Good Morning Mountaineer fans and welcome to the official start of the 2023 season for your West Virginia Mountaineers. It has been a long off-season and lots of handwringing from the 5-7 season of 2022, but we are here, ready to start anew and begin again with the next edition of the legacy of the Mountaineers. Let’s dive right into my thoughts and you can share your as we prepare for 2023.
I Think Garrett Greene can be fun
It isn’t a stretch to say that Mountaineers have been pining for Greene for the last two years. Greene, a mobile quarterback who was once an Elite 11 finalists as a high schooler, brings to the table something the other three starting quarterbacks did not - fleetness of foot. He has been able to average 6.7, 6.2, 6.1 yards per carry in his three seasons while seeing his rushing touchdowns go from 0, 4, 5.
Greene’s mobility should give the offense a unique flavor that is has been lacking the past four seasons and the Greene’s ability to rip off a big play should make us more exciting. At a minimum, we should be able to watch complete games because there just could be an exciting play on any snap.
The offense will likely hinge on Greene’s passing ability, which isn’t great but could be as good as previous iterations of Neal Brown quarterbacks. JT Daniels averaged 6.2 yards per attempt, Greene has averaged 6.4 last year. Jarrett Doege averaged 11.2 yards per completion, Greene has averaged 11.4 last year. In terms of “rating”, Doege was 135, Daniels was 122, and Greene was 121.
I Think the Defense Can’t be Worse - But it Might
32.9 and 412.3 - those are West Virginia’s points allowed and yards allowed from last year. I hope that this was a bottoming out for West Virginia’s defense because too many people point to 2020, when West Virginia finished 4th in the nation in total defense and 21st in points allowed. Its been downhill the past two years. The loss of Dante Stills is a big loss for the defense, but fingers crossed the staff - who has kinda shown an ability to find players - has found someone or identified someone who can at least do something like Stills did.
The good news for the Mountaineers is that they do not play the Texas Longhorns or the Kansas State Wildcats, the two teams picked to finish 1 and 2 in the preseason poll. The bad news - Texas was third in scoring offense was last year (34.5 points per game) and Kansas State was 6th (32.3 points per game). The newcomers - UCF, Houston, BYU and Cincinnati - averaged at least 29 points per game and all but Cinci averaged more than West Virginia did in 2022 [30.6].
Watching games last year, you saw a back seven [linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties] who looked confused during pre-snap motion and often times either followed motion men and abandoned their coverage zones or got caught by crossing patterns. Too many times there were players left wide open and it looked like the defense was playing with 9 or 10 men. Defensive coordinator believes things have been “simplified” and that the adjustment period that comes with all new recruits has been fixed, yet still, unless this defensive staff has figured out how to do more than just get in the way of other teams this defense may be the downfall of this team.
I Think The Defense Needs to Create Havoc
Scratch that title. I think Jordan Lesley better find some damn pressure and create it because he’s going to lose his job if he doesn’t, and it just might cost the entire staff their job. Last year the Mountaineers created 105 havoc plays [tackles for loss, sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions] in 820 plays. That’s a 12% havoc rate. An average defense is 15%. Jordan Lesley’s defenses have never created havoc and have always relied on simply not letting up the “big play”. Unfortunately for Lesley, the past two years, teams have found a way to create a big play and create a big play often.
I don’t care which of the four stats the team decides to be great in, but at least one of those four stats, the defense needs to be top 20 in if Lesley wants to keep his job at West Virginia. Find a way to constantly generate tackles for loss, constantly get after the quarterback, constantly pick off the quarterback or constantly tear the ball from the other team, I don’t care but something needs to happen that begins to generate turnovers for this team because ultimately, this team is just a big lump on defense that does not create plays and allows too many plays to happen.
I Think This is an Easy Schedule
Too many people are claiming this is too hard a schedule and that the Mountaineers need to do “something” to help out poor old Neal Brown because there is no way he can win when he has to play such a hard schedule. Even Brown himself has gotten in on the woe is me tirade when he’s spoken about the schedule.
