Every week we are going to take a look and see what three [players/personnel/coaches/formations/things] are on the rise and potentially dropping. This is a feel exercise.
It is hard to argue against a true freshman who carried 7 times for 125 yards, including one touchdown. Donaldson averaged 17.9 yards per carry and showed tremendous burst and strength on his carries. He also showed a willingness to engage in pass blocking, something the Mountaineers are going to need if they want to protect quarterback JT Daniels. Daniels said “CJ is pretty special. It didn’t seem like anybody wanted to tackle him. If it doesn’t seem like anybody wants to tackle him, I’m going to give him the ball.”
Mountaineer fans have been clamoring for a top-tier quarterback since Will Grier graduated in 2018. Austin Kendall and Jarret Doege were fine during their time but they weren’t going to elevate the team to the heights fans want to reach. This past summer, Brown and Graham Harrel were able to secure the ability of JT Daniels, a former five-star recruit who started at USC as a freshman. In his first game for the Mountaineers, Daniels finished 23/40 for 214 yards, 2 touchdowns and one “interception”. While the numbers themselves certainly do not pop off the screen, the throws and poise of Daniels do. Daniels stood tall in the pocket, delivering a ball to his wide receiver a split second before he was hammered by Pitt. He made throws that only his receivers could make. He threw two beautiful back shoulder fades to Bryce Ford-Wheaton. All in all, a pretty good debut for a guy who wasn’t on the team three months ago.
Kpogba was at one time a Mountaineer recruit. He chose Syracuse, then went JUCO and came back home. I’ve been excited about Kpogba because he brings legit speed to the linebacker role.
Kpogba has been singled out multiple times as being fast and being able to run sideline to sideline and chase down ballcarriers. “Lee Kpogba at Mike Linebacker [middle linebacker], I think he has a bright future. He runs. We needed speed at that spot and he did some nice things here on day one”, said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown as he addressed the media following the start of spring practice.
That speed showed up on Thursday when Kpogba recorded 10 tackles, 5 solo, 1 QB hurry and recovered a Panther fumble. He was all over the place and should easily lead the team in tackles this season.
As a whole, the receivers on this team just haven’t improved. We have had a starting lineup of Sam James and Bryce Ford-Wheaton for three years now and they appear to be the same players they were in 2019. Wheaton, to his credit, showed up Thursday and looks to be a favorite of quarterback JT Daniels, but the rest of the team? 14 catches for 117 yards, no touchdowns. Wheaton did have two crucial drops, a deep pass and the tip that turned into an interception. It happens but it did happen. The rest of the team, didn’t happen. No one else stepped up and the worry has to be, what happens when teams say “Don’t let Wheaton beat us”. Can anyone else?
This one is a bit of a mixed bag because the team did produce 190 yards against Pitt, who has one of the better defensive lines in the country. The line opened up holes for both CJ Donaldson and Tony Mathis. Still, Daniels was pressured quite a bit in the game. ESPN lists that the Panthers had 7 QB hurries, 3 sacks and 8 tackles for loss. That’s not good and I hope its more of a product of “we played a top 5 defensive unit” rather than “the offensive line continues to be not good enough”.
When the going gets tough, this defense doesn’t show up. I don’t know what else to say. We punted the ball, with a lead, and pinned the Panthers inside their own 10-yard line. The defense gave up a 92-yard drive for a game-tying touchdown. This amazing defensive line had 5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, yet only 3 QB hurries and 3 passes defended. Kedon Slovis finished with 24 passing attempts and 308 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions. Pitt ran the ball 39 times for 76 yards, a paltry 1.9 yards per carry but when we NEEDED a stop, this defense did not show up. (Additionally, Slovis’ 7 carries for -20 yards really play into that, otherwise its 32 carries for 96 yards, a much better 3 YPC). There is going to come a time when this team needs its defense to step up. Will they?