The West Virginia football team has reached the mid-way point in the season with an overall mark of (3-3). It’s time to hand out some grades and analyze the performance of each unit.
Quarterback – At the quarterback position, West Virginia has used three different players up to this point. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard, and Ford Childress have all played, but one has yet to emerge as the go-to guy. Trickett does seem to be the leader in the clubhouse though, as he led the team to a big win over Oklahoma State at home. He’s been shaky with the offensive terminology, struggling at times to check down to receivers underneath, and launching balls blindly downfield without even going through his progressions.
Paul Millard led West Virginia to one of its three wins this year against William & Mary. He has the best grasp of the offense, but seems to be the least talented of the three. His arm strength is questionable and so is his decision making. Millard is completing a much higher percentage than Trickett (61.2 to 41.2) for more yards (581-470) and more touchdowns, but Trickett’s big win against Oklahoma State has given him the upper hand.
Redshirt freshman Ford Childress is also in the conversation; he led WVU to a win against Georgia State. He seems to be the Mountaineers’ best hope, if he can come around in the second half of the season it would really help the offense going forward. West Virginia is at the halfway mark, but has yet to solve the quarterback issues that have plagued them up to this point.
Mid-season grade: C -
Running Back – The running back position has been a strength for West Virginia, with Charles Sims leading way. He has 480 yards rushing on 97 carries. There hasn’t been a lot of running room for Sims with the inconsistent play up front, but he’s shown why NFL scouts like him so much, with his blend of power and speed. When he actually has had a crease to run through, he’s been great in the open field.
A case can be made for Sims as the offensive MVP up to this point. Dreamius Smith has also been tough to tackle and is a very powerful back. He’s been a very nice backup to Sims and provides a change a pace and quality depth. He has 282 yards rushing on the season. True freshman Wendell Smallwood looks very good as well- he brings speed and elusiveness in the open field. Overall, WVU is in good shape at running back going forward.
Mid-season grade: B
Wide Receiver – The wideouts have had a roller-coaster season so far, with Ronald Carswell leading the way, he has 330 yards receiving on 16 receptions. Carswell has shown an ability to get open downfield and make some big plays for West Virginia. Another bright spot has been Daikiel Shorts, who is a true freshman.
Shorts really plays the slot position well for such a young player and should really be a solid player in the future for WVU. Kevin White hasn’t really lived up to his potential yet and has struggled a bit. He did have a breakthrough performance against Baylor with 130 yards receiving. Overall, the receivers have been steady up to this point, but most of the time they’ve only been as good as their quarterbacks.
Mid-season grade: C+
Offensive Line – The line has been inconsistent at best. The coaching staff is constantly searching for the right combination. There are plenty of new faces up front this season and the group certainly needs time to gel, but they haven’t been able to open holes on a consistent basis. Because they can’t open many holes, the quarterbacks have no running game to lean on.
Without much of a running game to speak of, it puts even more pressure on West Virginia’s inexperienced quarterbacks. The pass protection has been fairly solid, but the running game has to improve in the second-half of the season if the Mountaineers are going to get better on offense.
Mid-season grade: C -
Defensive Line – The D-line has really been solid up to this point. Senior Will Clarke has led the way for the Mountaineers; he’s been all over the field and is a leader on this defense. The Mountaineers are starting to build some depth along the line, with players like Dontrill Hyman, Eric Kinsey, and Kyle Rose.
Shaq Rowell is another leader on this defense, he’s been extremely disruptive in his senior season, making plays all over the field. Rowell has 27 total-tackles on the season. The entire defense is slowly coming along, but the defensive line is in good shape going forward.
Mid-season grade: B
Linebackers – The linebackers have been a real bright spot for the Mountaineers this season. Jared Barber leads the team with 41 tackles. The defense was very young last season, but this year some of that inexperience is starting to pay off. Nick Kwiatkoski has also been a big bright spot with 29 total tackles and a sack. Doug Rigg has played well and provided depth.
Isaiah Bruce had all the press clippings coming into the season, but the other backers have outdone him a bit. Bruce still has played well though: he has 19 tackles at the mid-way mark. Overall, the Mountaineers are certainly building quality depth and youth is slowly becoming experience.
Mid-season grade: B+
Secondary – We all know the debacle that was last year’s secondary, as opponents threw at will against them. This year, the secondary has turned things around. They took a step back with the loss at Baylor, but the Bears do have one heck of a passing attack. Darwin Cook is playing very well with 40 tackles on the season and four interceptions. Cook and Karl Joseph are two guys WVU can count on in the secondary. It was more of the entire team’s fault at Baylor as opposed to just the secondary.
At cornerback, the Mountaineers have shown solid improvement. Ishmael Banks really looks better, he had a huge interception return for a touchdown to help West Virginia beat Oklahoma State. Travis Bell has been a pleasant surprise and so has true freshman Daryl Worley. Worley has the size and speed to be a lockdown corner and it looks like he has all the physical tools to become a star in WVU’s secondary.
The Mountaineers are giving up 28.5 points-per-game on defense. That number is inflated because Baylor dropped 73 points on them. Clearly the defense is taking the right steps forward, but there’s still plenty of improvement that needs to be made and they’re too inconsistent.
Mid-season grade: C
Special Teams – West Virginia has found a big-time punter in Nick O’Toole, he’s averaging 44.6 yards-per-punt. The biggest positive O’Toole brings is his ability to change field position and put the defense in a good starting position. Last year WVU struggled in the punting game, but this season it’s been a complete turnaround with O’Toole handling the duties. Place kicker Josh Lambert is 6 out of 10 to this point on field goal attempts.
The kickoff return game and the punt return game need some work. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has been searching for the right combination at both positions. Wendell Smallwood looked very good on kickoff returns against Baylor and he should be back there in the coming weeks.
The punt returners have been shaky. Ronald Carswell is showing improvement along with Jordan Thompson, but they both need more experience and have to make better decisions. They need to know when and when not to call for fair catches, but they’ve both caught punts well.
Mid-season grade: B-