was not sure would ever happen with a 12:03pm kickoff against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels in Morgantown. The game always looked like a “gimme,” but Eastern Kentucky’s performance against Marshall solidifies that thought. Nonetheless, as we do for every game in every season, we are predicting the Mountaineers’ season opener.
Eastern Kentucky’s Woes
The Colonel’s woes began in the off-season when they changed head coaches, naming Walt Wells as their new head coach. That, in itself, is not a problem. The timing, however, proved detrimental. A 7-5 FCS team replacing its coaching staff and installing a new system during a pandemic that offered few opportunities to gel, however? This offers no recipe for success, especially considering this is Wells’ first stint as a head coach.
The adversity showed last weekend, when the Marshall Thundering Herd throttled the Colonels 59-0. Eastern Kentucky managed only 156 total yards, split evenly through the air and on the ground. Simply, they found no room to breath. Marshall, once other hand, racked up 613 yards, running for 282 yards (on 5.2 yards per carry).
The Colonels do return some talented performers (by FCS standards, anyway). Alonzo Booth scored fourteen touchdowns in 2019 while averaging just under five yards per carry. The defense returned All-Conference performers Steven Crowder and Josh Hayes. Otherwise, however, the Colonels lost a lot of talent, and back-to-back match-ups against FBS schools certainly does not offer much time to adjust.
Predicting The Mountaineers
We have offered our potential surprise players for the Mountaineers on both offense and defense. We also offered our four bold predictions for the Mountaineers’ season. Now, we offer our predictions on the season opener.
A Big Win to Start the Season
We do not know whether teams will be able to complete the entire 2020 season, but we do know the Mountaineers will at least begin. And they will do so in big fashion, albeit without an audience to cheer them on. Will the Colonels improve in their second game of the season under Coach Wells? Maybe. But not enough to present any real threat to a West Virginia program that has gone 20-0 against FCS programs. The only questions, really, are how long does Coach Brown leave his foot on the gas, and how soon do the second and third units see the field? Will the Mountaineers start sluggish, or are they so ready to prove they can be the most improved team in the country that they pounce immediately and never look back?
Everything we have heard paints a clear picture of excitement and hunger among the Mountaineers. The offensive line certainly wants to put the 2019 season in the rear view in a big way. They collectively aim to be the most improved offensive line in the country. The Mountaineers need it, and the opener offers a chance to build confidence and collect some in-game experience for the depth behind the starters. Behind that line, with a veteran defense with some star power, and behind the aerial arsenal surrounding Jarret Doege, the Mountaineers will put at least 50 on the Colonels.
Who Crosses The Goal-Line First?
Given that predicting a win offers no mystery or challenge in this situation, we also want to offer some situational predictions. Among them, we answer the question: who scores first for the Mountaineers? The answer depends on one thing: who gets the ball first? If the Mountaineers’ defense takes the field first, then we offer a couple of names here. Either VanDarius Cowan gets a scoop and score within the first few plays, or Dreshun Miller introduces himself to the Mountaineer faithful in memorable fashion with a pick-six.
If, on the other hand, the Mountaineers receive the opening kick, then we see one of two things happening. Either Coach Brown decides to keep the ball on the ground to give his running game room to build confidence and operate, or Coach Brown lets Doege open the game on a few intermediate passes to open up a long bomb. We think the former is more likely, and, in that situation, we see Leddie Brown opening with the Mountaineers’ first touchdown. If, however, that first score comes through the air, we call a Doege to Sam James connection to open the scoring.
Either way, plenty of Mountaineers will get in on the action.
How Many Sacks Do The Stills Brothers Collect?
Like his older brother Darius Stills, the Mountaineers’ All-American candidate, Dante Stills will see his biggest year-over-year jump in production between his sophomore season (last year) to his junior year (this season). The brothers’ friendly (but sometimes fierce) competition–illustrated by the tagline “meet me there, beat me there”–will begin early. Dante will open the game with an early sack, but Darius will grab plenty himself. Between the two, the Stills brothers will tally five sacks in the first half before giving way after the break to the younger players on the team.
Who Shines Most From The True Freshmen?
Given the imbalance between the talent on these teams, we have no doubt that Brown will pull the starters and give plenty of true freshman the opportunity to play in the second half. How much fun he lets them have remains to be seen. Will Brown take his foot off the gas and take a conservative approach early, or will he let his second and third units air it out and get some real game experience? If he takes the latter approach, we think that Sam Brown will show his skills and offer fans a long look at his potential as a Mountaineer. Regardless the approach, though, we do think that freshman running back A’Varius Sparrow will get plenty of time in the sun. Those two will shine on offense. Maybe we will even have a Garrett Greene sighting.
Defensively, we think three freshmen will make the most of their snaps. First, Akheem Mesidor and Sean Martin will get some time on the defensive front. Both are expected to contribute to the team all season, and this will provide a good opportunity for them to adjust to game speed. Both will make the most of their opportunities. Second, we think David Vincent-Okoli will see some snaps in the secondary and show flashes of brilliance.