Much is swirling around the WVU football program on this Monday. As expected, Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen’s name has been floated in regard to openings. Some have questioned whether Will Grier and others will participate in the upcoming bowl game. There is uncertainty over the bowl destination. (Does the College Football Playoff committee take Oklahoma over Ohio State if both win their conference championship? If so, WVU probably plays in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28 in San Antonio. If not, the destination looks like the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28 in Orlando. The good news for WVU fans? No Cheez-it Bowl.) Will there be assistant coaching changes?
Yet the proverbial dust has settled in regard to West Virginia’s regular season, a season that fell a game short after Hurricane Florence caused the cancellation of the North Carolina State game. (Could the two schools meet in the Camping World Bowl, which pits a Big 12 school against an ACC school?)
So it’s time to look at what happened to WVU during the 8-3 regular season. As I tweeted over the weekend, I truly thought the Mountaineers had a chance at a special season. I predicted 10-2 before the season, but that included a regular season-ending victory over Oklahoma. My thought is if it didn’t happen this season, with Grier, David Sills, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings in place, with the game in Morgantown, when will it?
Of course, it didn’t happen. The Mountaineers fell short against the Sooners. And it’s led to frustration. Just this morning one Twitter follower wrote he’s “still very angry over the 17-point halftime lead that was blown” against Oklahoma State which “pretty much ruined the season.”
I won’t label an 8-3 season “ruined,” but, OK, yeah, it’s disappointing. Then I sat down and looked at the final regular season statistics. And they showed that maybe Mountaineer fans shouldn’t be so disappointed. Maybe all just overlooked the holes, weak areas and trouble spots the stats illustrate.
Before we get to those, though, let’s look at the team’s strong points. On defense, linebacker David Long was by far the unit’s MVP. He finished the regular season No. 1 on his team and No. 55 nationally in tackles with 97 (8.8 per game). No one else was even close. (Kenny Robinson had 75.)
Offensively, well, Grier should be going to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony along with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. The Mountaineer QB is No. 2 nationally in passing yards a game (351.3), No. 4 in passing efficiency (175.5), No. 5 in points responsible for (242), No. 7 in completions per game (24.18) and No. 15 in completion percentage (.670).
Grier brought skill as well as swagger to WVU’s offense. And it rubbed off on Sills, who finished the regular season No. 2 nationally in receiving touchdowns (15), and Jennings, who finished tied at No. 5 (13). (Oddly, in receiving yards per game, Jennings is but No. 31 and Sills No. 34.)
The trio propelled WVU to its current No. 3 national ranking in pass offense (358.1), No. 8 ranking in total offense (520.4) and No. 9 ranking in scoring offense (42.3).
Yet it’s tough to find other distinguished areas to complement Grier and his receivers. There’s Long and…
Just look around. WVU’s rush offense is ranked No. 74 nationally, averaging 162 yards. (Kennedy McKoy leads the Mountaineer pack of runners at No. 100, averaging 66.3 yards.) In sacks allowed, WVU is No. 68 (2.18).
Defensively, West Virginia is No. 75 in total defense (405.5 yards per game), No. 101 in passing yards allowed (254.6), No. 80 in red zone defense (.846) and No. 48 in rush defense (150.8).
A big stat that seemed hidden? In fewest penalties per game, WVU is No. 101 of 129 teams, averaging 7.18.
Also, special teams have been anything but special. The Mountaineers are No. 110 in kickoff return (18.05), No. 61 in net punting (37.63), No. 96 in punt returns (6.3) and No. 57 in punt return defense (7.67). In field goal percentage, Evan Staley is tied for 50that .750.
You get the picture. Yes, West Virginia’s offense, specifically Grier, Sills and Jennings, were super. It put up enough points to carry the Mountaineers to eight wins. But, aside from Long, WVU’s supporting cast as a whole was less than sturdy.
Now? We wait and see who comes, who goes and what the WVU team looks like in the upcoming bowl and 2019.