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Musket Mailbag Answers: JT Daniels, MountaineerAfterDark, and More

Pittsburgh v West Virginia Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Will Sam James catch a pass for a TD & run back both a punt AND a kick-off for a TD ? Like a Sam James Scoring Trifecta?

In the same game? Absolutely not. On the season? I still lean no, because a punt return touchdown is extremely tough, both in set up, and in execution. The punter can easily punt it out of bounds, punt it too close to the sideline, or a single person could miss a block / block-in-the-back, and that would negate a return. I do think James has the potential to return a kickoff for a touchdown this year. More so, I think the question to be asked is “Will Sam James improve the special teams” because something that wasn’t talked about a lot last year with the inept quarterback play, was just how bad the special teams play was. In general, when you look at the stats, PFF and other advanced metrics assign a point value based on where teams start drives (i.e., field a punt, return a punt, defend a punt return, etc). West Virginia last year gave away points, so to speak, when it punted the ball away or forced a punt, in part because the return game did not set up either side for success.

Can we really win both Thursday Night games? People have been clamoring for #MOUNTAINEERSAfterDark for years now. I woulds be nice to win both these games, right?

By both, I assume you mean Pitt and VT (and forgot Baylor is also a Thursday night affair). If we are talking about Pitt and VT, the answer is yes, they can win both games. Will they? Not sure, I think Pitt is a tougher opponent that Mountaineer fans are willing to give them credit for. It will be a very good test but I think I wish the schedule was reversed. If we were playing Pitt on the fourth weekend of college football, I would feel better. Season opening games are hard. Season opening games on the road are harder. Season opening games on the road against a P5 opponent is very hard. Season opening games on the road against a bitter rival who is a P5 opponent is on the top of the list, right after facing Alabama.

It would be nice to win both games and for the fans sake, I think you need to at minimum split those games to keep the monkey off your back if you are Neal Brown. I think winning Pitt would buy a lot more grace than winning against VT, but you cannot go 0-2 in those games.

Who will be HCNB’s “Most Improved Player” this year?

No one has spoken about body fat percentage yet, but we know it won’t be Garret Greene.

If WVU starts 0-4 with JT Daniels at QB, should Greene or Goose get a chance to take over, or should JT get a few more games to turn it around?

My initial reaction to this was, no. Even at 0-4, there are chances to make a bowl game, but as I thought about this further, if you were 0-4, that would mean losses to both Kansas and Towson. That alone would necessitate a change at QB (among other wholesale changes). I don’t see how you can lose to a FCS school and a school that I’m not sure could beat FCS schools in most years. 0-4 would be absolutely unacceptable given the talent and the pedigree of not only Daniels, but the entire team.

This answer assumes that Daniels is healthy and were talking about being outcoached and outplayed. If an injury to one (or more) player(s), then the conversation to be had is much different.

If WVU only wins four games this football season, is there a combination of four wins that could keep fans from revolting? (i.e., beating Pitt, Oklahoma, etc.)

Short answer again, no. Every fan poll I’ve taken, read - and every fan I’ve spoken to - has the expectation that 6 wins is barely enough to keep fans from revolting, so I can’t imagine a scenario where 4 wins would, but this question is a fun hypothetical to discuss.

Would wins over Pitt, Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State be enough to show that the team was moving in the right direction? More so, let’s say you beat Pitt to open the year, falter throughout the season but rebound to beat Oklahoma, K-State and Oklahoma State to finish the year on a 3-game win streak. Would that mini-streak produce enough feel good momentum that fans would at least be able to point to those games and say “see, we fixed it, now we can do it”. Fans are always looking for the silver lining, so would that be enough?

Personally, I stand on the edge of 7 wins isn’t enough after 4 years, so I can’t imagine 4 wins would be enough.

Who’s fastest on the team?

Cristian Stokes is the first to come to mind. But don’t be surprised if Lee Kpogba chases down runners sideline to sideline. Marcis Floyd and Lance Dixon are also in the mix. This feels like a good time to link to an old article, because if you aren’t trying to rehash items you wrote months ago whenever you can, what are you doing with your life?

Which position group, if any, is most likely to establish itself as the premier group in the conference? Either because they’re good or the rest of the conference is weak.

Most people are going to say the offensive line and for good reason, with a preseason All-American in center Zach Frazier, plus Doug Nester and Wyatt Millum, that is nearly as solid a starting 3 as you can find in the conference. I am still in the “show me” phase and need to see the line be good before I can proclaim them good. I think this distinction goes to the defensive line, where you have Dante Stills, Taijh Alston and Jordan Jefferson will anchor the line.

Defensive line coach Andrew Jackson recently said that he hopes the depth of the line, which is one of the few places the Mountaineers have a true three-deep, can span into the games where a breakdown might be 60/20/20. If the defense stays at its 66 plays a game average, then you are giving backups 25 snaps a game. If you can get nearly the same type of production from your 2s and 3s as you get from your 1s, that is the best problem in the world to have.

The other place that could rise to the top would be the quarterback play. Spencer Sanders is the top quarterback in the conference right now, for good reason but he’s never thrown for 3,000 yards in a season and I can see a scenario where JT Daniels breaks 4,000 yards. This could come down to Dillon Gabriel, but a new system in a new collegiate town with many more expectations could be too much for the player. I could see a scenario where Daniels rises to the top as the best QB in the Big 12 this season.

Who wins the right tackle spot? Do they lock it down or battle it out all year?

My gut says Hubbard will ultimately win it, but from the coaches quotes it sounds like one is the better run blocker, one is the better pass blocker. Matt Moore just summed it up saying Hubbard plays hard but goes too fast and makes mistakes while Yates is a finesse guy and they need him to play more physical. My instinct tells me that I can slow a guy down to not rush everything, but I can’t make a gentle giant mean.

I’d expect to see an “OR” in the depth chart maybe through Virginia Tech and then I think Hubbard pulls away with it. The wildcard might be Jordan White. James Gmiter has been out of action (non-injury related) for a few days and White has filled in well. Could the coaches potentially swing Doug Nester outside and push White inside to replace Hubbard and Yates?

Who is on the safety two deep beyond Cox and Floyd?

The names that pop up the most are Hershey McLaurin and Malachi Ruffin. That said, the backend is maybe the weakest position on the defense and potentially on the team. There hasn’t been a lot said about those guys and part of me wonders if the coaches aren’t impressed with their play.

They are talking up Reese Smith right now, does he find playing time at the expense of James/Prather or the TEs?

The pessimist that I am and the play that I’ve seen over the past few years, I would guess no. I think he’s a great story but when the rubber meets the road, I don’t see them turning to a 5’-10, 180 pound 3-star receiver over James, Prather or Ford-Wheaton. Will he see time? Sure. But I don’t think he’ll be a big factor.

What position group has the most potential for improvement as the year goes on?

Two guesses - Offensive Line and Wide Receiver. The line has the chance to take the single biggest step from last year to this year. All five starters return, they’ve had a full offseason with no interruptions. There is a lot of talent on the line in Frazier, Millum and Nester (all of whom are in-state guys as well). I can see a situation where they start slow and by the middle of the season are the big time unit, road graders and stone wall blockers that we need. I also am not impressed with Matt Moore as of today and can see this line just being good but not good enough.

The wide receivers have the luxury of being thrown the ball from a five-star quarterback and we could see two receivers break 1,000 yards and three break 700 yards. As they develop chemistry and game experience with Daniels, you should finally see a pecking order develop where one guy is the clear cut #1, another guy is the clear cut possession and one guy is the clear cut slot.