WHO ARE THEY?
Neal Brown leads West Virginia for the third season after showing major improvement in 2020. The Mountaineers finished the year with a bowl win, a 6-4 record and a No. 37 ranking in the combined SP+/FEI metrics, which was a big jump from a 5-7 finish and No. 100 ranking in 2019.
West Virginia is projected to be in the 40s by most of the major metrics going into 2021.
Their best wins last season came over TCU (No. 37 SP+, 6-4) and Army (No. 69, 9-3) in the Liberty Bowl. Losses came against Iowa State, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Mountaineers’ game against Oklahoma was cancelled due to Covid-19.
They return eight starters on offense and six on defense to rank No. 103 in Bill Connelly’s returning production metric.
Jarret Doege (USA Today)
THE OFFENSIVE NUMBERS
The West Virginia offense improved in 2020, but it still only finished in the 70s in the major metrics. Chad Scott is in his third season as co-offensive coordinator and is joined by Gerad Parker in his second season in Morgantown.
West Virginia was No. 20 nationally last season in plays per game (77.1) and ran the ball 47 percent of the time.
They were No. 50 in yards per game (412.6) and No. 85 in yards per play (5.4).
The running game finished No. 92 in yards per game (135.1) and No. 94 in yards per carry (3.8). Their passing game was No. 28 in yards per game (277.5), No. 79 in yards per attempt and No. 65 in passing efficiency.
Brown’s offense finished No. 82 in points per game (26.5) and No. 99 in points per drive (1.83).
In the red zone, they ranked No. 35 in scoring rate (87.8 percent) and No. 71 in touchdown rate (61.0 percent).
For Big 12 drive stats, the Mountaineers featured the seventh or eighth ranked unit.
They were No. 8 in points per drive (1.87), No. 8 in touchdown rate (22.0 percent), No. 5 in punt rate (41.8 percent), No. 2 in turnover rate (8.8 percent), No. 5 in yardage available rate (45.1 percent) and No. 7 in the percentage of 20+ yard agains.
Key losses included running back Alec Sinkfield, wide receiver TJ Simmons and offensive linemen Michael Brown and Chase Behrndt. Brown and Behrndt earned all-Big 12 second team and honorable mention honors last season.
Leddie Brown (USA Today)
THE OFFENSIVE PERSONNEL
Players to Watch:
1. Running back Leddie Brown: The 5-foot-11, 216-pound Brown was the workhorse for the West Virginia running game last season and took over 56 percent of the carries and 74 percent of the rushing yards. He ran for 1,010 yards at 5.1 yards per attempt and nine touchdowns. Brown caught another 31 balls for 202 yards and two touchdowns. He earned a first team all-Big 12 pick in 2020.
2. Receivers Winston Wright, Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James: At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Wright led the Mountaineers with 553 yards receiving on 47 catches with a pair of touchdowns to earn second team all-Big 12 honors last season. Ford-Wheaton is listed at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds and was second on the team with 416 yards, 27 catches and three scores. James is another smaller wideout at 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, but caught 31 balls for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
3. Quarterback Jarret Doege: Doege has a nice build to him at 6-foot-2 and 208 pounds He threw for 2,587 yards a year ago, while completing 63.9 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Doege isn’t a rushing threat, as he finished with -101 yards on the ground. He did happen to score a pair of rushing touchdowns, though.
4. Offensive linemen Brandon Yates, Zach Frazier and Doug Nester: They aren’t the biggest guys. Yates is listed at 6-foot-3 and 295 pounds, while Frazier strolls in at 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds. Both were named honorable mention all-Big 12 selections as freshmen a year ago. Yates started eight games and Frazier started nine. Nester is a giant at 6-foot-7 and 321 pounds. He joins the Mountaineers after spending a pair of seasons at Virginia Tech where he started 17 games.
Winston Wright (USA Today)
THE DEFENSIVE NUMBERS
West Virginia’s defense in 2020 was one of the best in the country and finished even with Iowa State in leading the Big 12. Jordan Lesley is in his second season as co-defensive coordinator, while being joined by former Louisville assistant ShaDon Brown in his first year as co-defensive coordinator.
