The Smoking Musket

West Virginia comes up short in battle with No. 5 Baylor

West Virginia comes up short in battle with No. 5 Baylor

NCAA Basketball: Baylor at West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

After a back-and-forth shootout, it was the Mountaineers that ran out of gas first.

The West Virginia Mountaineers (13-4, 2-3 Big 12) found themselves on the losing end of a back-and-forth battle with No. 5 ranked Baylor Bears on Tuesday evening, falling to the defending national champions, 77-68 in Morgantown.

Baylor controlled a 16-point lead with 8:48 remaining in the first half, but West Virginia refused to go away without a fight, narrowing the Bears’ lead to four points at the end of the first half.

The Mountaineers continued the fight through the opening portion of the second half, eventually taking the lead, 45-44, with just under 15 minutes remaining. The two teams traded blows throughout the ensuing seven minutes, with WVU still clinging to a one-point lead, 54-53, at the under 8:00 media timeout.

The battle continued out of the timeout, with the Bears regaining a narrow lead before a Gabe Osabuohein layup and the and one put the Mountaineers back within one point. Unfortunately, WVU ultimately ran out of steam and couldn’t capitalize, while the Bears grew their lead to double digits as the game clock expired.

Malik Curry scored a team-high 19 points, 6 rebounds off the bench. Taz Sherman finished with 18 points, and Sean McNeil followed closely with 17 points. Jalen Bridges chipped in 7 points, 6 rebounds.

The Mountaineers are back in action on Saturday when they travel to Lubbock, Texas to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. That game will tip-off at Noon ET and will be broadcast on ESPN2.

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GAME THREAD: West Virginia vs. No. 5 Baylor

GAME THREAD: West Virginia vs. No. 5 Baylor

Baylor Bears Logo - GameThread

Join us in the comments as the Mountaineers take on the defending National Champions in Morgantown

Welcome to the Game Thread. Veterans of the Game Thread know how we do things around here but, for the uninitiated, we have a few rules. Our community guidelines apply and basically say be cool, no personal attacks, and don’t be a troll.



WHEN/WHERE

Date: Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Tip-Off Time: 5:00PM ET

Where: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

 WVU Basketball | Photo taken by Katie MacCrory


WATCH/LISTEN

Channel: ESPN2 | DirecTV 209, Dish 143

Announcers: Rich Hollenberg and Jay Bilas

Online Streaming: ESPN with a valid cable subscription

Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later.

Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android) | XM 380, Sirius App 970

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs

Betting Odds: Baylor -6.5, Total 138.5 points via DraftKings Sportsbook

Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.



THE ENEMY

Where are they from? Waco, Texas

Series History: Baylor holds an 12-8 series advantage over West Virginia. Last season, No. 3 Baylor defeated No. 6 West Virginia, 94-89 in overtime, in Morgantown. The game in Waco was canceled due to COVID-19. West Virginia has won seven of the last 12 meetings in the series.

Record: 15-2 (3-2 Big 12)

Record in 2020-21: 28-2 (13-1 Big 12), NCAA National Champions

Head Coach: Scott Drew (19th season)

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at BaylorChris Jones-USA TODAY Sports



PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP:

West Virginia Mountaineers: Jalen Bridges, Isaiah Cottrell, Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Kedarian Johnson

Baylor Bears: Flo Thamba, Kendall Brown, Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler and James Akinjo



PREGAME READING & UPDATES

Follow along with us on Twitter @smokingmusket for running commentary.



JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Find a warm, comfortable spot, grab a favorite beverage or threeve, and join in on the running commentary, random observations, silly images, gifs, snark, wit, bitches, complaints, moans, groans, cheers, celebration and jubilation in the comments section below.

And, as always...

Let’s Go (New)

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THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: West Virginia hosts #5 Baylor

THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: West Virginia hosts #5 Baylor

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning! This is the Shotgun Throwdown, your daily West Virginia sports roundup.

Welcome, By-Godders, to The Shotgun Throwdown, WVU’s best place for sports links, information, sophomoric humor, and daily distractions.

HOME-COURT ADVANTAGE

After a tough road loss at #7 Kansas on Saturday, the West Virginia men’s basketball team is returning home to host #5 Baylor. The most recent game between the two programs was also in Morgantown, last season. The Mountaineers were ranked #6 and the Bears were #3, but a limited capacity crowd took away WVU’s home court advantage and BU escaped with a 94-89 overtime win. Luckily for the Mountaineers, it looks like they will have a full Coliseum for this year’s matchup, and this team has already shown what it can do to ranked teams at home. UConn came into Morgantown as the #15 team in the country earlier this season and WVU was able to defeat the Huskies, 56-53.

One Mountaineer in particular seems to feed off of the crowd’s energy, and vice versa. Fifth-year senior Gabe Osabuohien always brings intensity to the game, and his ferocity grows even more when his hustle plays earn a roar from the home crowd. WVU fans are some of the most passionate supporters in college basketball, and Gabe’s energy helps magnify that. Osabuohien and the Mountaineers will need their fans’ full support if they hope to pull off the upset in this Big 12 game against Baylor. Don’t forget that it will be an early tip-off at 5:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

WEST VIRGINIA ROUNDUP

  • West Virginia offensive tackle Wyatt Milum has collected his third Freshman All-American honor of the postseason. The Mountain State native was selected for the Freshman All-America Team by the Football Writers Association of America.
  • The WVU men’s basketball team is still receiving votes in the national polls. The voting shows that the Mountaineers are still seen as one of the top 40 teams in the country.
  • Big 12 play continues to trouble the West Virginia women’s basketball team. The Mountaineers are now 1-3 in conference play following their 73-57 loss at #13 Texas.
  • Former Mountaineer basketball player Juwan Staten has joined the Maine Celtics in the NBA G-League. Staten served as a graduate assistant for WVU last season.

AROUND THE BIG 12

  • Baylor was shocked again on Saturday when it lost its second consecutive game, this time to Oklahoma State, 61-54. The Bears are now ranked #5 in the country.
  • #19 Texas Tech had upset BU earlier in the week, but it was also upset on Saturday by Kansas State, 62-51.

AROUND THE NCAA

  • USC has now fallen to #16 nationally, following another upset loss. Oregon went on the road and defeated the Trojans, 79-69.
  • Northwestern upset then-#10 Michigan State on Saturday, 64-62.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • The NFL’s Wild Card weekend featured a few blowouts and a couple of games that ended with drama. Which game was the most surprising?

Have any tips, suggestions or requests for what you want to see in The Shotgun Throwdown? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us on social media.

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2021 Defensive Review: Part 3 - The Games

2021 Defensive Review: Part 3 - The Games

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Iowa State at West Virginia
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The mark of a great defense is how it affects other teams. Can it hold great offenses below their averages? Can it dominate bad teams?

Well that was quite the exciting week. We get the whole Jaguars beat the Colts and the Raiders and Chargers might tie!, only to watch the Chargers call a timeout and the Raiders to kick a middle-finger field goal with 2 seconds left. Georgia finally wins their first national championship in 40 years, in a dramatic fashion where I would have said the game was over at 18-13. A Pick-six to stomp on Bama. Then the Mountaineers hired Graham Harrell to be their offensive coordinator and Neal Brown is stepping back and stepping up as CEO of the Mountaineers. Can I call him CEONB instead of HCNB? Let’s work on the moniker.

Obviously all of the excitement, along with my general laziness kept me from getting to Part 3 as soon as I wanted to. So here I am doing my diligence because football offseasons are B-O-R-I-N-G and we all need something to read.

We’ve reviewed the stats of the defense individually and collectively. We’ve gone through and seen that the defense was good. They were generally top 40 in almost every category, yet despite finishing top 40, they were never in the conversation as best defense in the conference. They tended to rank between 4-7 in most categories and from watching games, it felt like they never affected games. My hot take in sports is that our 2015 defense is the best defense we’ve fielded once you consider competition. They finished 3rd in Rushing S&P+, 14thing in Passing S&P+, 13th in Rushing Success Rate and 13th in Passing Success Rate. They were a damn good defense. DAMN good.

