Mountaineers’ Four Offensive Surprises

Mountaineers’ Four Offensive Surprises

We continue our West Virginia Fall Camp coverage with less than two weeks to go before the 2022 Backyard Brawl. Previously, we made our predictions for four defensive surprises for WVU’s 2022 season. Now, we look at the other side of the ball and present our predictions for the Mountaineers’ four offensive surprises for 2022.

J.T. Daniels Starts 10 Games or More This Season

Based on high school recruiting profiles, J.T. Daniels is the single most talented quarterback to play for the Mountaineers. Indeed, his high school composite rating of .9917 per 247Sports makes him the second-highest rated recruit out of high school to play in Morgantown, behind only Noel Devine. In the Class of 2018, only two quarterbacks held higher ratings: Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. That puts Daniels in pretty good company.

Unfortunately, injuries derailed Daniels’ college football career each time it took a step forward. Statistically, he has performed like, well, a five-star quarterback, completing 64% of his passes for eight yards per attempt. Over his two partial seasons at Georgia, he threw 17 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Ask anyone who knows the young man, and they will tell you. Daniels has everything between the ears that you want in a starting quarterback. Precision, poise, and pre-snap reads represent his strong suits.

The only real question is whether he can stay healthy. At the end of the day, that is a function of luck as much as anything. Based on our next surprise pick, we think Daniels will stay relatively clean in the pocket. The program recently poured a lot of money into recovery and rest facilities, and that should help, too. Ultimately, Daniels is on a mission. He wants to live up to his five-star billing and hear his name called in next year’s NFL draft. To do so, he must remain healthy. We think he will.

The Offensive Line Improves from Experience

We wrote about the offensive line earlier in our Fall Camp series. In fact, we identified the unit as one of the three biggest question marks heading into the 2022 season. We know that the unit has not performed admirably over most of the last three seasons. Of course, it replaced multiple starters in each of those seasons, so that did not help Offensive Line Coach Matt Moore overcome the biggest deficiency Head Coach Neal Brown spotted when arriving in Morgantown. Brown did not mince words either. He offered his surprise that a Power Five program had such a lack of depth and preparedness in the offensive line room going into his first Spring.

He set out to fix it. That fix centered, in large part, around a trio of homegrown talent. He kept Zach Frazier at home, and Frazier has played increasingly well the last two seasons. He brought Doug Nester back home from Virginia Tech, and, once he got the club off of his hand in the second half, Nester played like an All-Conference guard. Finally, he kept a highly-coveted four-star Wyatt Milum home. Milum hit his stride in the last five games of 2021. Add James Gmiter and either Brandon Yates or four-star Ja’Quay Hubbard to the mix, and you have an offensive line that knows each other well.

For what it is worth, Moore tells us that Frazier last season finally started to identify defensive tells on film last season. This season, Moore adds, Frazier does that on the fly. Seeing it in the game–and communicating it to your line mates–takes experience and leadership. Frazier now has both. Moore also feels confident in his depth, as he identifies at least nine game-ready players, including camp standouts Jordan White and Tomas Rimac. These are the ingredients for success on the line, and we believe they will finally translate to the field in 2022.

The Running Backs Average Nearly Five Yards Per Carry

For the third of the Mountaineers’ four offensive surprises for 2022, we make this prediction: the running backs as a unit will have more success than they have in several years. In 2021, West Virginia’s running backs rushed for over four-and-a-half yards per carry, led by Leddie Brown‘s 1,065 yards. In 2020, that number was closer to four-and-three-quarters, again led by Brown’s 1,010 running yards. The room replaces a top-ten rusher in Mountaineer history. How then could they perform better this year than last? Well, look to our second offensive surprise for that answer.

Yes, we think the offensive line improves. That said, we also think WVU features a dangerous trio–with a surprise fourth–at running back. Tony Mathis looks poised for a breakout season. According to running backs coach Chad Scott, Mathis is “running the ball really wall” and will stay on the field because he does well on passing downs and picking up blitzes. Justin Johnson and Jaylen Anderson offer Mathis two four-star backups who have also been playing well. Indeed, Anderson has been identified by name as one of the biggest surprises in this camp.

Another surprise name for camp comes from an unlikely source. True freshman CJ Donaldson signed with West Virginia as a versatile tight-end recruit. Most though he would offer a potential tight end/slot receiver hybrid. Instead, he joins the running back room his freshman season. He offers deceptive speed and solid hands, and Scott tells us he is also a “really smart kid.” At 6’2, 240, though, he certainly does not look like a kid. For fans that have been clamoring for a bruising back who can get the hard yards in short-yardage situations, Donaldson may provide that answer. Regardless, his presence can certainly leave defenses off-balance when playing the run against West Virginia this season.

WVU’s Top Three Receivers Combine for 2,500 Yards

Over the last couple of seasons, the Mountaineers passed for nearly 250 yards per game. Surprisingly, however, no receiver finished with even 700 yards in a single season. Some of that comes from the fact that the Mountaineers trotted out five and six receivers who demanded time. West Virginia had five receivers with more than 350 receiving yards in 2021 as a result. With the targets evenly spread, nobody emerged as the leader (or leaders) of the offense.

This year, there is a clear pecking order. Sam James, Bryce Ford-Wheaton, and Kaden Prather will take the majority of the snaps. The remaining receivers will certainly fight for snaps and play critical roles. That said, these three will get the vast majority of targets unless one goes down with an injury. As a result, and based on an anticipated improvement in passing efficiency with the upgrade at quarterback, we think this may be our safest prediction. That said, West Virginia has not had a trio of receivers eclipse 2,500 yards since 2018. In other words, what has not yet been done in the Neal Brown era will be done this season. And that is the final of the Mountaineers’ four offensive surprises for 2022.