West Virginia University’s football team is in some rarified air right now.
Not like that of 2007, mind you, when the Mountaineers climbed to No. 1 in the coaches’ poll and No. 2 in the A.P. poll, but rarified nonetheless at No. 6 in both rankings.
Yet I’m getting the feeling those in the Mountain State are still taking an optimistic wait-and-see approach to their team. Because of the second half of the victory at Texas Tech. Because of the sloppy home win against Kansas.
College Football Playoff? Sugar Bowl? Peach Bowl? The latter is where CFP guru Jerry Palm projects WVU at the moment. And I will stick with my preseason 10-2 prediction, minus a loss because the North Carolina State game was cancelled. I had that down as a Mountaineer defeat. (I also predicted a West Virginia loss at Texas.)
Yet there are concerns. First, folks are starting to point more and more at WVU’s early schedule. And I’m beginning to think the N.C. State cancellation (assuming the Mountaineers would have won) might indeed hurt if the team finishes 10-1.
Then, on the field, it appears the interior of the offensive line is still a bit of a problem — at least if recent inside runs are the measuring stick. While the West Virginia passing game is all most expected – a 364.1-yard average, No. 4 nationally – the run game is No. 81, averaging 162.2 yards.
Also, many in the media have stated they are still not sold on the Mountaineer defense. Maybe that’s because the D has allowed 56 points in the past two games. As for me, I’m more sold because I’ve seen the impact of nose tackle Kenny Bigelow and end Jabril Robinson, both transfers. Yet in the 3-3-5, I’d like to see more from the Mike linebacker spot, where Dylan Tonkery has 22 tackles, and the Spur safety position, where Dravon Askew-Henry has 17. Both had one tackle last Saturday, although Tonkery had to sit in the second half. Heck, because of turnovers, tackle Yodny Cajuste had two tackles and QB Will Grier had one.
Still, it’s a thrilling time to be a WVU fan. When clicking, the offense is a sight to behold. It’s one you can mention in the same breath as the Pat White or Major Harris teams. And maybe freshman Leddie Brown can be the spark for the running game. Now, on to Iowa State.
Last week, I warned about the Cyclones, WVU’s 7 p.m. opponent this coming Saturday. I wrote that despite a 1-3 record, ISU had lost to Iowa, Oklahoma and TCU by a combined 23 points.
And then the Cyclones went to Stillwater and outscored then-4-1 Oklahoma State 48-42.
Also, ISU got a spark from true freshman quarterback Brock Purdy. With regular starter Kyle Kempt out with a knee issue, Purdy replaced Zeb Nolan and threw for 318 yards on 18-of-23 passing with four TDs. In addition, he ran for 84 yards.
WVU coach Dana Holgorsen has seen the tape.
“We’ve watched it and we’ll continue to rewatch it the next 12 hours,” said Holgorsen on Monday. “He came in and did a good job. It was kind of unexpected on our part. We still have to worry about Kyle Kempt coming back for this game. You have the new freshman that went out there, ran around and did a good job. He made a lot of plays. And Nolan is an experienced guy as well.
“(Purdy) went in there, completed 18 of 23 passes and ran for almost 100 yards. He played well against Oklahoma State. Once again, we’ll prepare for three different quarterbacks.”
Before I forget, let’s give credit to WVU’s Shane Lyons and, perhaps, ex-AD Oliver Luck for trying to present a formidable non-conference schedule to the Mountaineers. While other teams continued to load up on patsies, WVU scheduled Tennessee. Who knew the Vols would be staring at 2-6 to start the season? Also, N.C. State is undefeated. Who knew Hurricane Florence would be a thing? Here’s hoping if the Mountaineers do earn CFP consideration, the committee gives credit where it’s due.
# Holgorsen said on Monday expanded coaching staffs have helped him.
“It certainly allows us to be competitive from a recruiting point of view and from a game-planning point of view with the analysts,” said Holgorsen. “I think we’re in a lot better spot now than even a couple years ago. When I was calling plays, I wish I would have had that offensive analyst to help me throughout the course of the week.”
# Former WVU defensive lineman Adam Shuler has helped Florida to a good start. Against Tennessee, he had nine tackles. He had three in the team’s win against LSU.
# Prediction: WVU 35, Iowa State 32.
# And finally…
West Virginia’s Holgorsen said he didn’t mind Grier’s decisions to run against Kansas, even when the result was a lost helmet.
“I thought Will did a good job,” said Holgorsen. “On three different occasions, he pulled it on run plays. He has the opportunity to do that every time we call a run play. We’ve just been very careful with him. It was just flat-out there.”