One of the things I really liked about that defense was the fact that they tended to affect teams. They held teams below their averages and often made teams play to them, rather than reacting to how teams were playing them. As a man who prefers to make the first move and to dictate anything, I’d rather be the team attacking than reacting. Punch versus counterpunch. I get the feeling I would have joined Cobra Kai instead of Miyagi Do.

In 2015 I broke down how that defense fared against its competition’s averages. So I did the same here. It could be termed “The Baylor Effect” or “The Alabama Effect”. Both work off the same premise which is that a great offense, such as the mid-teens Baylors or highly dominant defenses, such as Alabama, cause their opponents averages to suffer by skewing them past their norms. Baylor tended to increase teams overall defensive averages by around 15% and Alabama decreased opponents offensive averages while often seeing team have a “hangover effect” the following week. So I wanted to see if the 2021 defense had the same effects.

Maryland

First game of the year on the road against a Power 5 opponent and the defense didn’t “struggle” and its not fair to put the onus on the defense but in terms of affecting an opponent this was statistically the worst game for the defense against a team’s averages. West Virginia allowed Maryland to rush for more yards than their average, pass for more yards than their average, score more than their average and put up more yards than their average. The only stat that WVU was better than was the YPC and that was only a 0.3 difference.

Long Island

Because Long Island is FCS its not included in these stats.

Virginia Tech

In the Black Diamond Trophy Game, the Mountaineers held VT to some significant disadvantages. The Hokies, who rushed for 185 yards a game in 2021, only managed 110 against the defense. Predictably the Hokies were forced to pass more so they went over their average there but fell short of their total average. Thanks to the holding the hokies to fewer yards, the Hokies fell short of their season average in points.

Oklahoma

This is, statistically, the best game of the year for the defense and one of two games where West Virginia held a team below their average in every category and yet, the team found a way to lose. Now it can be argued that playing Oklahoma early in the season does that but the Mountaineers held a team that averaged 451 yards a game to 313, a huge 138 yard difference. Since every offensive yard is worth about 0.07 points (or 7 points per 100 yards), West Virginia did even better in the points category, holding Oklahoma to 23 points below their season average. There was a reason the team was riding high after this game. If they had matched this output all season, we would have had a 10-win team.

Texas Tech

By and large, the Mountaineers played Texas Tech extremely well defensively. They held them to 70 fewer yards, which resulted in 7 fewer points than their season average. The Red Raiders only gained 80 yards on the ground and rushed for a paltry 2.7 yards per carry, a full 2 yards below their season average.

Baylor

If Maryland was our worst defensive game, it should come as no surprise that Baylor is the next one on the list. The Mountaineers held Baylor to 48 fewer yards on the ground than their season average, mostly because Baylor averaged over 219 yards on the ground and we gave up only 170. Where Baylor hurt the Mountaineers was through the air, torching the secondary for 150 more yards than their average. This resulted in 100 more total yards and 13 more points. This became one of four games where the defense allowed more than 0.07 points per yard.

TCU

Going into the TCU game, we all kinda thought this was an easy game. Now, having the benefit of hindsight, its impressive how good their offense was as a whole. Averaging 28 points a game and over 430 yards per game, the Mountaineers stifled a pretty good offense. They allowed TCU to pass for about their season average (236 vs 244) and right at their YPA average (9.2 vs 9.4) but they held the run game in check and really limited the scoring chances. 37 fewer yards resulted in 11 fewer points. That’s a great defensive effort.

Iowa State

The best win of the Neal Brown era through three seasons. It was everything we wanted in terms of Mountaineer football and oddly enough, its one of the game where the defense really wasn’t a factor. Iowa State ran the ball more effectively than they had all year, picking up nearly 2 more yards per carry than they would normally. That was offset by limiting Brock Purdy to 78 fewer yards. In a strange microchosm of a season, the Mountaineers gave up 78 more rushing yards to Iowa State while holding the Cyclones to 78 fewer pass yards. This meant that the Cyclones hit nearly all of their averages, including points. West Virginia was just better that day.

Oklahoma State

Talk about a kick in the groin. Statistically, this is the other game where the defense held a team below their season averages and yet, this game is probably the worst of the season. This is one where stats do not tell the whole story. Oklahoma State only ran for 100 yards, 80 fewer than normal. They passed for 180 yards, 50 fewer than normal. They totaled 132 fewer yards and scored 7 fewer points. This was also the second time that the defense gave up over 0.08 points per play. Oklahoma State didn’t gain a lot of yards because they didn’t need to and scored early enough they didn’t run a lot of plays.

Kansas State

Did you feel like Kansas State was a game we should have won. This was a game that I think really turned the tide for a lot of people and looking at the stats you can see why. The defense did its job. 60 fewer passing yards. 1 yard less per pass. Nearly a yard less per carry. And yet Kansas State scored 0.11 POINTS PER YARD. A touchdown, two point conversion AND a field goal per 100 yards. You aren’t winning those games.

Texas

You could, and likely should, argue that the Mountaineers played both Oklahoma and Texas at the best possible times. The Longhorns, by all measures, were a fairly prolific offense. They were second in the conference in points per game, second in rush yards per game, second in yards per carry, yet when they played the Mountaineers, the Longhorns were without Bijan Robinson, which severely hampered their gameplan. The lack of Robinson makes the 203 yards the Mountaineers gave up on the ground surprising, especially since it surpassed Texas’ season total. West Virginia did their damage by taking away the passing game, holding the Longhorns to 70 fewer yards in the air, which resulted in 12 fewer points. Texas averaged over 0.08 points per yard and West Virginia held them to 0.06.

Kansas

Would you guess that after Maryland, this was the second worst statistical game for the defense? Kansas bested their season average in nearly every category. Kansas struggled to run the ball but made up for it by gaining 60 more yards through the air on nearly a yard more per attempt. Kansas was super efficient at scoring, gaining 8 more points than their season total making them the fourth team this year to average 0.08 points per yard against the Mountaineers

Minnesota

A tough matchup to be sure, Minnesota used their ground game to control the Mountaineers. Already a prolific rushing team, the Golden Gophers gained 50 more yards on the ground and averaged over half a yard more per carry. Because of the ground game’s dominance, the Gophers didn’t need to throw the ball yet still managed to be close to their average on yards per attempt. West Virginia did a good job limiting the score given how dominant the ground game was, holding Minnesota to a touchdown less than their average.

Above is what you get when you start averaging all of those numbers to figure out exactly what and who West Virginia’s defense was in 2021. The team, with a defensive line that was the best of the positions, was pretty stout against the run, limiting teams to 83% of their normal run game output and reducing their yards per carry by nearly half a yard. Half a yard over 30 or 40 carries is significant and can put teams behind the chains more often than not.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise but the pass defense was a non-factor. Teams generally got their averages against West Virginia and threw for their average yard per attempt against West Virginia. The cornerbacks and safeties will need to take a big step in 2022.

The defense, which ranked 5th in the nation in redzone scoring, only kept teams on average 3.5 points below what they would normally get. This would seem to say that we had several long busted plays.

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Lost in the Phog:  WVU falls at Lawrence

Lost in the Phog: WVU falls at Lawrence

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Kansas
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia entered the Phog Allen Fieldhouse Saturday afternoon looking for their first win on the road in Lawrence. Despite a valiant first half effort, the it was not meant to be as the Mountaineers fell 85-59.

The Mountaineers fell behind 11-5 early, but cut the Kansas lead to three on a Sean McNeil three pointer. The Mountaineers would use that as a momentum builder and eventually take the lead on a Malik Curry jumper with 12:35 to go in the first half. West Virginia would lead by as many as eight in the first half before a Kansas rally (and some seemingly swallowed whistles) allowed Kansas to storm back and take a 33-31 lead at the half.

West Virginia scored it’s last bucket of the first half at 4:14 and would not find the bottom of the net until 15:22 remained in the second half as Gabe Osabuohien would finally break the draught with a layup, cutting the Jayhawks lead to 42-33.

The second half would prove to be a Kansas highlight reel as they would outscore Bob Huggins crew 52-28 in the second stanza for a final score of 85-59.

