Redemption, vengeance, glory are three words that the 2015 West Virginia Mountaineers would use to describe their goals for this years football season. In 2014 sitting at 4-1 in conference play, West Virginia was a play away from beating this year's #2 ranked team TCU before the loss led to an eventual season collapse taking them out of a Big 12 title race they were very much in. They went on to finish 7-6.
It is now 2015 and The Mountaineers have a new lease on life. The team is looking to come back for everything that was once almost theirs starting September 5th with Georgia Southern University.
The Georgia Southern Eagles are coming off a 9-3 season in the Sunbelt Conference where they led the entire Football Bowl Subdivision in rushing yards per game in 2014 with 381.1. They return a running back who was responsible for a lot of that damage in Matt Breida and are looking to build off that kind of success by picking off a Big 12 team.
Here are the best case scenario's for both teams when they meet at 7:30 pm on Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium.
West Virginia's Best Case
The Mountaineers use their strength and what should be this years bread and butter which is none other than their run game. Rushel Shell would have easily broken a thousand yards rushing if not for his counterpart Wendell Smallwood who actually did crack a thousand yards last year with 1,037 all purpose. Over 700 of those Smallwood yards came on the ground though so he is key to the run game and even bigger than that the entire offense for his ability in the pass game. With the addition of Michigan transfer Kyle Bosch to an offensive line that already boast experience with Marquis Lucas, Adam Pankey, and Rimington Trophy Watch-list candidate Tyler Orlosky this West Virginia line may push both backs past a thousand yards. Getting the running backs carries and keeping tempo will bruise a GSU defense which gave up about 158 rushing yards a game last season. Furthermore this will open up the pass game to quarterback Skyler Howard and help him find some veteran receivers or grant new guys some exposure.
The Mountaineer defense must steer the ship that is the line of scrimmage after giving up roughly 168 rushing yards per game of their own in 2014. The linebackers and secondary are as seasoned as anybody in the country not only experience wise but statistically as well but it is the defensive line that will need to step up on this night. With help from an all senior linebacker corps, led by All-Conference pre-season selection Nick Kwiatkoski, the Eagles run game could suffer. West Virginia's secondary could also thrive at every pass attempt with All- caliber safety Karl Joseph at the head to go along with Big 12's sleeper cornerback Daryl Worley. The two make any offensive weary especially a GSU one with starting quarterback Kevin Ellison out for this season opener and no returning receiver who eclipsed over 400 receiving yards in 2014.
Best Case Prediction?
West Virginia controls the line of scrimmage and Kyle Rose finally has a break out game looking like he's hitting every gap every play. GSU cannot guess right with WVU's hybrid linebacker/safety K.J. Dillon as he mans the edge and combines with Daryl Worley for an interception each. The WVU offensive line over powers the front 7 while showing the true dominance of Big 12 football and watch the duo of Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood do the rest as The Mountaineers have a good day on the ground racking up 200 yards but more importantly giving Skyler Howard a play action pass to Shelton Gibson that opens up Pandora's Box. The receivers roll with Daikiel Shorts having his first career 100 yard game, Jovon Durante catching a touchdown pass and Gibson Solidifying his role on the team with 6 reception 115 yard, 2 touchdown game.
WVU 38 GSU 10
Georgia Southern's Best Case
Motivation. It is that plain and simple.
Georgia Southern finished conference play with a perfect 8-0 record in the Sun Belt but dropped two contests to ACC opponents and Navy. The two ACC teams were Georgia Tech who went on to win the Orange Bowl but only beat GSU by four points and North Carolina State who narrowly won by a point. What's makes this even more relevant to the Eagles trip to Morgantown is the fact that these losses were all on the road. The same road game scenario is set for them as they look to show the college football world that they belong by knocking off a Power 5 conference team.
The Eagles also have motivation in wanting to prove themselves without their suspended starting quarterback Kevin Ellison. Favian Upshaw will step in and although he isn't proven as a passer, he is proven as a rusher accounting for 385 yards on the ground on only 40 carries in 2014. This means GSU, who loves to run the ball, will not have too much of a drop off from Ellison to Upshaw. If The Eagles can use this motivation and running back Matt Breida to ignite their roster then there just might be a glimmer of hope when they visit one of college football's craziest environment's.
Best Case Prediction?
West Virginia underestimates Georgia Southern's Upshaw in terms of his arm. The safeties get a little too comfortable in the box matched by cornerback's Terrell Chestnut and Daryl Worley thinking too much run support leading to GSU torching them through the air by way of two play action passes to their best wide receiver B.J. Johnson. Johnson ends up having a day finishing with 150 yards receiving and two touchdowns on only 3 receptions. The Mountaineers can't get the run game going against a Georgia Southern front 7 that includes 2 very experienced linebackers in Deshawntee Gallon's and Antoine Williams. All-Conference Safety Matt Dobson and cornerback Darius Jones wreak havoc across the secondary forcing Skyler Howard into his first 3 interceptions of the year and career. GSU controls the clock because of these WVU offensive failures and Matt Breida continues where he left off last year.
GSU 31 WVU 14
Both teams bring experience and have something to prove but can Georgia Southern really come into Morgantown and leave with a win against a Big 12 contender? The Mountaineer's and company wouldn't bet on it.
Saturday's game is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff, with the contest be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net (Root Sports locally) affiliates (full list coming with our Game Day Vitals post).
The Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG's pregame coverage begins with the Mountaineer Tailgate Show at 4 p.m. on affiliates throughout the state. Game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday's game will be Georgia Southern's first trip to Morgantown.