Wide receiver Ricky Rogers. Defensive lineman Jalen Harvey. Offensive lineman Alec Shriner. Offensive lineman Ray Raulerson. Punter John Young. Defensive back Jacquez Adams. Defensive back Jordan Adams. Quarterback David Israel. Defensive lineman Adam Shuler. Defensive lineman Jaleel Fields. Quarterback Chris Chugunov. Defensive back Fontez Davis. Defensive back Kevin Williams. Defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle.
What do those 14 names have in common? They were all West Virginia Mountaineers just a few months ago, but have now transferred out of the program. You might not know most of the names because most of the names are 2nd and 3rd team players looking for playing time. Fourteen players who chose to not be a part of the old gold and blue. Fourteen players, over half of a recruiting class. Fourteen is a lot of losses.
Eight of the fourteen transfers are defensive backs or defensive linemen. That is extremely detrimental to the Mountaineers because those are two locations where depth is absolutely necessary.
In Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 defense, 3 defensive lineman simply cannot be asked to play 80 snaps a game for 12 weeks. The team has to be able to rotate players in to keep those big guys healthy and fresh. The same is true for the five defensive backs, who at times can be running over 2-3 miles per game with the amount of passing the other team does.
Beyond the depth component, is the fact that both the defensive line and the defensive backfield were two places that bore the brunt of the defensive lapses last year. In week 4, the Kansas Jayhawks rushed for over 300 yards. The defensive line could not maintain a push and were constantly pushed out of position.
Week 8 saw the cornerbacks allow Baylor’s freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer to enter the game at the start of the fourth quarter and engineer a 23 point outburst. He completed 8-of-13 passes for 109 yards.
Two positions which took heat from the media, the fans, and I assume the coaches, sees multiple losses. Players like the Adams twins should/would have been in line for playing time. Adam Shuler was a starter who saw diminished time as the season wore on but was in line with a place on the two-deep. Lamonte McDougle emerged as a freshman All-American. McDougle was expected to be the anchor for a 2018 team that was looking for its first Big 12 title.
Therein lies a rub that could haunt the 2018 squad. The offense will likely be the best in the Big 12. Quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills are going to garner a ton of league-wide and national accolades. The offensive line returns four starters and should be better with another year of experience under their belt. Yet the losses along the defensive side will haunt defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
Will “The Man from Van” be able to spin more gold from straw with these players? More importantly, will it be able to generate the necessary stops against competition to allow this high-powered offense to be on the field enough to generate points? These are all questions that now have to be answered, but they have to be answered by the man in charge, Dana Holgorsen.
Head coach Dana Holgorsen enters his seventh season in the Big 12 and his eighth year at WVU. In that time he’s twice won 10 games, but three times finished the season at 7-6. In 2016, as he gambled on himself in the final year of his original contract extension, he won 10 games with Skyler Howard as his quarterback. By the end of last season, fans were already beginning to get the hot seat warm for Dana, as they grew frustrated with losses to ranked teams and the complete failure of an offense once Will Grier was lost to a hand injury.
Entering 2018, fans and media alike have seen West Virginia as the main competition for the Big 12 crown. A favorable home schedule that sees Oklahoma and TCU come to Morgantown, along with a perceived easy opening slate of Big 12 games, meant West Virginia could be in the drivers seat in the final month of the season. Now, losses which hinder the defensive depth could spell trouble. Will fans be willing, or able, to forgive losses to say, Texas Tech Red Raiders or an improving Iowa St. Cyclones? Could those losses put the Mountaineers in a win-or-die scenario and ultimately eliminate them from the Big 12 Championship before the final four games?
Wins and losses will fall on the head coach of a football program. Win and everything is glorious and swept under the rug. Lose and the entire program will be put under a microscope. Right, or wrong, head coach Dana Holgorsen may end up bearing the brunt of the defensive depth which seems likely to determine the fate of the 2018 season well before it has even begun.