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Smoking Musket Double Take: Can Will Grier or Justin Crawford Have A Special Season?

Two writers, two takes. Can Will Grier or Justin Crawford do something truly special?

Will Grier hands the ball off

Editorial Note: We teamed up two writers and gave them a choice, one of these two players is going to have a special season: Justin Crawford or Will Grier. Each picked a side and is going to give you their reason why their player will have a special season.

Justin Crawford will rush for over 1,600 yards (WVUNite)

Justin Crawford is special. He is most likely the most talented back to come through West Virginia since Tavon Austin. He has vision. He has speed. He has agility. He has strength. This year, he will rush for over 1,600 yards.

This may seem like a bold prediction for an Air Raid team that is predicted to throw the ball all over the field but it is rooted in reality. Dana Holgorsen came to West Virginia expecting to throw the ball 60 times a game for yards and yards and yards. Once the Mountaineers moved to the Big 12, they found out quickly that they could do what everyone was doing and win.

So Dana Holgorsen adapted. It shows directly in how much the Mountaineers have run versus how much they have passed.

Play Calling By Year

Year Pass Attempts Rush Attempts % of Total Plays
Year Pass Attempts Rush Attempts % of Total Plays
2011 541 406 42.87%
2012 537 451 45.65%
2013 466 427 47.82%
2014 534 563 51.32%
2015 429 622 59.18%
2016 409 574 58.39%

As you can see, the Mountaineers have slowly evolved back into a run first team, despite their roots in the Air Raid. Some of the last two years could be attributed to Skyler Howard, who was best suited to zone-read spread system, but Skyler’s skill set doesn’t explain the drastic turn.

Dana and the staff know that in order to win in this league where everyone is doing the same thing and running the same plays, you need to be different. They know that once they get a lead, they need to be able to protect that lead. They know that they need to be able to get tough yards in the cold. You do all of those things by running the ball.

Justin Crawford is going to be the beneficiary of all of this running. He should average 20+ touches a game if he stays healthy. Instead of Mizzou and BYU on the schedule he has Virginia Tech, East Carolina and Delaware State. Tech will be tough but East Carolina is not BYU. You can expect Crawford to gain more yards against that competition.

Last year, Crawford has 7 games where he broke 10+ carries. In those 7 games, he averaged 143 yards per game on 18.5 carries. Extrapolate that over a full 13 game season and you have 240 carries and a new West Virginia record of 1,851 yards. Crawford won’t break the single season rushing yardage but he will get 1,600 this year.

Will Grier will throw for over 4,500 yards (ZACampbell)

Welcome to bold predictions city, I’m the mayor.

The stat-hungry among you were probably quick to point out that the all time passing yards leader at West Virginia, Geno Smith, threw for 4,385 yards during his junior campaign. That’s the single season record for a signal caller in touchdown city. You may now be asking yourself how Will Grier, who hasn’t thrown a pass in a college game in over 800 calendar days and is brand new to the Mountaineer program, could replace Smith’s name with his own in the West Virginia record book in 2017.

It’s a fair question and one that I’ll now attempt to answer.

Lets start off macro and work our way to micro. Dana Holgorsen has turned the corner and handed all play calling duties to his one-time understudy Jake Spavital. When Dana arrived in Morgantown in 2011, his reputation was that of an adrenaline junkie who also moonlighted as a football coach. Rumor has it he used to unscrew the tops off of game balls and fill them with Red Bull. These rumors are still unconfirmed.

Fast forward to 2017, Holgorsen’s imprint on the program is indelible, but where Dana has slowed his tempo in favor of a much more run-heavy attack over the last couple seasons, Spavital has shown no such signs of throttling down. Take Davis Webb’s numbers at Cal last season, for example: under Spav’s watch, Webb threw 37 touchdows en route to nearly 4,300 passing yards on the year. Between the program that Holgorsen has gradually, purposefully built over the last several seasons and Spavital’s innate knowledge of the offensive scheme that Holgorsen weened him on, West Virginia is built to be a passing quarterback incubator.

Now to the man in question.

Will Grier has every tangible trait that a passing quarterback needs: Height, arm strength, athleticism, vision. He’s also rumored to be a natural leader, a coach’s kid who “gets” the game on a cerebral level. CERN, NASA and DARPA have all done some pretty cool things in the name of science, but they’ve yet to develop an algorithm to accurately measure a player’s “It” factor, so for now we’ll just have to trust what Spavital has to say about Grier.

Grier lines up behind a stout offensive line featuring Kyle Bosch, Yodney Cajuste and Colton McKivitz. As well, he’ll be flanked by a running back committee lead by Justin Crawford, a future NFL’er and Martell Pettaway and Kennedy Mckoy, both of whom had pretty impressive freshman year showings. Essentially, Grier is insulated by talent at just about every conceivable angle.

To project Grier to throw for 4,500 yards in just his first year with the Mountaineers is certainly bold. But Holgorsen has overseen the offensive explosion of several quarterbacks who’ve blown that mark out of the water, including Case Keenum (5,671) and Graham Harrell (5,705). It’s also fair to note that neither of those quarterbacks were surrounded with the depth of weapons that Grier will have at his disposal.

With a balanced attack anchored by three capable runningbacks and a mack truck impersonating a fullback named Elijah Wellman, Grier will have more opportunities to open up for big plays down the field as the defense is forced to account for dangerous home run threats in the backfield.

What this all means, in summation, is that if Grier is even half as lethal and cerebral as he’s billed to be, he’ll have no trouble surpassing the 4,000 yard mark. Moreover, 4,500 yards is easily attainable should even two of his receivers, which he has a bevy of, realize their potential. Of all the P5 conferences in the land, none are more prone to giving up big plays through the air than the Big 12. If West Virginia is able to topple Virginia Tech in the season opener in Landover, there are few defenses on the Mountaineer’s schedule that can slow Grier down, let alone stop him altogether.

Justin Crawford will likely best his nearly 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 2016, but we’ll be singing Will Grier’s pride at season’s end as the new record holder for passing yards in a single season. 4,500 and beyond, folks. Mark it down.