In 2017, former head coach Dana Holgorsen appeared to be assembling the pieces for a run of stupendous magnitude. He had convinced former five-star quarterback Will Grier to transfer from the Florida Gators to West Virginia, despite the fact that Grier was going to have to sit out a year, losing a year of eligibility because he had already redshirted at Florida and the free-transfer rule was not in place at the time, and that PED allegations were hanging over his head and the NCAA could have elected to suspend him. Once 2017 rolled around, it was clear that Grier was going to be eligible day-one. That eligibility, coupled with the offensive nature of Dana Holgorsen, had Mountaineers expecting big things.
Fast forward to 2022 and Neal Brown has a similar situation developing in Morgantown. He was able to convince former five-star quarterback JT Daniels to transfer to the Mountaineers and he also turned over play-calling duties to new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. The combination of a five-star quarterback coupled with a new offensive coordinator who is guaranteed to open up the offense and go faster, should result in a more exciting offense for the team.
Looking back at 2017, the hope that it promised and delivered was palpable from the beginning. Starting with a rivalry game in Washington, DC, the Mountaineers and Hokies played a thriller that came down to the last play. While the Mountaineers faltered in that game, the offense looked crisp, the new quarterback delivered and the hope that was felt was palpable. Currently, there isn’t a lot of hope in Morgantown. Some fans are trying to muster in up, but three years in, its hard to get excited about a 17-18 team that hasn’t looked good.
That changes now with Daniels, but it also changes with the offensive line. Returning five starters is a big deal in the college football world. While returning five seniors from a national championship team would be the ideal scenario, all five offensive linemen have eligibility to spare. Wyatt Millum is a sophomore. Brandon Yates is a redshirt sophomore. Doug Nester and Zach Frazier are juniors. Gmiter is a redshirt junior. Not only do the Mountaineers return all five linemen, they will likely return all five next year as well. Hope!
At running back, the offense lost solid contributor Leddie Brown, who proved to be a workhorse back, capable of carrying the ball 20-25 times a game. However, Brown lacked breakaway speed and was built more for the old school, 3 yards and a cloud of dust type football. His replacement, Tony Mathis, is more built for today’s one-cut, north and south zone runs that have been a staple the past few years. Mathis averaged 4.3 yards per carry last season, despite seeing limited action due to injury. Against Kansas he had 118 yards on 22 carries and against a stout Minnesota defense, he collected 53 yards on 13 carries.
At receiver, the Mountaineers have had parts but have seemed to lack a GAM (Grown Ass Man) since the White brothers. David Sills and Gary Jennings were speedsters who could run routes and make adjustments but we haven’t had a guy who could just win 50/50 balls and snatch a ball from the defense. Kaden Prather, a 6’-4”, 211 pound specimen looks to bring that big-play, GAM style to the offense and give the Mountaineers just one more reason to believe.
I haven’t spoken much about the defense because in the past three years the defense has been good. They’ve proven they know how to defend, how to tackle and how to make lives miserable. If fans had hope, it was that the defense would continue to keep us in games. Now with an offense that offers the promise of more points scored and the ability to go down the field, the defense should be able to provide more big plays and back-breaking takeaways.
If 2022 is Neal Brown’s 2017, the future looks bright in Morgantown. The pieces have been collected and now is the time for the Mountaineers to start breaking through the clouds and into the sun.