There were several anomalies on the stat sheet for the Mountaineers.

Taz Sherman came into the contest averaging over 20 point per game. Sherman couldn’t get it going all afternoon scoring only one field goal and two free throws, finishing with five points.

McNeil also came in below his season average with just 10 points.

The shining light was Malik Curry who scored season best 23 points including an impressive 11 for 11 from the free throw line.

The Mountaineers as a team shot just 27% from the floor, including 22% from behind the arc. They were also out-rebounded 48-37 but did win the battle of the offensive boards 16-14.

A quick turn around for the Mountaineers pits them against another top ten foe, the Baylor Bears Tuesday in Morgantown at 5pm.

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GAME THREAD: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks — Preview, pre-game updates, TV info, and more

GAME THREAD: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. No. 9 Kansas Jayhawks — Preview, pre-game updates, TV info, and more

Join us in the comments as the Mountaineers enter The Phog looking for an upset

Welcome to the Game Thread. Veterans of the Game Thread know how we do things around here but, for the uninitiated, we have a few rules. Our community guidelines apply and basically say be cool, no personal attacks, and don’t be a troll.



WHEN/WHERE

Date: Saturday, January 15, 2022

Tip-Off Time: 2:00PM ET

Where: Allen Fieldhouse, Lawrence, Kansas

NCAA Basketball: George Mason at KansasDenny Medley-USA TODAY Sports


WATCH/LISTEN

Channel: CBS

Announcers: Spero Dedes and Bill Raftery

Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later.

Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android) | XM 390, Sirius App 980

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs

Betting Odds: Kansas -12, Total 142.5 points via DraftKings Sportsbook

Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.


THE ENEMY

Where are they from? Lawrence, Kansas

Series History: This will be the 22nd meeting between West Virginia and Kansas. Kansas leads the series, 15-6. All 21 meetings have been since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 in 2012. Last year, WVU won 91-79 in Morgantown, while Kansas won in Lawrence, 79-65. The Mountaineers are 0-9 all-time against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. WVU has two overtime losses at Kansas.

Record: 13-2 (2-1 Big 12)

Record in 2020-21: 21-9 (12-6 Big 12)

Head Coach: Bill Self (19th season)

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas TechMichael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports



PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP:

West Virginia Mountaineers: Jalen Bridges, Isaiah Cottrell, Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Kedarian Johnson

Kansas Jayhawks: Jalen Wilson, KJ Adams Jr, Christian Braun, Dajuan Harris and Ochai Agbaji



PREGAME READING & UPDATES

Follow along with us on Twitter @smokingmusket for running commentary.



JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Find a warm, comfortable spot, grab a favorite beverage or threeve, and join in on the running commentary, random observations, silly images, gifs, snark, wit, bitches, complaints, moans, groans, cheers, celebration and jubilation in the comments section below.

And, as always...

Let’s Go (New)

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THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Deuce McBride scores 39 points for the Knicks

THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Deuce McBride scores 39 points for the Knicks

Indiana Pacers v New York Knicks
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Good afternoon! This is the Shotgun Throwdown, your daily West Virginia sports roundup.

Welcome, By-Godders, to The Shotgun Throwdown, WVU’s best place for sports links, information, sophomoric humor, and daily distractions.

CAREER-HIGH FOR DEUCE

Former West Virginia men’s basketball player Miles “Deuce” McBride scored a career-high 39 points for the West Chester Knicks on Tuesday. West Chester is the New York Knicks’ G-League affiliate team. The Knicks won the game 110-105 over Motor City Cruise, the Detroit Pistons’ G-League affiliate. Deuce also tied his career-high in rebounds, with eight, and his career-high in three-pointers made, with five.

McBride is clearly showing that he is above the level of competition in the G-League and should probably be on New York’s primary NBA roster moving forward.

NEAL MAKING MOVES

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown has been making moves since the end of the 2021 football season. Brown made a huge addition to the staff with offensive coordinator Graham Harrell from USC. WVU was also able to keep its most productive defensive players, Dante Stills and Josh Chandler-Semedo, who will be returning as fifth-year seniors.

The move to add Harrell, as well as retaining Stills and Chandler-Semedo, are steps in the right direction for Neal and the program. The defensive contributions of Stills and Chandler-Semedo speak for themselves, but bringing in a proven OC will give the Mountaineers offense the revitalization that it needs. It will also give Brown the ability to focus on recruiting and his other strengths.

WEST VIRGINIA ROUNDUP

  • Nine former West Virginia football players closed out the regular season with their NFL teams this past weekend. Linebacker David Long Jr. had the top performance with seven tackles for the Tennessee Titans in their 28-25 win over the Houston Texans.
  • The West Virginia women’s basketball team is hosting Texas Tech tonight in the WVU Coliseum. The game will tip off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.
  • Former Mountaineer football player, and West Virginia native, Darius Stills is heading to Kansas City. Stills has signed a reserve/future contract with the Chiefs for the 2022 NFL offseason.

AROUND THE BIG 12

  • #1 Baylor is no longer undefeated following its loss at home to the #19 Texas Tech men’s basketball team on Tuesday night. Five Red Raiders scored in double-digits, including senior guard Adonis Arms, who led TTU with 14 points and nine rebounds.
  • Two of the Big 12’s other top teams battled it out on Tuesday, when #9 Kansas narrowly defeated #15 Iowa State, 62-61.

AROUND THE NCAA

  • #5 USC also saw its undefeated run end on Tuesday night, with an upset loss to Stanford, 75-69.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • The New York Giants fired Joe Judge after just two seasons as their head coach. After going 10-23 in New York, Judge is the third consecutive Giants coach to be fired after two seasons or less.

Have any tips, suggestions or requests for what you want to see in The Shotgun Throwdown? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us on social media.

Follow us!

Twitter: @smokingmusket

Facebook: The Smoking Musket

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What can Mountaineer Nation expect from new OC Graham Harrell?

What can Mountaineer Nation expect from new OC Graham Harrell?

What is Harrell's scheme, how is it different from what we've been doing, and how well-suited are our pieces to execute it?

Neal Brown and the Mountaineers made a huge splash on Monday with the hiring of Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Folks who followed college football in the mid-2000s will recognize Harrell as the preeminent quarterback of the Mike Leach era at Texas Tech, and more notably as the guy who threw the pass to Michael Crabtree to beat Texas in 2008. However, he's also had his share of success as an offensive coordinator, first turning around the North Texas Mean Green before more recently transforming USC's passing attack into the best in the Pac 12. All told he's arguably the highest profile assistant that we've ever hired and his announcement has sparked a ton of excitement around a unit that was completely bereft of it. So what exactly can we expect with him at the helm? Let's dig in.

HARRELL'S SCHEME

As a guy who both played and coached under Mike Leach, it should go without saying that Graham Harrell is an air raid guy. This doesn't mean that he likes to throw it around as much as his mentor - Harrell's USC was 57% pass during his three year tenure while his North Texas offenses were an even more balanced 51%; Leach is always well north of 70% - but he absolutely subscribes to the air raid philosophy of focusing on executing a limited number of concepts at a high level. This "keep it simple" approach should be a welcome change for an offense that has often looked unsure of what it was trying to be as a result of trying to be too many things at once.

Harrell's passing attack features traditional air raid concepts such as mesh, stick, smash, sail, and verticals packaged up in a bunch of different formations and personnel groupings ranging from 4-wide to two tights (though 11 is most prevalent). He'll also split those up into half-field concepts where, as an example, the receivers on the left side of the formation will run a smash concept while the guys on the right run sail. Aesthetically none of this will look drastically different from what we've seen with Neal Brown over the last three seasons, but there are couple differences in playcalling tendecies worth noting.

The first is that there's more of a downfield element to Harrell's offense than what we've seen so far with Neal. According to PFF, all three of Mason Fine (37%), Kedon Slovis (36%), and Jaxson Dart (40%) attempted a higher percentage of passes that travelled further than 10 yards downfield than either Jarret Doege (32%) or Austin Kendall (34%), with an especially significant disparity in that 10-20 yard range. That ~5% may not feel like much, but actually translates to a couple of extra attempts per game when you throw it 40 times.

