Welcome back. So I owe the fans and readers an apology. Apparently I was wrong in my defense of Deforest in the comments. He does handle return coverage. So I was wrong. Onto the questions.
Q1: So Skyler Howard gives us a full year starting, finishing the year 10th in single season passing yards. He's a decent game away from being fifth all time in the single season passing yards and is sixth in passing touchdowns. What are your thoughts on Skyler? Should he be the starter next year?
John Radcliff: I'm not sure he gets better. I expect there will be improvement in his decision making, but his physical skills are probably maxed out. I like him, and the team seems to be with him. I'm in favor of having him start the season if no one beats him out. If it's a tossup, I got with Howard. I don't know enough about the other guys to be able to say they are ready. Ask me again after the spring game.
Will Hirsch: I love a mobile quarterback. Going into the season I thought Howard was the guy that would bring greatness to WVU in the Big 12. He has a good arm and can take off and get first downs with ease. This year he just couldn't get a handle on his accuracy. The constant overthrowing of wide receivers was problematic. His 54% completion percentage was higher than what was really telling about his air game. Being ranked 87th in the nation in red zone offense efficiency scoring on just 80.77% of red zone drives, is nothing to brag about. That's partially on Skyler. Since Skyler hasn't shown much improvement over the season, I'd like to see what William Crest can do next year.
JP: We are 62nd in Yards Per Pass Attempt as a team. Howard is 75th in ESPN's Total QBR with a rating of 53.5. (100 is perfect). He is 72nd in standard quarterback rating. Any way you look at it, he is just a bit better than average. What makes me worry that there might not be much more to gain is these kind of middling numbers haven't been the norm for Holgorsen's development of a quarterback at his previous coaching stops. Howard is a gritty kid. I like him. I loved his interview earlier in the season where he asked a reporter:" What, do you want me to quit?" Ultimately, I think he is serviceable, and perhaps having a truly flat field at home will help him next year. Barring someone else drastically elevating his game, I think Skyler retains the starting job. Let's just hope he is able to get into the top 25 percent of people playing the position. With our running game, that should be enough to make the offense as dynamic as we expect it to be. Sidenote: Let's not just focus on Skyler...it would help a great deal if our young receiving corps got better at catching the ball next season. I am quite sure we are top 10 nationally in dropped balls.
Brandon: Those are deceiving numbers, because anyone who's watched him play can see that he's limiting. He's not fast enough to fully leverage the read option and he's not accurate enough to make the passing game reliable. JP makes a great point with the QB rating - that's a much better reflection of performance than straight statistics. Having said all that if he's the best option when the season starts next year (as he has been and still is this year) then I guess he should be the starter and I hope people take it easy on him, because that fact is a commentary on the coaching much more than the quarterback. I'd like to think he could make a leap similar to what we saw with Trickett between 2013 and 2014, but my fear is that the shortcomings in Skyler's game aren't things that are gonna change. His accuracy is what it is and his speed is what it is and his height is what it is. And all those are very limiting factors in his ability to be productive in this offense.
Q2: There are three components to a passing game, protection, throwing and catching. How do you feel about the receivers? Looking at the corp, I see potential for clones of the greatest receivers in the past. We potentially could have a Kevin White clone, a Mario Alford clone, Tavon Austin clone and Stedman Bailey clone.
John Radcliff: They need to check out Lester Hayes. If that's going too far back, then they need to check out Clifford Franklin in The Replacements.
I'm sorry, I can't get past all the drops. Am I wrong to say that just about every receiver that had a good game also disappeared for the next two games or more? There's just no consistency in this group. As much as we hope there's an improvement via osmosis for Skyler Howard, I think you can say the same thing about the receivers.
William Hirsch: Even though fans like to point to all the drops, the Mountaineers have some serious threats at the WR position. Shelton Gibson is currently tied for 11th all time in WVU Football history for TD catches in a season with 8. There were games where he was relatively non-existent so if WVU could get some consistent QB play and consistent play from him, he could reach Stedman Bailey numbers. Gibson also returned a Kickoff for a TD this season which puts him in the top five for most in a season in WVU history. He's also tied for the longest in WVU history with a 100 yard kickoff return TD.
