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West Virginia Football: Is the effervescent Garrett Greene poised for a breakout season?

The Mountaineers have a lightning rod at QB - is he good enough to lead us to the promised land (or at least save Neal Brown’s job)?

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT read this if you’re simply looking for another piece of doom and gloom. There’s more than enough of that to go around, and if that’s your preferred slice of pie, then I would recommend dining elsewhere. If you’re interested in an objective view of the facts with a dash of homerism, let’s pull you up a seat.

Now then, the dog days are waning, training camps are getting underway, and preseason speculation is heating up. Or rather, it would be heating up if apathy wasn’t hanging heavily over Mountaineer Nation like fog on a cool fall morning. However, as I said, this isn’t a doom and gloom piece, and there are some real questions worth discussing whether the casual fan is engaged or not. Questions like: who’s our quarterback? Why is it Garrett Greene? And how good can he be? So, how good can Garrett Greene be? Let’s start with what we know.

Intangibly, we know that Garrett Greene has immaculate vibes. The guy has golden retriever energy and hit the field like a booster shot long before he even knew what he was doing as a quarterback. That alone will be a welcome change for an offense that has functioned as an anesthetic for much of the Neal Brown era in Morgantown.

As for the tangibles, first and foremost, we know that Garrett Greene is an exceptional athlete. The eye test suggests that he’s been our most explosive ball carrier for two years on the trot, and the numbers bear that out. PFF graded Greene as the 7th best runner out of 82 FBS quarterbacks with at least 35 carries last season, and his 7.4 yards per carry tied for 6th among that same group. Over the last two seasons, 23 of Greene’s 89 rush attempts have generated explosive plays (26%), a rate which compares favorably to guys like LSU’s Jayden Daniels (30%), Florida’s Anthony Richardson (20%), and UCF’s John Rhys Plumlee (21%) who’ve been thought of as some of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country. Simply put, Greene is an elite runner at the position.

We also know that Greene has a strong arm and throws a good deep ball (see: both of Sam James’ touchdowns vs Kansas State last year), but that he can unfortunately be erratic both in terms of accuracy and decision making (see: lots of other plays against Kansas State last year). Greene had the worst passing grade in the Big 12 among the quarterbacks with at least 85 dropbacks last year, and his 5.1% turnover-worthy play rate led the conference as well. The 68.7% adjusted completions look better than the 57.1% unadjusted number but were still only good enough to rank 12th out of 17. Overall, you’d have to concede that Greene has generally been as shaky as a passer as he has been good as a runner.

So what does all this mean? What’s Greene’s ceiling this year? Let’s revisit the aforementioned John Rhys Plumlee, as his stature and play style (adventurous, bordering on reckless) give off major GG vibes, and his 2022 season is basically everything I want and hope for from Greene in 2023.

JRP thrived in his first year in Orlando, posting more than 2600 yards passing and nearly 1000 yards rushing in Gus Malzahn’s spread option scheme. He wasn’t overly efficient (63% completions, 4.8% TWP) or explosive (37 explosives, 8.1 ADOT, 7.5 YPA) as a passer, but he was very effective at taking advantage of the downfield matchups afforded to him by their rushing attack. Malzahn leaned into this heavily, with Plumlee’s 42% play-action rate ranking 9th nationally. If we follow a similar template with Greene, then it’s not unrealistic to think that he can approach a similar level of output (especially on the ground) and plant himself firmly in the middle of the pack with top-half upside among Big 12 QBs. The talent is certainly there.

As for whether or not it happens... look, it’s impossible to ignore the passing numbers, and if Greene continues to struggle in that regard, it’s definitely going to limit his ceiling individually as well as ours as an offense. However, it’s also unfair to not balance those concerns against an appreciation for how dangerous Greene is as a runner, as well as how the gravity his legs create will change how teams have to defend us.

Overall, the two major hurdles I see are Greene’s health and Real Deal Neal Brown. The former is an obvious concern for any normal-sized human (Greene is listed at 5’11 and says he weighs 203 lbs) playing a game with behemoths, and it’s even more concerning in context when you consider the way Greene plays and the things he needs to do to be effective.

The latter is unfortunately the bigger question mark. Neal Brown reclaimed playcalling duties this spring (we’re getting back to our strengths, you see), and he ain’t exactly Gus Malzahn. It remains to be seen if he’s capable of calling a game that will put Greene in the best position to succeed because doing so will mean accepting risks that to this point he’s been unwilling to accept. And I kinda get it - most coaches are control freaks by nature, and as a playcaller especially, it makes sense to want to control as much as you can. But at the same time, this is football. What percentage of the game happens off-script? 25%? 33%? 50%?? At some point, you just have to accept that there’s going to be uncertainty and trust your playmakers to make plays. Just look at how productive Malzahn and JRP have been by embracing controlled chaos.

That’s what makes this arguably the most interesting subplot of the season, especially as it relates to Greene - with his back against the wall, can Neal Brown change? Can he live with the fact that Greene will probably make some ill-advised throws in the knowledge that he’ll also hit some big ones? Can he embrace Greene bailing on his progressions and scrambling on 10-15% of his dropbacks with the understanding that it will often lead to a big play? Basically, can Neal Brown let Garrett Greene cook? Only time will tell, but if he can, then this offense has the potential to be a mack truck with Greene at the wheel.