The other one is that Harrell utilizes play action at a much lower rate than what we're accustomed to. Per PFF Brown's WVU offenses have generally used play action on about 30% of their dropbacks, but Harrell's teams are usually somewhere in the neighborhood of 15%. It's worth noting here, however, that PFF doesn't count RPOs as play action and Harrell does use plenty of those types of plays.

Those zone-heavy RPO packages are where Harrell's offensive balance comes from and form the foundation of his running game. One of the main complaints I’ve seen from USC fans is that Harrell didn't always fully leverage the running game, which you'll recall was a frequent criticism of Dana Holgorsen early in his tenure in Morgantown. However, this doesn't seem to be a sentiment shared by the folks who watched Harrell at North Texas, and considering how frequently Neal Brown mentioned Harrell's time in Denton during his interviews this week I think that he'll be pushing Harrell to find more of that same balance here in Morgantown. Something to watch either way.

Overall, everything Harrell does is designed to attack grass and make it easy for the quarterback and receivers to read and react, and through six years and two schools it's hard to argue with the results.

SO HOW WILL OUR GUYS FIT IN?

Harrell guided Mason Fine into becoming North Texas' all-time leading passer and transformed USC's passing attack into the best in the Pac 12 with a pair of true freshmen. That's a strong enough track record to make me confident that he'll find way to make it work with at least one of the guys we have on campus. As for who that might be, the lack of designed QB runs and premium that this offense places on processing and decision making makes me think that Goose Crowder and Nicco Marchiol will have the inside track over Garrett Greene. Greene's easily the most explosive of the three and I'd really like to see him find a role in the offense, but his weaknesses will make it tough for him to jump those other two at quarterback.

At running back I think the big winner is incoming transfer Lyn-J Dixon. Dixon excelled in a zone-heavy scheme at Clemson and should be hungry to prove himself to NFL scouts. I do think Tony Mathis is well-positioned to push him for playing time though. Mathis had better success when we went gap-heavy down the stretch last year, but he also did well with zone touches against TCU and his skill set as a decisive one-cut runner would seem to lend itself to a zone blocking system.

Out wide there's a ton of potential, even with all the transfers. I mentioned earlier that Harrell likes to attack vertically, and at USC the vast majority of those targets went to 6'5 210lb receiver Drake London. It's unrealistic to expect either Bryce Ford-Wheaton or Kaden Prather to match the 11 catches and 136 yards that London averaged in his 8 games last year, but both have the physical profile to succeed on the jump balls and intermediate body shield/box out type routes that London feasted on. On the other side I'd like to see Sam James and prolific JUCO Jeremiah Aaron compete to fill the Gary Bryant role as our defensive lid lifter. James was very good in that role as a freshman, but he's transitioned into more of a slot role over the last few seasons that I don't think fully leveraged his skill set. I think it'd be good for him to get back to his deep threat roots, especially considering how well-suited Reese Smith seems to be to handling slot work. Smith has a bit of Daikiel Shorts in his game that neither James nor Winston Wright ever really displayed, and that ability to instinctually gear up or down to find space underneath is something that should be perfect for the concepts that Harrell uses. The lack of depth is worrisome, but overall I think the group will compliment each other well and mesh nicely with what Harrell wants to do.

There should be plenty of playing time to go around for the SUVs. USC tight ends saw 1,374 combined snaps last year, with four seeing at least 150 and five seeing above 100. It's worth noting that Mike O’Laughlin and TJ Banks were deployed inline at a much higher rate last year than USC's were (Harrell's North Texas was again more similar to us in that regard), so guys with receiver skill sets like O'Laughlin, Charles Finley, and CJ Donaldson may have an advantage over blocking types like Brian Polendey. However, there's a nice enough mix of skill sets and body types in that room I'm confident Harrell can find somebody to suit his needs whatever they may be.

Up front is the big question mark. We'll have all five guys back from last year, but those guys objectively performed better as we transitioned from a zone-heavy scheme to a more gap-heavy one later in the year. The argument could certainly be made that quality of opponent played as much of a role in that success as did the scheme, but regardless it's something I'm keeping an eye on this spring - does Harrell change his scheme to leverage what these guys did well last year, or does he hope that another offseason together will bring the continuity needed to excel in his preferred zone system?

However things shake out, I want to end with a kudos to Neal Brown for swallowing his ego and addressing this problem - you sucked me back in and I can't wait to keep climbing in 2022. LFG.

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Jalen Bridges leads West Virginia past Oklahoma State, ties career-high

Jalen Bridges leads West Virginia past Oklahoma State, ties career-high

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Mountaineers will face off with the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday

West Virginia sophomore forward — and pepperoni roll spokesman — Jalen Bridges tied a career-high performance on Tuesday night to power the Mountaineers (13-2, 2-1 Big 12) to a 70-60 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Morgantown.

WVU and Oklahoma State traded the lead through the first ten minutes of the game before Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil nailed back-to-back threes to open an 18-12 lead for the Mountaineers with just over eight minutes remaining in the half.

Gabe Osabuohien then took over, scoring WVU’s next nine points and extending the lead to 27-16 with 5:48 left on the clock.

West Virginia continued to build a double-digit lead through the final minute of the half, entering the locker room with 34-23 lead.

WVU remained in control through the first nine minutes of the first half, growing their lead to 53-37 before hitting a wall. The Cowboys saw their opportunity and began chipping away at the Mountaineers' lead with a 9-0 run, but West Virginia would answer with a 10-0 run of their own to regain an insurmountable 17-point lead with 5:00 left in the game.

Bridges ended the night with 22 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. Taz Sherman finished with 13 points, 5 assists. Sean McNeil and Gabe Osabuohien each scored 12 points, with Osabuohien also adding 8 rebounds.

West Virginia is back on the road this weekend when they travel to Lawrence to take on the No. 9 ranked Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday. That game will tip off at 2:00PM ET and will be broadcast on CBS.

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GAME THREAD: West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State

GAME THREAD: West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State

Join us in the comments as the Mountaineers look for a second straight conference win

Welcome to the Game Thread. Veterans of the Game Thread know how we do things around here but, for the uninitiated, we have a few rules. Our community guidelines apply and basically say be cool, no personal attacks, and don’t be a troll.



WHEN/WHERE

Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Tip-Off Time: 9:00PM ET

Where: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

 WVU Basketball | Photo taken by Katie MacCrory



WATCH/LISTEN

Channel: ESPN2 | DirecTV 209, Dish 143

Announcers: Rich Hollenberg and Chris Spatola

Online Streaming: ESPN with a valid cable subscription

Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later.

Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android) | XM 375, Sirius App 375

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs

Betting Odds: West Virginia -2.5, Total 135 points via DraftKings Sportsbook

Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.



THE ENEMY

Where are they from? Stillwater, Oklahoma

Series History: This will be the 21st meeting in the series with each team winning 10 games. Last year in Stillwater, No. 14 WVU rallied from 19 points down with 11 minutes to go to win, 87-84. In Morgantown, the Cowboys defeated the Mountaineers, 85-80. OSU then eliminated WVU from the Big 12 Championship, 72-69. The first meeting in the series took place at the Kentucky Invitational on Dec. 19, 1958, with the No. 7-ranked Mountaineers coming away with a 67-59 victory.

Record: 8-5 (1-1 Big 12)

Record in 2020-21: 20-8 (11-7 Big 12)

Head Coach: Mike Boynton (5th season)

Syndication: The OklahomanBRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK



PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP:

West Virginia Mountaineers: Jalen Bridges, Isaiah Cottrell, Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Kedarian Johnson

Oklahoma State Cowboys: Moussa Cisse, Avery Anderson III, Bryce Thompson, Isaac Likekele and Bryce Williams



PREGAME READING & UPDATES

Follow along with us on Twitter @smokingmusket for running commentary.



JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Find a warm, comfortable spot, grab a favorite beverage or threeve, and join in on the running commentary, random observations, silly images, gifs, snark, wit, bitches, complaints, moans, groans, cheers, celebration and jubilation in the comments section below.

And, as always...