Brandon Priddy: I think that's a pretty charitable assessment of this crew. The WR corps is long on talent but there are the obvious drop problems and they don't block terribly well on the edges or downfield, which was an underrated component of White's game. I'd like to think at least one of them could make a White-esque leap similar to what he did from 2013 when he was a solid WR to 2014 when he became a force of nature, but that's pretty optimistic. My biggest complaint about everyone save Gibson is I don't see a lot of toughness there. SG earns a pass because of his kick coverage play, but the other guys seem soft - they don't fight for balls or position. Maybe that's mental and physical immaturity. Hopefully someone can give them KW's offseason program from spring 2014.
Jake: The toughness factor is something that has bothered me all year and something I've wondered about. I agree Brandon that Gibson can get a pass for his coverage skills because he's become a great gunner. That said, Shelton often leaves his feet when it isn't necessary. I also would note that we broke in four brand new receivers who had never played against this type of competition and Gibson had hardly played before.
JP: Jake mentioned the very word that crosses my mind when I think of our WRs. "Toughness." More to the point, our lack of it. We don't win enough 50-50 balls and that may be a product of youth. Catching on the other hand. We have to improve. If a ball hits you in the hands and you are a D-1 receiver, it is my earnest belief that 9 times out of 10 you ought to catch it. Several of our games, Oklahoma and TCU jump immediately to mind, could have been very different affairs if we had caught all the balls we should have, rather than not. That said, this is a young group and has vast opportunity for leaps-and-bounds improvement.
Q3: Shane Lyons just announced that Dana would return as coach for the 2016 season. No extension has been announced. How are you feeling going into next season? Do you think it was the right move to retain Dana and should Dana be extended?
John Radcliff: Yes and yes. I'm frustrated with Holgo, but the only thing stupider that firing him at this late date without a suitable replacement lined up would be to keep him without an extension. An extension gives us the option to renegotiate his buyout and it minimizes negative recruiting by our competition. He needs some magic, though. Because the OOC this upcoming year is much more difficult than this year. Like 2014, a 7-5 record would be pretty good considering. But the fans seem to have had enough of that talk. A little overachieving would go a long way.
William Hirsch: Continuity is key for the program. Holgorsen and crew have been recruiting some great players to set up the program for future success in the Big 12. I understand fans have been frustrated with not winning more than seven games a season but they seem to forget this is Big 12 Football. These programs are historically some of the best in college football. No game is an easy game and that's the price you have to pay to be the best. Would they rather go back to what is now the AAC and beat up on teams just to get 10 wins a season but be completely inexperienced when playing superior competition? Another thing is, if Lyons had fired Holgorsen, who could come in and replace him and recruit better and set up success like he has in Big 12 football? We aren't going to land a big name coach like other prosperous programs. Let's be honest with ourselves here, this is WVU, not Alabama. It's great that fans want the program to be an Alabama and demand the program be as good as Alabama but there are many people around the country that don't even know West Virginia is a state! If you can't be realistic in the fact WVU isn't going to compete with the likes of the Alabama's in college football, then maybe college football isn't for you.
Brandon Priddy: For all the reasons I outlined in my Retweet earlier this week,
I think giving Holgorsen 2016 was the only way to go. You've got returning talent on offense and hopefully Gibby can hold things together with the D. Between that and a 5 home conference game schedule (not to mention early games against BYU and Mizzou teams that will be breaking in first-year coaches), there's potential for good things. Also this is not the offseason WVU wanted to be in the coaching market. Things will be much quieter next year, so they should be able to make a better hire if it comes to that.
I will say that I don't necessarily agree with Will that WVU can't go out and get a better coach who can win in the Big 12. I just think they don't have the margin for error (see: deep pockets) that an elite place has. You need to be smart about your hires and patient before your fires. But if they were to make that decision, I think this is a place that still carries enough cache to bring in a very good coach, but the danger is it's someone who is looking to move on and we begin to be perceived as a stepping-stone job (something WVU completely has the profile for and has been fortunate to avoid - unlike Pitt). Again, more reason to be 110% sure that a guy won't work before you cut him loose, and we'll know that for sure in 12 (or fewer) months.
