The Mountaineers are one of the most experienced teams in the Big 12 this season. Thanks to returning your starting quarterback, starting wide receivers, starting offensive line and a running back, the Mountaineers have one of the most experienced offenses in the Big 12. Last year it was the senior-laden defense that was the most experienced. This year, the Mountaineers must replace 9 of those starters from last year’s #2 ranked defense in the Big 12.
As you can see from Max Olson’s tweet, the Mountaineers have the second most returning career starts on offense but the least amount on defense. That, however, doesn’t tell the whole story.
While the Mountaineers will only have three players on defense with more than one career start under their belt (Nwachukwu - 26, Brown - 14, and Harper - 9) they won’t be starting any freshman.
In fact, they won’t be starting any sophomore’s either. The Mountaineers will start 9 seniors on Saturday against Mizzou. The two non-seniors, Kyzir White and Al-Rasheed Benton are both juniors.
The Mountaineers will have to lean heavily on their experienced defensive line. Made up of three seniors, Nwachukwu, Howard and Brown, who have played in 100 games in their time in Morgantown. The last two years they’ve played under defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
The starting linebackers (Arndt, Benton, Walters) have 91 games between the three. Arndt, a former walk-on, has played in all 13 games the past two years. Walters played in 12 games last year and 6 games in 2014. After redshirting in 2013, Al-Rasheed Benton has played in every game the past two years for the Mountaineers.
The secondary is the most inexperienced of the three groups, which was to be expected. Three former Mountaineers will be playing on Sundays now: Karl Joseph, Darryl Worley and KJ Dillon. Jarrod Harper and Jeremy Tyler will help lead the secondary. Antonio Crawford has never suited up for the Mountaineers, but he has played in every game he’s been eligible. Crawford will be playing in his 39th game on Saturday after playing 38 at Miami then sitting out last year to complete the NCAA transfer eligibility requirements.
Crawford actually has more game experience than Jeremy Tyler who only has 33 games under his belt. Crawford ties Harper with 38 games played. Rasul Douglas saw action on 11 games last year, including 60 snaps against Baylor. Only Kyzir White has never played a game at this level.
While there will always been a learning curve with new players, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson should be able to rest easier knowing that he has a bunch of players who have been in the system and have seen playing time for him. That should help the transition for this 2016 defense.