Let’s Go (New)

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2021 Defensive Review: Part Two - Advanced Stats

2021 Defensive Review: Part Two - Advanced Stats

West Virginia v Kansas State
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

In Part One of the series, we looked at the aggregate stats for the defense, including total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, etc. A few years ago, when I did this series, I had access to Bill Connely’s SP+ which was done on Football Study Hall, but unfortunately for us, Bill has moved onto greener pastures at ESPN and Football Study Hall has not seen an update in a couple of years. This hinders our ability to look in depth at these totals but we can try and break down the defense using some more rate stats and see if we can gleam any additional information.

Passing Defense

It wasn’t long ago that the Big 12 was where quarterbacks and wide receivers came to show their moxie and their talents on just how well they could sling the ball all over the field. In 2018, three Big 12 quarterbacks were top-10 nationally in passing yards. In 2019, two Big 12 quarterbacks were. Even last year, the Big 12 had a top-10 national passer. They do not this year. In fact, they do not even have a top-20 or top-25 passer.

What I see when I check out the full breadth of the statistics is a defense that was good and was going to be tough but was not good enough to change games. The conference rank is pretty consistent, ranking in the upper portion but near middle of the pack. The average ranking across all of those metrics is 4.3 and if I had guessed coming into this exercise, that actually is better than I would have thought. As a whole, West Virginia had the fourth best passing defense in the conference.

Something that really jumps out at me is Pass Attempts Per Game versus the Yards Per Attempt and Yards per Completion. While the defense did a good job (or maybe bad?) job of limiting the passing attempts, when teams went to throw, they were throwing deep. Teams averaged nearly 8 yards per attempt and when they completed the pass, they got over 12. That is a function of the lack of a pass rush and a lack of pass defense in my book. The team that failed to generate turnovers and failed to affect the quarterback when he dropped back, gave teams time to scan the field and pick apart the defense.

Despite the fact that teams averaged over 12 yards per game and completed 18 passes a game, the defense finished 3rd in conference and top 40 nationally in passing first downs. That seems like a strength that should and could be a big factor.

Rush Defense

My first thought when I began to look into these was that West Virginia was very good against the run. I think once you look at these stats you’ll see both a team that was stout against the run and once again, not good enough against the run. It surprises me how well the entire conference defended the run this year.

One think you may note is that the rush yard totals are different from what I listed in the previous article. That is because of the sites required to gather this data. CFBStats.com uses an aggerate of all the games played by a team but TeamRankings.com, as best I can tell, filters out FCS competition. Unfortunately that does alter the look of the landscape a bit, but that appears to be the difference between the rankings.

Looking at this, you can see a team that didn’t let teams run much but did allow teams to gain yardage when they did run. 4.2 yards per carry really hurt the team as they seemed to wear down throughout the year. This is a problem for a team with a supposed stout defensive line but without the linebackers necessary to fill gaps and create havoc. Additionally you can see a defense that while good in areas, still falls into the lower half of the conference. Ranking Top 40 in several categories but finishing 7th in conference feels like an SEC achievement, not a Big 12 achievement.

I do think it is interesting that teams ran the ball over 50% of the time against West Virginia, but only gained 40% of their yardage. Eight first downs a game doesn’t feel like much and seeing the defense finish top 40 in that category seems like it would be a good thing yet they were still sixth in conference.

Thoughts and Comments

Looking through these two sets of data, you have to come to the conclusion that the defense is more than capable of affecting the outcome of the game but lacks the playmakers necessary. I’ve long thought that building a good defense comes from the defensive line first and that would seem to be the case with West Virginia. The defensive line is good and has the ability to both rush the passer and stifle the run game, but the lack of playmakers at linebacker and defensive back mean that opposing offenses scheme ways to avoid the defensive line or aren’t afraid to take their chances since those 50/50 balls that would become interceptions fall either as incomplete passes or land in the hands of the receivers.

Being able to run the ball also has a detrimental affect for the defense since they should be a stone wall given the pedigree of the defensive line, yet teams don’t fear running the ball. Chipping away at the stone wall gives way to an easy play and as we saw throughout the year, teams were able to gash and break runs when they got past the first line.

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THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: West Virginia gets ready to host Oklahoma State

THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: West Virginia gets ready to host Oklahoma State

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at West Virginia
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning! This is the Shotgun Throwdown, your daily West Virginia sports roundup.

Welcome, By-Godders, to The Shotgun Throwdown, WVU’s best place for sports links, information, sophomoric humor, and daily distractions.

WVU/OK STATE PREVIEW

The West Virginia men’s basketball team got back in the winning column on Saturday, with its comeback win over Kansas State. The Mountaineers started slow, and their deficit grew to as large as 17 points, before senior guard Sean McNeil led WVU to a 71-68 victory. McNeil tied his career high with 26 points. Fifth-year senior Gabe Osabuohien had the biggest impact for the Mountaineers. He led the team with a season-high 12 rebounds, took a handful of charges, and led WVU in plus-minus with a +18.

Now the Mountaineers are preparing to host Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are just 8-5 this season, but two of their losses were to top-15 opponents and they just upset #14 Texas on Saturday. OSU also has a bizarrely strong record against WVU in Morgantown, winning six of the nine matchups at WVU since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12.

WVU probably can’t afford another slow start in this game. OK-State is hot coming off of its upset win over the Longhorns, so the Mountaineers will have to be ready to play as soon as the game tips off. The game will be televised on ESPNU at 9:00 p.m. ET.

WRESTLING RECAP

West Virginia redshirt sophomore Anthony Carman went 3-0 this weekend in a round-robin tournament against wrestlers from #10 Virginia Tech and Binghamton. Overall, the WVU wrestling team struggled in Blacksburg. The team only had six individual match wins and three of those were Carman’s in the 184-pound division. Redshirt junior Alex Hornfeck, junior Scott Joll, and freshman Tristan Kemp earned the other three victories for the Mountaineers. Carman’s leading effort made him this week’s WVU Student-Athlete of the Week.

WVU head coach Tim Flynn noted that the team needs to improve on its consistency as the season moves forward. The Mountaineers will be tested again on Sunday when they host #4 Oklahoma State and Columbia. The Big 12 competition against the Cowboys will be televised on ESPNU at 1:00 p.m. ET and the matchup with the Lions will be streamed on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ at 3:00 p.m. ET.

TOP COLLEGE BASKETBALL CONFERENCE

Despite a 12-2 record, the WVU men’s basketball team still finds itself outside of the top 25. The Mountaineers are receiving votes in the national polls, but are apparently less deserving than Tennessee, Alabama, and Villanova, who all have four losses. On the bright side, the Big 12 continues to flex its basketball dominance. Despite being one of the smaller college basketball conferences, in terms of the number of teams in the league, the Big 12 has the most teams that are ranked or receiving votes in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls, with seven of the 10 teams earning votes.

WEST VIRGINIA ROUNDUP

  • In case you missed it, the West Virginia football program made a big move earlier this week by bringing in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Mountaineer fans are excited by this development, considering WVU’s offensive struggles under head coach Neal Brown.
  • The West Virginia women’s basketball team is now 0-2 in conference play, following a 71-61 loss to Kansas State at home. WVU is now 7-5 this season and will host Texas Tech on Wednesday night.

AROUND THE BIG 12

  • The Big 12 had three notable upsets in men’s basketball this past weekend. Then-#11 Iowa State lost to Oklahoma in Norman, 79-66. The Cyclones are now ranked #15.
  • As mentioned, the Oklahoma State basketball team surprised the league by knocking off then-#14 Texas, 64-51. Junior guard Keylan Boone came off the bench to lead the Cowboys with 17 points. The Longhorns dropped to #21 in the national rankings.
  • Then-#6 Kansas was the third team to be upset in conference play, falling to then-#25 Texas Tech, 75-67. The Jayhawks are now ranked ninth in the nation and the Red Raiders are #19.

