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First Look: West Virginia Mountaineers

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Taking our first look into the 2015 West Virginia Mountaineers. Let's see what we can see, shall we? Plus: QUESTIONS!

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
vs.
2/2 BAYLOR (5–0, 2–0) vs. NR/RV West Virginia (3–2, 0–2)
Oct. 17, 2015 | 11 a.m. CT
Waco, Texas | McLane Stadium (45,140)

TV: FOX
Watch Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | Tickets

OPPONENT: West Virginia Mountaineers
ODB GAME HUB: Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers 2015
MEET THE PRESS: Baylor vs. WVU
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: www.wvusports.com
MEDIA GUIDE: 2015 WVU Football Media Guide (Click here for roster)
LAST MEETING: 41–27 WVU | ODB Game Hub
LAST GAME: L; Oklahoma State 33, WVU 26 (OT)
SB NATION BLOG: The Smoking Musket, at right
SPREAD: Baylor –21 (Open: Baylor –17)
TV COVERAGE: FOX National, 11:00 a.m. CDT
WEATHER FORECAST: Sunny, with a high of 86°, NE winds 10–15mph (wunderground puts game time temp at 74°)

SBNation.com WVU Preview
baylorbears.com Preview
Bears vs. Mountaineers Coverage

ATTENTION STUDENTS

The official Baylor Football account tweeted this out earlier this morning:

It's 2015. Your team is undefeated. They are the consensus Number 2 team in the country, with many pundits saying they're the best team in the nation. Get. Your. Tickets.

Injury Report Update

Injury data for college football is absurdly difficult to locate with any kind of precision, but the one big injury we all know of is the Mountaineer’s stud DB Karl Joseph who is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. He was a great bet for the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year based on early play; losing him is a monstrous blow to the Mountaineers’ defense. Other than that… there’s just not much out there. Stud RB Wendell Smallwood apparently was a game-time decision for last week with an ankle injury, but he performed just fine, so I don’t think there’s any real question on his status for this week.

But Have They Played Anybody?

If you’re paying attention to Baylor’s detractors right now, this is the common refrain (of course it is). Much like 2013, the Baylor offense gobbles up both yards and points and has been manhandling inferior competition; much like 2013, Baylor will face its strongest test yet at home against West Virginia. I said in a comment just yesterday that I was uncomfortable with the term "inferior," but shortly thereafter I saw numerous tweets regarding the defenses the Bears have played thus far… Tweets like this one:

The potent Baylor offense faces the toughest test of the season thus far against West Virginia. This Mountaineers defense held the Bears to 27 points last season, its lowest output of the year. The WVU 3–3 stack defense held the Bears to just 95 yards total rushing and 2.3 yards per attempt. The attacking 3–3 worked to perfection, preventing the Bears from establishing a rhythm and keeping the offensive line off balance the entire game. WVU will be looking to put in a repeat performance and hand Baylor its first defeat at McLane Stadium. But they’re facing what many are calling the best offense Briles has ever had which, if true, essentially makes it the best in program history.

WVU Mountaineers 2015 Schedule

September

Georgia Southern Eagles

Saturday, September 05 2015 win 44–0 coverage

Liberty Flames

Saturday, September 12 2015 win 41–17 coverage

Maryland Terrapins

Saturday, September 26 2015 win 45–6 coverage
October
@ Oklahoma Sooners Saturday, October 03 2015 loss 24–44 coverage

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Saturday, October 10 2015 loss 26–33 coverage
@ Baylor Bears Saturday, October 17 2015 12:00 PM EDT coverage
@ TCU Horned Frogs Thursday, October 29 2015 7:30 PM EDT coverage
November

Texas Tech Red Raiders

Friday, November 06 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage

Texas Longhorns

Friday, November 13 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage
@ Kansas Jayhawks Friday, November 20 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage

Iowa St. Cyclones

Friday, November 27 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage
December
@ Kansas State Wildcats Friday, December 04 2015 7:00 PM EST coverage

In the first week of October, West Virginia looked to be emerging as a clear dark horse favorite in the Big 12 title hunt, based on a stingy defense that gave up 23 points during the month of September while its offense put up 130. It increased my own concern about facing them, and even led Bill Connelly to pen a piece wondering if the winner of WVU-OU would emerge as the Big 12 favorite (spoiler alert: nope). They dropped the OU game in Norman 44–24, then boarded the struggle bus in Morgantown last weekend, losing to Oklahoma State in overtime, a game they trailed 17–2 at halftime and required a TD with under 3 minutes left in the game to send to overtime. Now they head back on the road, making their first appearance in McLane Stadium this Saturday at 11 a.m.

