In the world of college football, constant improvement is a necessity for most, if not all, programs across the nation.
West Virginia is no exception. Entering year three of the Neal Brown era, continued growth is the name of the game as the Mountaineers hope to become a name in the discussion of Big 12 Championship contention.
They’re a ways away. Also a constant in college football is roster movement, and no two teams will be the same year over year. As we sit here in May, with Week 1 a few months away, there is still work to be done.
Below, I’ve penned a wishlist of some of the things I think the Mountaineers need to improve upon in order to keep the climb in motion.
A more productive (overall) rushing offense
Leddie Brown is the catalyst that moves the Mountaineers offense forward — that’s undeniable. He led the team with more than 1,000 all-purpose yards a season ago, making him one of the lone positives on offense.
Yet, the run game began and ended with Brown. Last season, he alone provided nearly 80% of the Mountaineers’ rushing yards as the team ranked eighth out of 10 teams in the Big 12.
Brown was the only one contributing a substantial impact, making the West Virginia offense easier to prepare for. The Mountaineers will add two four-star freshmen this year — Justin Johnson and Jaylen Anderson — improving depth and skill at the position, so who knows what exactly the position will look like Week 1.
My main concern is with Jarret Doege. While I still believe that he is the best option for the Mountaineers heading into the fall, he is a one dimensional player. He struggles to move efficiently in and out of the pocket, and if he cannot improve behind an offensive line including at least three four-star offensive linemen, he is a detriment to WVU’s ground game.
Garrett Greene has shown the ability to be active outside of the pocket during the spring, breaking off plenty of long runs when the media was able to watch practices. Is he the answer? In the run game, probably, but maybe not fully under center yet.
If the Mountaineers can begin to become less predictable offensively, they should be able to propel themselves into the top half of the conference in rushing, which very well could push them closer to Big 12 Championship contention.
Another defensive option up front
A year ago, Darius Stills was on top of Morgantown.
Potentially an early choice in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Fairmont native returned to school. His 2020 season was, well, underwhelming. While he totaled 25 tackles, including 7.5 for loss, he struggled mightily as he encountered countless double teams up front, limiting his impact. His numbers were nearly cut in half from the 2019 season, where he finished with 47 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss.
Now, I’m worried something similar could happen with Akheem Mesidor.
In his freshman season, Mesidor shined as he took advantage of Stills’ mismatches, totalling 32 tackles. Even with Dante Stills returning, Mesidor is arguably the guy up front heading into this fall.
Outside of Mesidor, Stills will help pad the loss of his brother, but then the team is a bit thin. Following Jeffery Pooler Jr.’s transfer to Northwestern and Quay Mays transfer to Arkansas State, only five returning defensive linemen tallied tackles last season — a total of nine.
The lone saving grace in my eyes is Taijh Alston, who seems a likely starter, but even then he is surrounded with questions. He has missed the majority of the last two seasons with injuries, what hope do we have that he’ll be able to stay on the field in 2021?
If the Mountaineers hope to keep their top-ranked defense heading into this fall, overcoming the loss of Tony Fields is more than enough. Developing more options on the defensive line is critical to prevent outright implosion.
A team with more of an emphasis on penalties
I’m so tired of writing about this, but it’s something that has to be written about. I’ll keep it short.
I first started covering the Mountaineer football program during Neal Brown’s first season at WVU and in that time it seems as if one of the biggest concerns year in and year out has been penalties.
A season ago, the Mountaineers finished nine out of 10 teams in taking penalties, averaging a total of 74 penalty yards per game. Further, West Virginia ranked eight out of 10 teams in drawing penalties.
Penalties are such a critical factor to a football team, and they can make or break a team’s success. If West Virginia ever hopes to be a genuine contender, those numbers need to improve — simple as that.
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