AROUND THE NCAA

  • The Miami basketball team stunned then-#2 Duke in Durham on Saturday. The Hurricanes defeated the Blue Devils, 76-74. Duke fell to #8 in the country following the loss.
  • Alabama almost fell completely out of the top-25 following its upset loss to Missouri.
  • Colorado State was undefeated until its devastating loss to San Diego State this weekend, 79-49.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • The NFL Playoff bracket is set. Wild-card weekend starts with AFC matchups on Saturday that have the #5 Las Vegas Raiders traveling to Cincinnati to face the #4 Bengals, and the #3 Buffalo Bills will be hosting the #6 New England Patriots.

Have any tips, suggestions or requests for what you want to see in The Shotgun Throwdown? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us on social media.

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Brown Makes Right Move With Harrell Hire

Brown Makes Right Move With Harrell Hire

AT&T Cotton Bowl - Texas Tech v Mississippi
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Sixth. Eleventh. Seventeenth. Those are the rankings of Graham Harrell’s passing offense at USC the past three season in which he has been the offensive coordinator. Fifty-five. Twenty-eight. Fifty-four. Those are the rankings of Neal Brown’s passing offense in his three years as head coach at West Virginia.

You have a right to be excited. You should be excited. You were frustrated by the offense that was on the field for the past three years and if you were like me, you were begging Neal Brown to just Make West Virginia Fun Again (MWVFA). The offense was stagnant, the passing was non-existent and you were being asked to Trust the Climb and donate to the program in the form of season tickets with a home slate that included neither of the rivalry games but such winners as Kansas, Kansas State and Towson. To be fair, Oklahoma is included but that can’t be the only selling point for 2022.

Now you can be excited and even more so, you can Trust the Climb. Brown’s statement in the press release gives the indication that Brown was self-aware or maybe, made-aware of the failings of his tenure thus far and his need to do something drastic.

“Since the end of the season, I have spent time reflecting on the program, and take responsibility, knowing we have to be better offensively,” Brown said. “I’ve been serving in a dual role as the offensive coordinator and head coach, and we need to bring in another voice for the offense. Having Graham as the offensive coordinator and working with Gerad as the No. 2 lead in the offensive room, as he has done, will make us a better, more-efficient offense and move us in the direction we need to head. In turn, that will allow me to be a more effective CEO of the Mountaineer football program.”

It is often a failure that young playcallers turned head coaches must endure but at this level, being both the chief man in charge of the offense as well as the person in charge of everything else can just be too tall of a task. There are exceptions, of course, but that is what they are - exceptions - not the rule. Brown admitting that he could no longer do both and going outside his comfort zone and hiring a big name like Harrell shows growth. It shows leadership.

It would have been easy for Brown to just have promoted Parker to offensive coordinator, promoted a graduate assistant to tight ends coach and called it a day. That was the type of persona most have gotten out of Brown thus far. This hiring of Harrell changes that and indicates that either Brown, Lyons, Gee, donors or all of the above made it quite clear that 2022 could not be like 2019-2021.

As for Harrell, he brings instant pedigree. If you think that the passing offense won’t be top 25, I’ve got Ocean Front Property in Arizona I’d like to sell you. When Harrell arrived at North Texas in 2016, the passing offense was 115th in the nation the year before. 2016 he raised the offense to 91st. Since then, 2017 until this year, he has guided a top-21 passing offense 115th to 91st to 21st. USC in 2018 was 48th. Harrell arrived and they pole-vaulted to 6th.

It isn’t just a passing concept that Harrell will be bringing with him to Morgantown. Just as soon as Harrell’s announcement was made, freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart entered the NCAA Transfer Portal. Dart, the 69th best prospect in the entire nation in the class of 2021 was ranked the 10th best QB in the entire nation as well. Standing 6’-3, he has nearly prototypical size and arm strength. It wouldn’t be unheard of for a player to follow the coach who recruited him to his new school. It would give Dart a leg up as he would already know the offensive scheme and Dart instantly brings the most game knowledge to the QB Room.

If you are wondering about the latest quarterback just signed in their recruiting class, Nicco Marchiol, you should never turn away talent. Dart was a true freshman this year and if he is as good as many think he is, he may only play two more seasons before he takes his talents to the NFL. That would still leave Marchiol three seasons in Morgantown. The Mountaineers are going to look for a quarterback in the transfer portal and if Dart is the one that is chosen, you should never turn away talent.

I’ll leave you with this tidbit. According to Chris Anderson, fans weren’t the only ones starting to turn away. As he mentioned on his podcast, other players were ready to walk away and have ended up staying because of this hire. You should be excited by this hire because West Virginia finally has an identity on offense and West Virginia may just be fun again.

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West Virginia makes splash hire with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell

West Virginia makes splash hire with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LET’S GO

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown has announced the hiring of former USC Trojans offensive coordinator Graham Harrell as the Mountaineers’ new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Harrell spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at USC under head coach Clay Helton, leading the Trojans to the No. 1 ranked offense and red-zone offense in the Pac-12 Conference in 2021. Under Harrell’s tutelage, former Trojan-turned-Pitt Panther Kedon Slovis was named a Freshman All-American first-teamer and the Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, completing a school record and NCAA freshman record 71.9% of his passes as a true freshman.

Before becoming offensive coordinator at USC, Harrell spent three seasons at the University of North Texas, where he helped produce back-to-back top 25 offenses for the Mean Green.

Harrell was a record-setting quarterback for Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2005-08, finishing his career with an NCAA-record 134 touchdown passes, the second-most career yards in NCAA history (15,793) and the third-highest career passing average (351.0).

Harrell will take over play-calling duties for the Mountaineers in 2022, with Gerad Parker stepping into a co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers role as the No. 2 lead in the offensive room. Chad Scott will continue as the run game coordinator and running backs coach. There is currently no word on the status of former quarterbacks coach Sean Reagan.

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2021 Defensive Review: Part One - Standard Stats

2021 Defensive Review: Part One - Standard Stats

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Guaranteed Rate Bowl - West Virginia v Minnesota
Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A four-part series taking a look at the defense

A few years ago I did a four-part series where I went in-depth into the 2015 defense. It’s something I’ve wanted to get back and do every year but work, life, kids, family, and just time have all gotten in the way. So I made one of my resolutions this year to actually do this series and to make this something I try and do every year.

Entering the 2021 season, the Mountaineers were coming off a COVID-shortened season where the defense 2010 level good. The Mountaineers finished 2020 with the #21 ranked scoring defense and the #4 ranked total defense in the country. West Virginia would lose their All-American defensive tackle Darius Stills but returned a good portion of the defense that had improved and was a force to be reckoned with.

The Players

The defense was going to be led by the defensive line and that was true in 2020 and remained true in 2021. The defensive line was anchored by senior defensive tackle Dante Stills, who has played since his freshman season in 2018. Along with Stills, the defensive line featured “sophomore” Ahkeem Mesidor and redshirt junior Taijh Alston. The three of them made the lives of quarterbacks in the Big 12 a living hell and any defensive player will tell you, having an active defensive line makes your life easier.

West Virginia’s defensive philosophy was to be “multiple” and you saw that play out time and time again. At times they would bring down a linebacker to have a four-man front, at times they would have a three-man front. They would blitz from different people, dropping linemen into coverage and trying to disguise what they did.

Behind the three main stalwarts on the defensive line were middle linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo, who led the team in tackles and broke over 100 for the season. Beside Josh were Jared Bartlett and Exree Loe or Lance Dixon.

The secondary entered the season experienced and ended the season on the IR list with several players making emergency starts as players were hurt throughout the season. The main players on the defensive back side were Sean Mahone and Alonzo Addae in the deep backfield. Darly Porter Jr, Jackie Mathews and Charles Woods helped man the cornerbacks.

*Note: Statistics are gathered from WVUSports.com. Here is a link to the PDF for additional players

It should be noted that the defense was hit with a bunch of injuries. Exree Loe totaled 38 tackles in only 10 games. Lance Dixon totaled 36 tackles in only 10 games. Scottie Young had 33 in 11 games. Charles Woods didn’t start until midway through due to an injury to Nicktroy Fortune, who himself only appeared in 7 games.

Chandler-Semedo was a force, finishing with over 100 tackles but the drop off from Josh to the other linebackers was significant. It is pretty telling when a safety is second on the team in tackles. That is never a good sign.

