NCAA Football Preview - West Virginia Mountaineers

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2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: Simply put, last season was another disappointing one for coach Dana Holgorsen and the West Virginia Mountaineers. The team slipped past FCS foe William & Mary (24-17) in the opener, and then split its next four games, narrowly losing to Oklahoma (16-7) in its first Big 12 test while topping Oklahoma State (30-21) three weeks later. The win over the Cowboys came on the heels of being embarrassed by Maryland (37-0), which was certainly good to see.

However, WVU would go on to suffer defeats in three straight and six of its last seven overall. Three of its final four games went to overtime, showing that the squad was competitive, but the Mountaineers lacked the killer instinct needed to put teams away.

At just 4-8 overall and 2-7 in conference, it was another poor showing by West Virginia, and there is no coach in the Big 12 feeling the heat more than Holgorsen.


OFFENSE: West Virginia's strength on offense last season was in the passing game, as the unit ranked fourth in the Big 12 and 34th nationally with 262.3 ypg. That number could have been even bigger if not for the fact that the Mountaineers were one of the worst teams in the nation in third-down conversions.

Quarterback Clint Trickett appeared to be on his way to making the team his last season, his first in Morgantown after transferring in from Florida State, but he suffered a shoulder injury. He struggled after that, but Holgorsen has all the faith in the world that the senior will be able to take the next step.

"Why I named him the starter, he's healthy, 100 percent. Arm strength is awesome, body weight is good," Holgorsen said late in July.

"He's been out there working with our guys all summer. There's a rapport that needs to exist with him and the receivers in order to be successful. They need to understand each and every one of their little nuances when it comes to being able to get open and sign language and a nod here and a cut-off there. And all that's starting to exist with him right now with him and the rest of the guys."

With regard to the run, expect to see guys like Dreamius Smith, Dustin Garrison, Andrew Buie and Rushel Shell all get touches. They will have the good fortune of following behind experienced guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. As for the receivers, senior Kevin White and sophomore Daikiel Shorts lead the way, the latter of whom is the team's top returning pass catcher (45 receptions, 495 yards, 2 touchdowns).

DEFENSE: From a defensive standpoint, the Mountaineers took it on the chin quite often in 2013, as they were shredded for 33.3 points and 455.0 yards per contest. Both ranked them among the worst teams in the Big 12, as well as the nation. They were especially inept when it came to defending the pass (263.3 ypg -- last in the league, 106th nationally).

The defensive line doesn't welcome back a single starter, but a solid rotation of several guys, including highly-regarded sophomore Christian Brown, could help the unit be an area of strength as the season moves along.

Senior Brandon Golson is probably the most versatile of WVU's defenders, and he will combine with junior Nick Kwiatkowski, the team's top returning tackler (86 stops), to form a productive, playmaking linebacking unit.

The secondary, which was much-maligned last season, could be in for better days ahead as senior safety Karl Joseph provides the veteran leadership, while sophomore Daryl Worley and senior Ishmael Banks go for broke from their corner spots.

SPECIAL TEAMS: This is one area that Holgorsen shouldn't have to worry about much, at least as it pertains to the kickers themselves. Sophomore Josh Lambert was solid last year, converting nearly three-fourths of his field goal attempts, while junior Nick O'Toole averaged better than 44 yards per punt.

The return game however, was a disaster. The Mountaineers ranked near the bottom of the national rankings in both kickoff and punt returns, and it will be imperative that the coaching staff find someone to raise the bar there.

OUTLOOK: The Mountaineers open the season against perennial national power Alabama in Atlanta, providing Holgorsen with an immediate measuring stick to just how the season may play out.

A rematch with Maryland a couple of weeks later will give the team a chance at redemption for last year's debacle, and the Big 12 schedule will certainly be difficult to navigate with any degree of consistency.

Holgorsen is hoping his team will be able to turn the corner after playing tough, but faltering more times than not last season.

"We've been competitive. This past year we lost -- we were in three overtime games. We lost fourth quarter leads. Won a couple of close games. Each and every one was pretty much competitive. We need to stay the course. Continue to develop our talent, continue to recruit better, and then we'll win those games. Hopefully we can put a season together that everybody will be proud of."