Reviewing Our Mountaineer Predictions
Each year, in the hustle and bustle of pre-season excitement, we traditionally render several predictions for the West Virginia Mountaineers. First, we name our top offensive surprise players. Then, we name our top defensive surprise players. Finally, we make our bold predictions for the season. At the end of each season, we recap the season against our predictions. Thus, as always, we are reviewing our Mountaineer predictions for the 2020 season.
Mountaineer Predictions Versus Results
In this category, we started by predicting that Sam James would correct his issue with drops and eclipse his 2019 totals. About this, we were wrong. James’ concentration issues continued into 2020. While his yards per reception and touchdown totals stayed consistent so, too, did his drops. And he failed to surpass his 2019 totals. Even in his per game totals, he only measured better in touchdowns.
Next, we tagged Bryce Ford-Wheaton. We thought he would become a larger part of the offense, and he did. In 2019, Ford-Wheaton played in seven games, snagging twelve receptions for 201 yards and two touchdowns. This season, Ford-Wheaton played in eight games (sitting a couple due to contact tracing and injury). In that time, he accumulated 27 receptions, 416 yards, and three touchdowns. Had he played all ten games, his per-game average yields 520 yards, safely over our predicted result. We count this one as a correct prediction.
Our most controversial pick here was Austin Kendall. The Oklahoma transfer struggled behind an inexperienced offensive line in 2019. While we knew Jarret Doege would be named the starter, we also thought criticism of Kendall to be unfair. Kendall, however, came in during the second half and led a struggling West Virginia offense to a win over Army in the Liberty Bowl. No doubt, Kendall surprised us all. We also count this prediction correct.
For our final two, we predicted surprise performances from Junior Uzebu and Leddie Brown. Uzebu started one game this season but ultimately ceded his spot to redshirt-freshman Brandon Yates, who never looked back. Uzebu, whom we wish well, transferred to Vanderbilt. Brown, on the other hand, eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career. He added eleven total touchdowns. Overall, we hit on three of our five predictions in this category.
In this category, we started by predicting Tykee Smith to improve dramatically after his stellar freshman campaign. He certainly did that, and more. In three fewer games, he eclipsed his 2019 totals by 11 tackles and five-and-a-half tackles for loss. In coverage, he graded out as the best defensive back against the slot in the entire country. Laughably, he was excluded from the official All-Conference teams, but Pro Football Focus named his to their All-American first team. He also earned several other second-team and honorable mention nods. We count this as a success.
Next, we looked at Akheem Mesidor to be a surprise early contributor. Mesidor lived up to all the hype we gave him when he committed to the Mountaineers. Against a veteran defensive line, Mesidor led the entire team in sacks (with five), and he added 32 tackles and six-and-a-half tackles for loss. He certainly surprised many.
We also named Dreshun Miller and Tony Fields II as defensive surprised. For Fields, we said he would put up numbers reminiscent of another Mountaineer great, David Long. Fields played in nine games, racking up 88 tackles, a sack, an interception, and four tackles for loss. Fields found himself around the ball far more often than not. He produced five games with double-digit tackles, hitting a season-high of 15 against Kansas State. For Miller, he found himself making plays routinely. Solid in coverage, Miller did not hear his name called often (and for good reason).
The solid play of the West Virginia secondary, in fact, kept younger players off the field. As a result, our final surprise prediction, Daryl Porter, Jr., did not pan out as expected. Porter played a total of 17 snaps as a freshman. And, honestly, given that Miller and Nicktroy Fortune were trusted enough to carry the majority of the cornerback snaps (557 and 552, respectively), we are happy to be wrong here. In total, we hit four of our five predictions in this category.
Four Bold Predictions
Here, we made several predictions. First, we predicted a substantial improvement in the Mountaineers’ run game. Given that they rushed for 73 yards per game last season, we set the number for 2020 at 110 per game. They exceeded that number by a good margin, finish with 135 rushing yards per game. Head Coach Neal Brown told fans in the preseason that the improvement here would be incremental, and, with an overhauled offensive line going into 2021, we expect another big improvement next year.
Next, we predicted that West Virginia would feature its first consensus All-American since 2006 (when Steve Slaton and Dan Mozes took the honor). Darius Stills–our pick for the award–fell just shy in the most official sense (consensus officially requires 3 of the 5 recognized sources to name a player to the first team), Stills has been recognized as a consensus All American by West Virginia University based on the tie-breaking procedures (only 3 of 4 defensive line spots gained the majority required). As a result, we will count this one as a correct prediction.
We also predicted that the Mountaineer defense would improve substantially. We tagged them as a top-three unit in the conference. The unit probably did not take kindly to that vast underestimate. They finished top in the conference in scoring defense, passing defense, and total defense. In fact, they finished 21st in the entire country in scoring defense and fourth in the nation in total defense. They also finished the season as the top-ranked passing defense, surrendering just 160 yards per game.
Finally, we predicted that the Mountaineers would finish the season with seven wins. They fell one shy (in one less game). The Mountaineers certainly had their chances against Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech, but they came up short. The 60% winning percentage from this season is certainly better than their 42% winning percentage last season. But they still fell one win shy of where we thought they would be. In this category, we hit on three of our four predictions. In total, we hit our mark on ten of our 14 preseason predictions (just missing on one more).