I'll leave with this - there's plenty of precedent at mid-high-level programs like WVU for coaches who tread water for a few years before putting it all together. Nick Saban's tenure at Michigan State is obviously the go-to example of this, but I'd also point to Dabo at Clemson, Kirk Ferentz at Iowa or even Spurrier at South Carolina (Check out the link for his first 5 seasons...). I just think a place like WVU needs to give a guy a lot of rope, but I also think that rope only stretches to 2016 without significant improvement and an indicator that these same mistakes don't continue.
JP: I have been quite vocal in the threads about this move that I think it was the right one, and I actually do think he should get an extension of a year or two with a much-lower buyout so as not to adversely affect recruiting. I don't know that he would agree to the lower-buyout part, but perhaps he would, because the seat has been pretty warm this season. I don't think I have seen as succinct a description of the difficulty of which so many fans of ours seem unware , or unaccepting, as in the first two paragraphs of the Every Day Should Be Saturday post on this situation: "This is a job for extreme overachievers, ingenious people capable of working without the gifts of built-in recruiting pipelines, huge budgets, and the lack of interference from sometimes truculent local political forces. West Virginia is, for a lack of a better word, a difficult job. Not impossible, not unbeloved, and certainly not without what you and I might call "powerful and recognized branding," but certainly not the easiest job." In other words, we are known, and somewhat respected, but we are not, and never will be, a destination job for most. What if Dana wins big next year? What if his phone starts ringing? Both are possibilities.
Follow up: what is your requirement to retain Dana next year? Is there a win requirement?
Jake: I hate making a coach win specific number of games because what happens if we lose three quarterbacks like KSU and Baylor? Is a lower number acceptable? What if the Big 12 is awful and we cruise to 9 runs but are a mediocre team?
My feeling is more than just bowl eligibility (7 wins) and the offense needs to be near elite. It doesn't need to be top 3 but we can't pass for only 200 yards a game at 55% completion percentage. Wide receivers can't drop easy passes, and there needs to be an identity. If it's running the ball, it's running the ball. I'm willing to bring Dana back if there is clear and present improvement on offense. If the offense, because of Sklyer or the receivers, is inconsistent and unable to consistently move the ball and generate points, I would be looking very hard at moving in a new direction. Dana's an offensive guy and if he's going to be the OC, he needs to be held accountable for the problems on offense.
Brandon: I think it's going to be hard to accept anything less than 8 wins. Obviously injuries or other factors could add some nuance to that, but 8 seems like the basement, and even then you'd like to do that without getting your doors blown off and have some competitive losses. I don't think you can overstate the importance of that season-opener against Mizzou. It's a winnable game that will set the tone. But that would seem to bode well for Holgorsen. For all the attention his shortcomings have received, he's done an outstanding job getting WVU ready for season-openers the last two years including what I'd argue is his best coaching job in 5 years, the Alabama game to open 2014.
I will say the 2016 schedule sets up a lot better for WVU than the 2015 schedule did. You have an opportunity to build some momentum opening up conference play against KSU at home and Texas Tech on the road before wrapping up with a homer against Baylor. I just think at some point 2016 needs to become the year of no excuses.
John Radcliff: I agree that the opener will go a long way as will a win vs. BYU. I think 7-8 wins would be great if it includes a little overachieving as I mentioned earlier. Style points will count. But if we come out of the non-con 3-0, 8-9 wins should be achievable. The offense has to be solid. The drops need to be minimized. The bombs on 3rd and 2 need to connect or even better, that wide open receiver in the flat needs to be found. The defense was put in a lot of bad positions this year because we failed to string a few first downs together. I don't believe the 2016 defense will be as good, at least early on. So it's going to be up to the offense to win some games.
JP: Nine wins and end in the top 15. Minimum. Long ago, I wrote a post where I posited that elite programs should have a Top 10 finish at least every four years. It's been five years now since we finished 17th in Holgorsen's first year. He has a second-year quarterback returning, a dynamite running game, the receivers will be a year bigger and better. Barring something along the lines of what Jake mentioned -- a disastrous, injury-plagued season -- I think we should expect a good season, especially given the fact that the schedule is much nicer in its layout that the one we had to endure this season. Despite the fact that I tend to see the sunny side of the street, I, too, believe that WVU should have a reasonable expectation of being a top 20 program. He probably loses my support after next season if he can't deliver a memorable year.
