Now that the Guaranteed Rate Bowl is over, it is time to begin our reflection of West Virginia Football in 2021 and start looking towards 2022. We’re going to start by grading each position, as a group, so we can then start to see where improvement needs to happen. We’re going to grade on a college grading system, ten points per grade. 100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, etc. Let’s get at it, shall we.
Special Teams: C
Special teams includes both kickoff coverage, kickoff return, punt coverage, punt return and field goals. West Virginia was one of 13 schools, and only one of four Power 5 schools, to have at least two 90-yard kickoff returns. The problem comes in the 30+ yard returns. Those two 90+ returns also account for 2 of the 3 returns that went for 30+ yards. Every other school had additional returns. We either did nothing, or broke two big ones. The Mountaineers had one (!) punt return go for 20+yards. Conversely, the Mountaineers allowed 6 kickoff returns to go for at least 30 yards, good for 114th in the nation. Punt coverage was solid, allowing only one punt return for over 20 yards. The kickoff unit finished 129th (out of 130) in average kickoff yards. Evan Staley did not miss an extra point and went 19/23 on field goal opportunities.
Defensive Backs: C
West Virginia finished 77th in the nation with nine interceptions but did so on only 28 passes defended. The Mountaineers finished 100th in the nation in opponent completion percentage, allowing opponents to complete 64% of their passes. The Mountaineer defensive backs allowed opponents to pass for 7.8 yards per pass, bad for 89th in the country. Of the 9 fumbles forced by the Mountaineers, only one was caused by a defensive back, safety Sean Mahone. Two of the five fumbles recovered were done by DB Alonzo Addae.
Josh Chandler-Semedo finishes 24th in the nation with 110 tackles, including 68 solo, good for 13th in the nation. Unfortunately, the rest of the linebackers are not in the same realm. Exree Loe is the next linebacker on the list and he finished with 38 tackles. Jarret Bartlett and his 31 tackles did finish 4th on the team in sacks with 3.5, 3 of which came against Virginia Tech. Much like the rest of the team, spurts of greatness littered in stretches of mediocrity. Chandler-Semedo and Bartlett finished with 5.5 and 6.0 tackles for loss, not exactly David Long from a few years ago.
Defensive Line: B
This is a tough one to grade because Dante Stills. Dante Still is great and there is no doubt that the defensive line was the best position group on the team, but being the best position group on the team doesn’t mean they automatically earn an A. The line didn’t consistently create havoc plays (tackles for loss, quarterback sacks, etc), nor were they an absolute stud in run defense. The team, as a whole, finished 45th in the nation in run defense, yielding 138 yards per game. Worse, during the final seven games (last six plus bowl game), five of the seven opponents rushed for more than the 138 yards per game average the team gave up. Dante Stills finished the season with 7 sacks, Alston with 5 and Mesidor with 4.5. They also finished with 15, 11 and 8 tackles for loss, respectively. They did the things you want your first team defensive line to do. Its the rest of the line that didn’t perform.
Defensive Coaches: B+
The coaches as a whole did a fantastic job of maintaining the reputation of the defense. I worried that with the loss of All-American Darius Stills, Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller the defense would take a step back. As a whole, the defense is the reason the team won 6 games and a reason they were a tough out nearly every game. It can be tough to keep the defense motivated when the offense is as stagnant as the Mountaineers offense has been. Despite all of that buttering, the Mountaineers still finished 51st in the nation in rush defense, 58th in pass defense, 52nd in scoring defense, 76th in yards per play, and 85th in 3rd down defense. Not all of it was good and the defense did struggle.
Offensive Line: D
Depending on who you ask, the five starting linemen are either the culprits for everything that is to blame with the West Virginia offense or they are doing an adequate job but not getting much help. My eyes tell me that they are young and some are raw and inexperienced but they have the raw talent to be good. They are not good. They struggled to open up running lanes during the first half of the season, some of that due to the hand injury suffered by left guard Doug Nestor. They played better in the second half, but how much of that was because they were against teams near the bottom of the nation in rush/pass defense? The second half of the season, only five linemen played as no other lineman could be trusted.
Wide Receivers: C+
Are these wide receivers merely adequate, incapable of making game-breaking big plays or are they hindered by an offensive scheme, playcaller and quarterback who can’t give them an opportunity to make big plays. Bryce Ford-Wheaton had one of the best catches of the season against Iowa State. Other than that play, I am struggling to think of a time when the receivers made a big play. I know Sam James had a couple and Wright maybe had one, but other than that? The two longest pass plays of the year went for 50 and 51 yards. West Virginia is only 1 of 19 teams that didn’t have at least a 60 yard pass play. As a reminder, Will Grier averaged a 60-yard play per game, for his career.
Running Backs: B-
Leddie Brown earns an A simply because he endured one of the worst three-year stretches in the last 40 years and should have been a 1,400 yard back yearly with another 200 yards receiving. Instead he was struggling to break 1,000 yards. How tenuous is his 1,000 yard seasons you may ask - if you take away his two long runs, an 80 yard run this year and an 83 yard run last year, he doesn’t break 1,000 yards either season. That is two carries over two years when he had 422. Those two carries single handedly keep him from reaching 1,000 yards. The rest of the running backs performed well when given a chance, but that last part of the statement - given a chance - seems to be non-existent. It should be said that backs not named Leddie Brown can’t pass protect.
I saved this for the bottom so you would have to at least read and scroll but the fact is that the quarterback situation at West Virginia has not been good. QB1 threw for 3,000 yards, the first time in the Neal Brown era. He finished second in the Big 12 in passing yards, one of only two players to break 3,000 passing yards. He finished tied for third in passing touchdowns. He also finished first in interceptions, first in sacks and eighth in passer rating. He threw the ball more than any other quarterback in conference. Garret Greene when given opportunities failed to capitalize on them. Goose Crowder was a freshman.
Offensive Coaches: D
I almost gave them an F here to be honest. The Mountaineers finished eighth in the conference (a conference with ten teams) in total yards. Despite having the Big 12 passing leader for most of the year and only one of two players to break 3,000 passing yards, the Mountaineers finished fourth in passing in the Big 12. West Virginia despite having a 1,000 yard rusher, finished tenth in rushing. The team finished eighth in scoring. To recap: 8th in total yards, fourth in pass yards, tenth in rush yards, eighth in points scored.
Head Coach: D-
Record this year: 6-7.
Record against P5 teams: 5-7
Record against P5 teams with more than 2 wins (aka Kansas): 4-7
Record against P5 teams who finished above .500: 1-7