WVU Mountaineers 2015 Individual Stats

Quarterbacks

Passing
Rk Player Cmp Att Pct Yds Y/A AY/A TD Int Rate
1 Skyler Howard 93 151 61.6 1277 8.5 8.4 11 5 150.0
2 William Crest 8 13 61.5 53 4.1 4.1 0 0 95.8

Skyler Howard is the new man under center, taking over after Clint Trickett announced his retirement from football just three days before the Mountaineers faced Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl last year. I must admit that I have not spent much time watching WVU football up to this point, so I’m relying on the stats and what our friends at Smoking Musket are saying. He’s been decent thus far this season, but according to Michael Miller’s recap of the Oklahoma State game, they saw a different side of him:

We saw a new version of Skyler Howard that we hadn’t really seen before. I’ll call him "Mediocre Skyler". Howard was nearly dreadful in the first half, throwing only 31 passing yards through 2 quarters. Things took a turn in the Mountaineers’ favor in the second half when Howard hit Shelton Gibson with a beautiful 48-yard bomb to bring the Mountaineers within 7 points. Skyler also had a really nice toucdown run late in the 4th quarter to tie the game up. Howard finished the game 18/35 for 188 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He also accounted for 47 yards and 1 TD on the ground.

Discontent seems to be seeping into the rank and file, as contributor WVUNite is giving Howard two more quarters to prove himself. He says, "Over his last 12 quarters of play, Skyler has been serviceable-to-great in six and awful-to-junior high level in six. The first half against Maryland, the second halves against OU and OSU showed us "good Skyler". The second half of Maryland, and the first halves against OU/OSU showed us "bad Skyler". Bad Skyler is proving to be bigger than Good Skyler." Which one shows up against Baylor will be interesting to see.

Rushing & Receiving Stats

Rushing Receiving Scrimmage
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg TD
1 Wendell Smallwood 89 589 6.6 5 16 94 5.9 0 105 683 6.5 5
2 Rushel Shell 73 266 3.6 3 4 56 14.0 0 77 322 4.2 3
3 Skyler Howard 64 148 2.3 2 64 148 2.3 2
4 William Crest 15 51 3.4 1 15 51 3.4 1
5 Dontae Thomas-Williams 11 37 3.4 0 11 37 3.4 0
6 Jacky Marcellus 4 13 3.3 0 1 23 23.0 0 5 36 7.2 0
7 Nick O’Toole 1 13 13.0 0 1 13 13.0 0
8 Shelton Gibson 20 448 22.4 5 20 448 22.4 5
9 Jovon Durante 18 264 14.7 3 18 264 14.7 3
10 Daikiel Shorts 17 224 13.2 1 17 224 13.2 1
11 Jordan Thompson 10 129 12.9 0 10 129 12.9 0
12 Devonte Mathis 6 47 7.8 0 6 47 7.8 0
13 Gary Jennings 4 28 7.0 0 4 28 7.0 0
14 Ellijah Wellman 3 14 4.7 2 3 14 4.7 2
15 Kj Myers 1 7 7.0 0 1 7 7.0 0
16 Stone Underwood 1 –4 –4.0 0 1 –4 –4.0 0

Going back to WVUNite’s fanpost I linked above, he says he thinks that he’s disappointed in the Mountaineers’ offensive line, arguing that it should be opening bigger holes for a team committed to running the ball. I’m looking forward to digging into the offensive line stats for this week’s preview post to see what they say about that matchup.

From everything I’ve read, the Mountaineers appear to be looking to rely more on the ground game, running a read option offense that has led to some turnovers as of late. Two backs with excellent names headline the WVU rushing attack: Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell. While Smallwood is the much more productive back, he’s apparently nursing an ankle injury that left him a game time decision last week. Despite Smallwood being the far more productive back (he ended up with 147 yards on 19 carries and a touchdown, while Shell had only 48 yards on the same number of carries), WVU turned to Shell in the overtime period. That did not turn out well for them: Shell was hit for a 7-yard loss on a 3rd-and-goal situation.

Through the air, sophomore Shelton Gibson has emerged as a primary target, with freshman Jovon Durante and junior Daikiel Shorts also getting a good number of touches. The receiving corps for WVU this season is a bit of a youth movement, with the underclassmen getting the majority of the looks. With youth comes inexperience, however. Couple that with the fact that Skyler Howard has thrown three interceptions and lost two fumbles while completing 52.2% of his passes in the first two conference games, it’s no surprise then that Holgorsen says that their opponents are stacking the box to stop the run. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see DC Phil Bennett take a similar approach to this game as he’s done in others, selling out on the run and making Howard beat the defense with his arm, relying on his experienced secondary to make plays, something that they’ve quietly done in the first five games of the season.