William Hirsch: I think Dana has to break the seven win plateau next season to keep his job. Next season is a tougher schedule with early season games against Missouri and BYU at Fed Ex Stadium in Landover, Maryland. He has yet to break that plateau since entering the Big 12 and with most programs, it's all about improvements, even if they are small improvements. With the schedule being what it is, there could be chance he stay if he reaches seven wins but anything below that number, I just don't see it working out in his favor. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Big 12 is big boy football. I think demanding nine wins and being in the top 15 as his line of staying or going as JP mentioned is too much to ask. This is West Virginia. It takes a lot to get the best recruits in the country to come play in Morgantown. It's a breeze for the likes of Alabama. Lyons knows that having been at Alabama. Let's take a deep breath and be realistic. On the recruiting front, Dana has done better than anyone else could have.
Q4: The Men's Basketball squad took on #10 Virginia yesterday in Madison Square Garden. They had Virginia on the ropes, up 13 with 2 minutes to go in the first half. They lost the game 70-54. Is there a hypocrisy or discrepancy among fans regarding the basketball and football coach?
John Radcliff: Oh lord yes. You can look at football and basketball, or you can look at the difference between how Huggs and Beilein were treated. Maybe not so much by the fans as the administration at the time. But I think the fans were more or less on the same page as the administration. You know, we get on Holgorsen because his teams seem undisciplined and make bad decisions. We always bring up his sideline demeanor and ask, "do you think all that screaming is motivating anyone?" We even get on Holgorsen for wearing all black. All I can ask is, have you seen our basketball coach? I love Huggins. He said he would fix it, and I think he did. I wouldn't wish him away for any basketball coach anywhere. But it's not like there are any Big 12 championship banners hanging in the Coliseum.
William Hirsch: Absolutely. Huggins gets a pass because he's the fourth most winningest active coach in college basketball. He doesn't dress up in a suit like most coaches around the country do and he's often critiqued by opposing fans for the lack thereof, of a suit. Opposing fans also criticise his boisterous yelling at his players. WVU fans just don't care because he's been so successful. When it comes to Holgorsen, he's younger and inexperienced. He gets ripped for not wearing Gold and Blue. He gets criticised for screaming at his own players. It's all because he doesn't win at the rate the Huggins does. All WVU fans care about is winning. It's as if we've forgotten these are young men (18-22 year olds) and they are still learning and setting up their lives for success later on. Sometimes, there are more to sports than just winning. Keep that in perspective.
Brandon: Huggins gets the benefit of the doubt because he's earned it. There are only 3 active coaches in Division 1 who have more wins than Huggs, and with that reputation comes a lot of fan patience. He's also made 3 Sweet 16s in 8 seasons at WVU including a Final Four banner. That's before you consider a very successful tenure at Cincinnati. So I'll trust in Huggs all day and not apologize for it.
Having said all that both he and Holgorsen possess a stubborn streak that probably fits basketball better than football. Contrast Huggins' decision to keep Jevon Carter planted on the bench for most of the 2nd half against UVA following a boneheaded decision with Holgorsen's adherence to the pass against Kansas State. With Huggs his decision may not have cost his team the game, but it sure went a long way in that direction. But college basketball is a different beast and you can afford to teach lessons in December in order to reap the rewards in March. There is no such margin for error or learning curve in football where every game takes on an immense importance and any singular decision that can be seen as compromising your ability to win will be judged harshly, bringing scrutiny and scathing criticism from fans.
Jake: But Brandon, the same criticism lobbied at Dana of never finishing high in the Big 12, never winning the conference and his conference record isn't stellar, can be said of Bob. Bob has earned his wins but so far it hasn't meant WVU has set the world on fire. I do not want either coach fired but I would point out if you're wanting conference and national championships, Bobby hasn't delivered on that either but because he is from WVU he seems to get more leeway with fans.
JP: Great question. Absolutely! No doubt in my mind that Huggins is viewed differently, but as everyone mentioned above, he has a track record of success. I think we all feel lucky that Huggins wound up at WVU to finish out an illustrious, hall-of-fame career. I think he may have one of his best teams this season. Imagine if Nick Saban decided he wanted to finish his career at WVU. All the hardware he has in the closet would buy him unlimited 7-5 and 8-4 campaigns because the hope would always be there, the conceit being that he knows what it takes to win national championships. Huggins has delivered a Final Four and three Sweet 16s, and our memory of those gives him carte blanche, I think.