Tidbits and Observations

  • There are only 15 players in the table above and I could have listed another two or three but those players (VanDarius Cowan and Sean Martin) finished with fewer than 20 tackles and the rest of the players noted on the PDF have only a handful. A few years ago, this list would have included nearly 30 players. The lack of playing time is concerning.
  • Those 15 players accounted for 9 interceptions and 25 sacks. Those numbers aren’t great, yet when you think about where this defense finished, its quite remarkable.
  • The top 5 players (Chandler-Semedo, Mahone, Addae, Porter, Jr., Jackie Mathews) had 354 tackles combined. The remaining 10, 324 combined.
  • Dante Stills is currently 7th all time on the WVU list for sacks with 19.0 in his career. He would need another 7 sacks to tie his dad Gary with 26 for his career.

Team Statistics

The Big 12 has seen a shift in its persona. Three years ago, during the 2018 season, the Big 12 was thought of as the Wild, Wild West. High-flying offensive teams that didn’t care about defense. It would be a tough argument to defend, given that Oklahom and West Virginia both had offenses that averaged over 40 points a game. Fast forward three years and the script had changed, no longer are Big 12 teams throwing the ball all over the field, they are having to play ball control because defenses now rule the roost.

The 2020 team took a major step forward in terms of the defense and the 2021 squad looked to at least match that 2020 squad. The hopes entering the 2021 season where a defense that would be capable of controlling games and forcing opponents to pick their poison. If you couldn’t run the ball, were you going to be able to pass when you have three dominant defensive tackles bearing down on you? Would the secondary be aggressive and capable of manufacturing mistakes? Here is how the defense finished in both the Big 12 and Nationally

Take a moment to appreciate this table. West Virginia, by all accounts, fielded a top 40 defense this year. They weren’t flashy and if I have a complaint its that they just kinda did their job. They didn’t create anything but you didn’t get anything. Still, despite fielding a top 40 defense, they weren’t anywhere close to being the best defense in conference. It isn’t like they finished 2nd in categories, they are finishing fourth, fifth, third, seventh, third, fourth, ninth. They were damn good and still not good enough.

Tidbits and Observations

  • That average points per game is quite misleading. Let’s round down to 23 points and if you do, eight teams hit the 23 point mark against the Mountaineers. Of those eight teams, five resulted in losses.
  • The rush defense felt the pinch of personnel losses. Maryland broke 138 yards on the ground against the Mountaineers but no one else did until Baylor. Following the bye week, 5 of the remaining 7 teams on the schedule (TCU, ISU, K-State, Texas, Minnesota) broke the season average.
  • At 35% 3rd down conversions, the Mountaineers finished 30th in the nation and third in conference. At 37%, Oklahoma finished 54th in the nation and 4th in conference.
  • Four conference teams (Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas) finished 100th or lower in 3rd down conversion rate.
  • The lack of turnovers really prevented this defense from being special.

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Travis Trickett To Become OC At USF

Travis Trickett To Become OC At USF

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 07 West Virginia at Texas
Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First reported by Mike Casazza at EerSports.com, Travis Trickett is expected to become the offensive coordinator for the USF Bulls. The hiring is a chain reaction to the chaos that is the college football coaching carosel. Jeff Lebby, formely the Ole Miss quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator, moves to Oklahoma, opening a spot. Charlie Weis Jr leaves South Florida to replace Jeff Lebby, so Trickett now leaves WVU to fill Weis’ spot.

Trickett, the brother of former West Virginia quarterback, Clint Trickett and son to former coach Rick Trickett, has worked his way up the coaching ladder ever since he first started as a student assistant at WVU from 2003-2007. He became a graduate assistant at Alabama and Florida State before joining the coaching staff at Samford in 2011. He has seen stops at Florida Atlantic and Georgia State before coming back to West Virginia when Neal Brown was hired in 2019.

Trickett has coached the tight ends and inside receivers previously. Per Mike Casazza, Travis signed a two-year contract in February 2021.

Trickett signed a two-year contract in February 2021 that would cover him for this past season and the coming season. His salary for the past season was $310,000, though subjected to a 5 percent pay cut from May 1-June 30. On Feb. 23, his salary was to move up to $330,000. His pay ranked fourth among offensive assistants and seventh among the 10 coaches. He technically owes WVU 25 percent of his remaining salary for leaving before the contract expires, but the agreement also acknowledges that “unique opportunities for career advancement may occur” and that Trickett could be released from the contract.

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Looking At the 2022 QB Race

Looking At the 2022 QB Race

With the dawn of a new year, the Mountaineers find themselves looking at the fourth season of Neal Brown’s tenure both with hope for the future and the doom of the past. Through three seasons, the Mountaineers have been rudderless on offense, averaging right at 24 points per game. Worse 16 times in 35 games they’ve failed to break that mark, and another 4 times they hit exactly 24 points. 20 times in 35 games they’ve score 24 or fewer points.

Much of that blame, fairly or not, has been laid at the immobile feet of former starting quarterback Jarret Doege. Doege was not the first quarterback for the Neal Brown regime, that honor falls to former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Austin Kendall, who transferred to the Mountaineers in the spring of 2019. Doege would take over for Kendall in the Texas Tech game of 2019 and hold onto the starting spot for over 2 seasons with the Mountaineers. Whether Doege made the choice or the coaching staff helped nudge him in that direct, Doege entered his name into the transfer portal this week, clearing the way for a true quarterback competition come this spring between Garret Greene, Will “Goose” Crowder and Nicco Marchiol.

Garret Greene

Greene is the most experienced of the starters and the most explosive with his legs. Despite only carrying the ball 48 times in extremely limited duty, Greene finished with 297 yards, less than 20 yards fewer than Tony Mathis. Mathis had 40 carries in his last three games. Greene saw action in 10 of 12 games this season, often coming in on the third series to run a set series of plays. He wasn’t given much of a chance by the coaching staff, who often pulled him mid-series or inserted him mid-drive at random times.

Greene struggled with the run-pass option concepts of the offense and often chose to pull the ball and “call his own number” trusting his own legs rather than throwing the ball or giving it to a running back. The coach made it clear that the decisions in the passing game were the biggest hinderance in Greene’s development.

“Garrett’s gotta continue to grow,” Brown said. “The deal is with Garrett, our receivers have been our most productive piece of our offense, and Garrett’s gotta continue his ability to get them the ball. That’s where he’s gotta show the most growth.”

Will “Goose” Crowder

Crowder saw much less playing time this year than Greene did, given that he is still a true freshman. Crowder often headed up the scout team and earned high praise from the head coach.

“I’m really excited about him,” Brown said. “He can really throw the ball, he’s been a terrific leader on the scout team and he just completes passes. I’m really excited about Goose.”

Crowder saw action in one game, against Long Island, when he completed two passes for 28 yards. Crowder fits the mold of the pocket quarterback. Crowder’s senior season saw him throw for 20 touchdowns and over 2,000 yards, which earned him a Sports Illustrated All-American Finalist and a 2019 All-Birmingham High School honorable mention by AL.com.

Nicco Marchiol

The incoming four-star freshman who has many Mountaineer fans ready to anoint him the next great passing legend at West Virginia, Marchiol made a name for himself this season when, in a televised high school game, he led his high school team back from an 18-point deficit in the final two minutes. It was an extremely impressive display of grit and will as he put his team on his shoulders and found a way to pull out the victory.

Even better is that Marchiol has displayed a bit of fleetness in his feet, showing off some running ability. Nicco would earn the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Years honor after throwing for 2300 yards and 37 touchdowns in his senior season.

“He’s got some ‘it’ factor,” Neal Brown said of Marchiol. “He’s going to be a guy that’s a fan favorite from day 1. He’s got the charisma. He’s got strong leadership capabilities. He’s a student of the game. He loves football. He’s been groomed from an early age by his father Ken to be a Division One and and hopefully an NFL quarterback.”

Transfer Quarterback

While the three quarterbacks above are nice to think about, the fact remains that they have thrown less than 50 passes in their careers at the college level. There are no starts at the college level and they’ve seen minimal college defenses. Also to be considered is the fact that you have a redshirt sophomore leading a redshirt freshman and a true freshman in the ways to handle the college game. That leads us to the transfer portal and the desperate need for at least a one-year rental to mentor these young stallions if not lead them in the right direction.