2015 WVU Team Stats and Rankings

Statistic National
Rank
Conference
Rank
Value National Leader Value Conference
Leader
Value
3rd Down Conv Pct 47 6 0.420 Texas Tech 0.553 Texas Tech 0.553
3rd Down Defense 14 1 0.278 Michigan 0.188 West Virginia 0.278
4th Down Conv Pct 16 3 0.778 5 teams tied 1.000 Oklahoma St.
Kansas St.
1.000
1.000
4th Down Defense 4 1 0.111 North Carolina St.
Arkansas St.
Boston College
0.000
0.000
0.000
West Virginia 0.111
Blocked Kicks 4 teams tied 3 4 teams tied 1
Blocked Kicks Allowed 56 7 1 55 teams tied 0 6 teams tied 0
Blocked Punts 12 teams tied 2
Blocked Punts Allowed 1 1 0 91 teams tied 0 9 teams tied 0
Completion Percentage 49 7 0.616 Western Ky. 0.750 Baylor 0.673
Defensive TDs 11 teams tied 3 Texas
Oklahoma St.
3
3
Fewest Penalties 99 5 43 Georgia Tech 16 Kansas 27
Fewest Penalties/ Gm 115 8 8.60 Georgia Tech 2.67 Kansas 5.40
Fewest Penalty Yards 115 8 437 Georgia Tech 148 Iowa St. 261
Fewest Penalty YPG 124 9 87.40 Georgia Tech 24.67 Iowa St. 52.20
First Downs Defense 9 1 81 Boston College 56 West Virginia 81
First Downs Offense 28 5 136 Bowling Green 184 Texas Tech
TCU
174
174
Fumbles Lost 96 10 6 UCLA 0 TCU 1
Fumbles Recovered 66 8 3 California 9 Oklahoma St. 8
Kickoff Return Defense 16 2 17.56 Ga. Southern 14.28 Iowa St. 15.50
Kickoff Returns 76 4 20.64 Michigan 39.00 Kansas St. 26.36
Net Punting 30 4 39.81 Baylor 46.00 Baylor 46.00
Passes Had Intercepted (127 ranked) 63 5 5 4 teams tied 0 Kansas St.
Texas
2
2
Passes Intercepted 1 1 13 West Virginia
Boise St.
13
13
West Virginia 13
Passing Offense 30 6 266.0 Texas Tech 439.0 Texas Tech 439.0
Passing Yards Allowed 49 3 202.0 Boston College 98.7 Oklahoma 173.6
Passing  YPC 38 8 13.17 Army West Point 22.85 Baylor 17.50
Punt Return Defense 84 10 9.75 Northwestern –1.60 Baylor 1.00
Punt Returns 93 7 5.82 Arizona
Virginia
Texas St.
26.00
26.00
26.00
Texas 21.40
Red Zone Defense 23 1 0.750 Appalachian St. 0.250 West Virginia 0.750
Red Zone Offense 67 7 0.840 5 teams tied 1.000 Oklahoma St. 0.966
Rushing Defense 46 3 140.2 Boston College 41.7 Kansas St. 105.2
Rushing Offense 19 3 222.4 Ga. Southern 377.4 Baylor 357.6
Sacks Allowed 120 10 3.40 Air Force
Toledo
0.00
0.00
Texas Tech 0.33
Scoring Defense 34 1 20.0 Michigan 6.3 West Virginia 20.0
Scoring Offense 31 7 36.0 Baylor 64.2 Baylor 64.2
TFL Allowed 119 10 7.80 Toledo 2.40 Texas Tech 3.00
Team Passing Efficiency 35 6 145.74 Baylor 214.81 Baylor 214.81
Passing Efficiency Def 13 1 101.09 Boston College 75.52 West Virginia 101.09
Team Sacks 57 8 2.00 Pittsburgh 4.20 Oklahoma St. 4.17
Team TFL 27 3 7.2 Oklahoma St. 9.8 Oklahoma St. 9.8
Time of Possession 40 2 31:14 North Carolina St. 36:07 Kansas St. 34:02
Total Defense 40 2 342.2 Boston College 140.3 Oklahoma St. 332.2
Total Offense 18 4 488.4 Baylor 725.0 Baylor 725.0
Turnover Margin 13 1 1.00 Utah
Western Ky.
Houston
2.00
2.00
2.00
West Virginia
Texas
Baylor
1.00
1.00
1.00
Turnovers Gained 5 1 16 California 21 West Virginia 16
Turnovers Lost 92 10 11 LSU
Florida St.
1
1
Kansas St.
Texas
5
5
Winning Percentage 52 6 0.600 16 teams tied 1.000 Baylor
Oklahoma St.
TCU
1.000
1.000
1.000

It’s Question Time!

FIRST: The folks are Smoking Musket are good people. Do you have any specific questions about WVU that we can have answered?
SECOND: What do you think about 11:00 a.m. kickoff times? Give your answer in image or .gif form.
THIRD: What aspect of this game concerns you the most? Their defensive scheme? Rushing attack? Special Teams?
FOURTH: Corey Coleman. How many touchdowns does he score this week?
FIFTH: Uniform prediction. And how do you think that the 11:00 a.m. start time impacts this determination? Gimme.