“I’ve spoken on what’s the best for the program, not what’s best necessarily for me, but best for the program is I think you play that Pitt game, you play a [group of five] at home, you play a FCS at home, and you play nine league games, which should give you seven home games every year,” Brown said. “I think that’s the best opportunity for success, I think it’s best for our fanbase to have a seventh home game every year and it allows you the opportunity to really build some momentum early in the year.”
“Those other regional rivalries is I think it’s hard to play both (Pitt and a regional rivalry),” Brown said. “Those two games (against Virginia Tech) were awesome. That was a great home environment here, it was great going down there. The Penn State game, we’re meeting that thing head on, we’re excited about it, but I don’t think it’s within the best interest to play both those games within the same calendar year.”
Its tough to play Pitt AND Virginia Tech in the same year? What in the world were we doing when we were in the Big East? Its not hard and neither Pitt nor Virginia Tech were particularly good last year. They both were beatable. Replacing Virginia Tech with a G5 program would not have changed the win total or the level of difficulty in the schedule.
Looking at this year, West Virginia plays two tough teams in Penn State and Oklahoma, five Power 5 schools in Kansas, Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma State, four G5 schools in Houston, Cincinnati, UCF and BYU and one FCS in Duquesne.
This current schedule, is easier than any schedule West Virginia has faced since joining the Big 12. This schedule, if this were 2014-2018 would be talked about going 9-3. We’d be excited to play Penn State, we’d be excited to thump Pitt and we’d be looking at the schedule hoping to find a way to steal an extra win and maybe make the Championship game.
This schedule does not feature 11 P5 teams. This schedule is not hard. This schedule should be easier on the team and yet, outside of Penn State and Oklahoma, who I believe are better than us top to bottom, and Duquesne, who we are significantly better than, I don’t know where the required wins come from with this schedule. That isn’t a reflection of the strength of the schedule, but more of the weakness of the team.
Last year I said the team felt like a 6-6 team and was off by a game. This year, the addition of three G5 schools and an independent throw a bit of a wrench into the schedule predictor. On the one hand, if you told me WVU would beat Duquesne, the four newcomers and two other schools to finish 7-5, I would not be surprised. If you told me the team finished 3-9 and struggled to get going and only rebounded with late wins over Baylor and Cincinnati, I also would not be surprised. There is more volatility around this season than any I can remember.
Jordan, Joel and I discussed the schedule on one of the latest “West By Pods” and we broke the schedule down into quarters. The first three games [Penn State, Duquesne, Pitt] all rides on Pitt. Beat Pitt and this season could easily be a 7-8 win season. Lose to Pitt and a major disassembly could occur before your eyes.
After Pitt comes Texas Tech, TCU, Houston. That’s an 0-3 stretch waiting to happen. All three games are winnable but there is no doubt that might be the toughest three game stretch in the schedule. After that comes OSU, UCF and BYU. That’s a 3-0 stretch for a good team. Are we 5-3 or better at this point or have the wheels come off and we’re staring at 2-7/1-8?
The final three games feature Oklahoma, Cincinnati and Baylor. You could go 1-2 or 2-1 in this stretch. Imagine being 4-6 heading into these final two games needing to beat Cinci and Baylor to get to bowl eligibility. What are our chances? Are you confident?
My gut says 6-6 this year and that is because the gods of college football love to torture West Virginia. At 5-7, I think the administration would finally pull the plug on this nightmare of a coach. At 7-5, I think he’s safe. But at 6-6, who the hell knows. Can you or do you fire a coach who made a bowl game for the third time in five years? [Yes - West Virginia should have a better bowl record than 3/5]. Can you fire a coach who wasn’t under .500? I think 6-6 is the scenario where optics are bad either way.
At 6-6, Brown would be bowl eligible and would have done so with a young team. If you are going to fire him, you have to do so before the bowl game. The bowl game shouldn’t play a factor. If you fire him before the bowl game, does the team come out stronger with a new voice or does it fall flat after losing their coach?
Conversely, can you keep a coach at 6-6, who has never had a winning season in five years at the helm, presumably took over the offense and generated another mediocre outing and/or had a defense that continued to be a big nothing-burger? Can you keep a coach who has not shown any upward mobility and hasn’t generated any national buzz in 60 months?
If you are a Mountaineer fan, pray for something other than 6-6, because 6-6 might just be the worst thing you can hope for.