West Virginia Mountaineers

NCAAF - BIG 12

West Virginia Mountaineers Insiders

2021-2022 TEAM LEADERS

West Virginia Football Team

The Mountaineers were once a trio of Big 12 teams that weren’t all that bad in 2020 but also didn’t have enough offensive talent to get to the upper tier of the conference standings.

Third-year head coach Neal Brown is 11 – 11 in his two seasons at the helm and needs a breakout year to make West Virginia fans believe they have the right guy for the long term, with early back-to-back games against Virginia Tech and Oklahoma looming.

2020 Summary

West Virginia finished the 2020 season with an overall record of 6-4 and 4-4 in the Big 12, including a less than impressive 24-21 win against Army in the Liberty Bowl. They ended up in fifth place in the conference without having to play Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

They bring back six starters off the top defense in the Big 12 and fourth nationally. The Mountaineers led the conference in scoring and in passing and total yards allowed. West Virginia also led the country in passing yards allowed, at just under 160 yards a game against a pass-happy conference.

On offense, they gained a decent amount of yardage, but it didn’t translate into a lot of points, averaging 26.5 per game, including putting up 56 against FCS Eastern Kentucky, which was eighth in the conference and 82nd among FBS teams. The main culprit was the running game, which produced 135 yards a game and was ranked 92nd in the FBS.

Key Players

Running back Leddie Brown accounted for 75% of the Mounaineers’ rushing yardage in 2020, and he’ll need some help if West Virginia is going to show marked improvement on offense. The junior rushed for 1,010 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago, but it appears he’ll be on his own again as the team didn’t make any big upgrades at running.

Jarrett Doege started all ten games at quarterback in 2020, and despite his 14 touchdown passes and 4 interceptions, he’ll need to find a way to generate more points against the top defenses in the conference. In their four losses, the Mountaineers averaged less than 15 points a game, and Doege will have to be better in the big games.

Freshman All-American nose tackle Akheem Mesidor led the team with five sacks in 2020 and will be critical for a unit that will probably have to again bail out the inconsistent offense. Along with senior defensive Dante Stills, who had 10.5 tackles for loss last season, Mesidor provides a stellar player in the middle of the defensive line.

New Additions

If Doege stumbles at quarterback, freshman Will Crowder has plenty of ability to step in, perhaps even winning the job prior to the start of the season. The 6’3”, 195-pounder out of Gardendale, Alabama, was ranked among the top 40 quarterbacks coming out of high school.

For an offense that had difficulty scoring points in 2020, Virginia Tech transfer right guard Doug Nester should help a line that returns just a pair of starters from last season.

Another addition is Wyatt Milum, who is a top 20 recruit nationally among offensive linemen and will add a much-needed depth to what might have been the weakest unit on the field for the Mountaineers in 2020.

Key Subtractions

Darius Stills’ play at nose tackle was a big reason for the success of the West Virginia defense in 2020, making 25 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and contributing 3.5 sacks. He signed with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent for the 2021 season.

Linebacker Tony Fields II anchored the unit with 88 tackles, four for loss, one sack, and an interception after transferring in from Arizona for a season. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns.

A key player in the secondary, safety Tyree Smith, transferred to Georgia and took his 61 tackles, eight for a loss and two interceptions with him.

Conference Outlook

Oklahoma has won the last six Big 12 titles, and after winning their final eight games in 2020, it doesn’t appear that the streak is in major jeopardy. They dropped their first two contests of the season, including one to eventual regular-season champion Iowa State, but got revenge in the Big 12 Championship game 27-21 and then drilled Florida 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl Classic.

Runner-up Iowa State returns 19 starters from last year and are expected to challenge the Sooners again, with the November 20th game at Norman poised to be one of the highlights of the conference schedule. Texas has a new coach in former Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, despite a 7-3 2020 campaign. Sarkisian also had head coaching stints at Washington and USC, bringing high expectations to the Longhorn faithful.

Oklahoma State and Kansas State are looking to crash the party, but they’ll need to have better efforts against the top-tier teams than they did in 2020. The rest of the league will struggle to get out of the bottom half of the standings.

West Virginia Offense

If the offensive line can show improvement, the Mountaineers may be able to be more competitive against the top teams in the conference. Quarterback Hoege does a good job of taking care of the football, but part of that is that he doesn’t take enough chances down the field. Running back Leddie Brown is the second leading returning rusher in the conference, and they’ll need to use him in a way that produces more points, especially in the big games.

They should have enough talent at receiver to provide Hoege, or whoever the quarterback is, plenty of quality targets to sustain a good passing game. The big problem for the Mountaineers is that although they return experienced players, they’re the same ones that could only generate 26.5 points a game.

West Virginia Defense

The defensive unit was great in 2020, but it had some personnel losses following the season that could potentially take them down a notch, which would still put them near the top of the conference. They’ll be a little thin and untested at linebacker, but the front will probably be able to weather the departure of Darius Stills since his brother is actually better.

more consistent offense could greatly benefit the defense, especially because it’s better against the pass than the run. If teams are forced to go through the air, it will play into the strength of the Mountaineers, providing they can adequately fill the holes in the secondary created by graduation and transferring.

Overall, if West Virginia struggles in 2021, it probably won’t be the fault of the defense unless injuries enter into the picture. The Mountaineers have a chance to be a surprise team if the defense again steps up and plays like it did in 2020.

 

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