Ranking in the top 20 in the major metrics, they finished No. 4 nationally in yards per game allowed (291.4) and No. 5 in yards per play allowed (4.65).
Their rush defense ranked No. 28 in yards per game (131.8) and No. 23 in yards per rush allowed (3.54). The pass defense finished No. 1 in passing yards per game allowed (159.6), No. 10 in yards per attempt (6.3) and No. 24 in passing efficiency.
The Mountaineers were No. 21 in both points per game (20.5) and points per drive allowed (1.62).
The red zone defense finished No. 72 in scoring rate allowed (#85) and No. 47 in touchdown rate (60.0 percent).
For Big 12 drive rate stats, West Virginia was No. 1 in points per drive allowed (1.56, tied with Iowa State), No. 1 in touchdown rate (18.9 percent, tied with Iowa State), No. 2 in punt rate (48.9 percent), No. 2 in turnover rate (13.3 percent), No. 1 in available yardage rate allowed (36.3 percent) and No. 2 in percentage of 20+ yard gains.
They did have significant losses on defense, including a pair of first Team all-Big 12 selections in linebacker and leading tackler Tony Fields and defensive lineman Darius Stills. Honorable mention defensive backs Tykee Smith and Dreshun Miller and honorable mention defensive end Jeffery Pooler also departed.
Dante Stills (USA Today)
THE DEFENSIVE PERSONNEL
Players to Watch
1. Defensive linemen Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor: Stills is a stud at 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds. He led the Mountaineers with 9.5 tackles for loss and collected 35 tackles last year, and it earned him honorable mention all-Big 12 honors. He was also the lone West Virginia player to be chosen on the 2021 preseason all-Big 12 list. Mesidor is listed at 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds and led West Virginia with five sacks and finished with 6.5 tackles for loss. That was good for a second team all-Big 12 selection last season.
2. Safeties Alonzo Addae and Sean Mahone: At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, Addae finished second on the team with 66 tackles and second with five passes broken up. Addae was a second team all-Big 12 selection in 2020. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound Mahone finished with 53 tackles and four passes broken up.
3. Linebackers Josh Chandler-Semedo and Exree Loe: Chandler-Semedo is a shorter linebacker at 5-foot-10 and 226 pounds, but he finished third in tackles with 64 and had four tackles for loss in 2020. The 5-foot-11, 218-pound Loe tallied 45 tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES
They finished in the mid-50s in the combined SP+/FEI on special teams last year.
The coverage units were both solid, led by the punt coverage group finishing No. 15 in allowing only 2.8 yards per punt return. The kickoff coverage finished No. 39 and allowed 19.1 yards per return, though they did allow one touchdown.
West Virginia’s kickoff return unit finished No. 65 in averaging 20.0 yards per return, while the punt return unit was No. 90 and averaged 5.0 yards per return. Winston Wright is the best returner back for the Mountaineers after averaging 21.3 yards per attempt last season.
Kicker Evan Staley was 6 of 9 on field goals (66.7 percent) and made all 19 of his extra points. Punter Tyler Sumpter averaged 40.5 yards per punt on 37 attempts.
FAN’S SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
Neal Brown has led West Virginia to upset wins over ranked Kansas State teams in each of the last two seasons, including a 37-10 blowout victory last season. K-State will respond this season, as the Mountaineer defense slips a little after some key losses to their dominant group from 2020.
PREDICTION: KANSAS STATE 30, WEST VIRGINIA 20
DY’S SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
It should be a great year for Kansas State to face West Virginia. That salty defense from a season ago was gashed by graduation and the transfer portal. Maybe it will still be stingy, but I have my doubts.
That’s combined with a Wildcat offense that I think could be the salty group of the two in 2021. Can the Mountaineers keep up on the scoreboard with their offense? For a while, but they are not especially scary on that side of the ball and K-State should have made strides on this side of the ball by now, too.