On a beautiful Morgantown Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers never really felt threatened by the Missouri Tigers. Despite horrendous turnovers, a rib injury to starting QB Skyler Howard, and settling for field goals of 19 and 21 yards; Missouri was unable to find the end zone until less than 2 minutes remained and the game was out of reach.
An opening day win over an SEC opponent is always awesome, but it can be argued that WVU answered few of the major questions that nagged at the team and its fanbase throughout fall camp. Let’s take a look at some of those questions.
Will Justin Crawford live up to his billing as National JUCO player of the year?
Yup. I’d say instant fan favorite. He was explosive and versatile against what will likely prove to be one of the best defensive front sevens that WVU will face this year. Asked and answered.
How will the defense fair after replacing nine starters?
Considering they ranked dead last in Bill Connelly’s Def % Ret, and only conceded 11 points, it would be easy to say that they did great. Gibby’s squad held the Tigers to only a field goal for over 58 minutes. This came in spite of backup QB William Crest’s fumble in the red zone. While you can’t give the defense credit for the missed field goal, you certainly can give them credit for bowing their backs and not letting Mizzou into the end zone on such a short field.
The defense did, however, give up 462 yards to an offense that had nearly as many questions as the Mountie defense. The new secondary dropped at least three interceptions and the Tiger receivers dropped plenty of balls that they should have reeled in after they had created plenty of separation.
As potent as the Missouri defense likely is compared to most of the Big 12, their offense is perhaps even more impotent. Offenses in this league don’t tend to make that many mistakes.
The jury, in my opinion, is certainly still out on what the defense will be able to do in conference play. I’m not very sure that we will have any more clarity regarding this issue after either of the next two opponents.
Will Skyler Howard make a jump in production in his second year as starter?
Skyler Howard certainly missed some throws. He still lost throws high over the middle. He was visibly diminished in the second half after returning from what has been described as a rib cartilage injury. Despite all of this; he was 23-35 for 253 yards. That’s 66%.
He did throw an interception after the injury on a long ball intended for Jovon Durante. That ball seemed to stay in the air forever, wobbling throughout. It was not a good throw, but Durante made a poor play on the ball and was too late to make any difference on the outcome of the play.
I don’t believe that Skyler answered this question for us yesterday, but if completing two thirds of his passes turns out to be a bad day, WVU ought to at least be in a position to win most games.
Any discussion of the WVU quarterbacks in this game has to include mentioning that, in very limited action, both backups managed to turn the ball over. William Crest was strip sacked deep in Mountaineer territory, and Chris Chugunov threw a pick over the middle in his only passing attempt.
Please remember, next time you are tempted to question Howard’s place as starter, that his reserves managed to commit two turnovers on one pass attempt when he went to the sideline.
Who will prove a consistent threat in the receiving corps?
It is hard to talk about consistency after one game, but through the first half it looked like Daikiel Shorts was the only one who could get his hands on the ball. He finished with eight catches for 131 yards. There is no denying the talent and depth of this unit, but when they get their opportunities, they need to capitalize.
Ka’Raun White produced a pair of nice plays in the second half and Shelton Gibson caught the ball six of the seven times it was thrown his way (though 6.5 YPC is a far cry from the gaudy numbers he produced last season), but Jovon Durante failed to make a catch.
It was great to see Shorts making an impact and looking like a go to target for Howard, but more consistency is needed from this unit to keep drives alive and finish more consistently in the red zone.
The Mountaineers beat an SEC opponent on opening day. Hell, they even covered the spread.
It was great to see the offensive line live up to its billing. They pushed around a tremendously talented Mizzou front, opened up running lanes for the backs and gave Howard time to operate. With those guys paving the way and Rushel Shell and Crawford carrying the ball, WVU will have a very stable base on which to build their season.
26 points, however, wins very few Big 12 conference games. Settling for three points from inside the five yard line is not good; doing it twice is ugly. Carelessly turning the ball over usually results in some points for the other team, and Big 12 offenses that aren’t Kansas or Iowa State score more than 11 points.
Take this good win and use it to improve and build for the remainder of the season. Whether you like it or not, Dana Holgorsen’s job depends on it.