Had I felt better earlier in the week, I would have said Incarnate Word quarterback Cameron Ward was someone to be considered but he just posted that he will be making his decision on Monday and WVU is not in the mix of his schools. What West Virginia is looking for is what they just lost - an experienced signal caller with one year remaining that can help mentor the young quarterbacks in the room and potentially win the job. Jarret Doege was capable of that but the coaching staff and fans knew what they were getting in 2022 with Doege.

The staff should look for a quarterback, whether or not they are better than Doege for the minimal fact that these young kids need to know how to do study film, how to read defenses and someone to ask that isn’t a coach. Another possibility is Division II quarterback Tyson Bagent, a WV native. Bagent passed for 5,000 yards and 53 TD in 2021 and 12,454 yards and 118 TD in his collegiate career at Shepherd College.

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GAME THREAD: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Kansas State Wildcats — Preview, pre-game updates, TV info, and more

GAME THREAD: West Virginia Mountaineers vs. Kansas State Wildcats — Preview, pre-game updates, TV info, and more

kansas state gamethread

Join us in the comments today as the Mountaineers take on a Bruce Weber-less Kansas State team in Morgantown

Welcome to the Game Thread. Veterans of the Game Thread know how we do things around here but, for the uninitiated, we have a few rules. Our community guidelines apply and basically say be cool, no personal attacks, and don’t be a troll.



WHEN/WHERE

Date: Saturday, January 8, 2022

Tip-Off Time: 2:00PM ET

Where: WVU Coliseum, Morgantown, West Virginia

 WVU Basketball | Photo taken by Katie MacCrory



WATCH/LISTEN

Channel: Big 12 Now on ESPN+

Announcers: Ted Emrich and Bryndon Manzer

Online Streaming: ONLY AVAILABLE ON ESPN+

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android) | XM 389, Sirius App 979

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi and Jay Jacobs

Betting Odds: West Virginia -8.5, Total 130.5 points via DraftKings Sportsbook

Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.



THE ENEMY

Where are they from? Manhattan, Kansas

Series History: West Virginia and Kansas State will be meeting for the 22nd time in series play that began in 1949. WVU leads 13-8. The first meeting took place in Morgantown on Dec. 12, 1949, with the Wildcats coming away with a 49-44 victory. WVU has won three in a row in the series. Last year, WVU won 65-43 in Morgantown and posted its biggest margin of victory in a road Big 12 game at K-State, 69-47.

Record: 8-5

Record in 2020-21: 9-20 (4-14 Big 12)

Head Coach: Bruce Weber (10th season)

NCAA Basketball: Kansas State at NebraskaSteven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports



PROBABLE STARTING LINEUP:

West Virginia Mountaineers: Jalen Bridges, Isaiah Cottrell, Taz Sherman, Sean McNeil and Kedarian Johnson

Kansas State Wildcats: Carlton Linguard Jr., Ismael Massoud, Selton Miguel, Mark Smith and Nijel Pack



PREGAME READING & UPDATES

Follow along with us on Twitter @smokingmusket for running commentary.



JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

Find a warm, comfortable spot, grab a favorite beverage or threeve, and join in on the running commentary, random observations, silly images, gifs, snark, wit, bitches, complaints, moans, groans, cheers, celebration and jubilation in the comments section below.

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THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Mountaineers focus on what they can control

THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Mountaineers focus on what they can control

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Texas
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning! This is the Shotgun Throwdown, your daily West Virginia sports roundup.

Welcome, By-Godders, to The Shotgun Throwdown, WVU’s best place for sports links, information, sophomoric humor, and daily distractions.

STAYING FOCUSED

West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins always wants his players to play hard and do what they’re asked to do. But sometimes there are things that they can’t control, and Huggins wants his guys to stay focused on what they can control.

Huggins recently discussed how covid-related protocols can cause issues in the college basketball season. Huggs said that his team has “been fantastic in doing everything they’ve been asked and more to do the best job they can possibly do.”

Although covid might be causing rescheduling situations in the regular season, Huggins voiced how he is confident that the NCAA Tournament will proceed as planned because the NCAA would not risk having a situation where it would lose money.

Huggins and the Mountaineers will look to take control of their season again on Saturday afternoon when they host Kansas State in the WVU Coliseum.

ANOTHER TRANSFER RUNNING BACK

The West Virginia football team has added another running back to the roster with Sy’Veon Wilkerson. The Delaware State transfer had 848 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns for the Hornets in his freshman season. Wilkerson will be joining current WVU running backs Tony Mathis Jr. and Justin Johnson Jr., as well as Clemson transfer Lyn-J Dixon.

MOUNTAINEERS IN THE NBA

Former West Virginia guard Jaysean Paige made his NBA debut with the Detroit Pistons this past weekend. Paige joining the NBA with fellow Mountaineers Jevon Carter and Miles “Deuce” McBride means that this is the first time since 1971 that three former WVU basketball players are in the NBA at the same time.

WEST VIRGINIA ROUNDUP

  • West Virginia is ranked #2 in the first Collegiate Rifle Coaches Association poll of the spring portion of the season. The Mountaineers are currently 9-0 with all of their wins being over ranked opponents.
  • Linebacker Kyzir White led the Los Angeles Chargers with 11 tackles in their 34-13 win over the Denver Broncos. White had the standout performance of the nine former West Virginia football players in the NFL this week.
  • The swimming and diving edition of the Backyard Brawl has been postponed to January 17th, due to Pitt’s health and safety protocols.

AROUND THE BIG 12

  • After Kansas State blew out LSU in the Texas Bowl, 42-20, the Big 12 Conference finished the bowl season with a 5-2 record, including two New Year’s Six bowl wins. The Big 12 also has the highest bowl win percentage during the past two years.
  • #1 Baylor won its 20th straight game with an 84-74 win over the Oklahoma men’s basketball team on Tuesday.
  • The Kansas State basketball team fell to #14 Texas on Tuesday, 70-57, and now the Wildcats will be traveling to Morgantown to face West Virginia.

AROUND THE NCAA

ODDS AND ENDS

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THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Taj Thweatt enters transfer portal

THE SHOTGUN THROWDOWN: Taj Thweatt enters transfer portal

NCAA Basketball: West Virginia at Texas
Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning! This is the Shotgun Throwdown, your daily West Virginia sports roundup.

Welcome, By-Godders, to The Shotgun Throwdown, WVU’s best place for sports links, information, sophomoric humor, and daily distractions.

THWEATT TO TRANSFER

Redshirt freshman Taj Thweatt has entered the transfer portal. Thweatt had only played 10 total minutes in three games for the West Virginia men’s basketball team this season. He had just three points and one steal in those limited minutes. Last season, the young forward had four points and seven rebounds in 23 minutes of play.

The loss of Thweatt is not a major disappointment for the Mountaineers. It’s apparent that he had not developed much in his first season-and-a-half at WVU, and this departure could open up future minutes for other young big men, like James Okonkwo and Seny N’Diaye. Head coach Bob Huggins will also be bringing in two power forwards, Josiah Harris and Pat Suemnick, in the next recruiting class.

WVU RETAINS TOP DEFENDERS

Fears of a depleted defense in 2022 for the West Virginia football team were cooled off when WVU’s leading tackler Josh Chandler-Semedo and the team’s top sacker Dante Stills announced that they will be returning next season. The two defenders combined for 146 tackles, over 20 tackles for loss, over eight sacks, three interceptions, and three forced fumbles this season. Chandler-Semedo led the Mountaineers in tackles (including total tackles, solo tackles, and assisted tackles), interceptions, and forced fumbles. Stills led the WVU defense in sacks and tackles for loss. The two stars also shared the nod for the most quarterback hurries this year. The return of Chandler-Semedo and Stills is a relief to many fans because it will help the Mountaineers retain leadership and stability on defense.

WEST VIRGINIA ROUNDUP

  • Despite its recent loss to #14 Texas, the West Virginia basketball team is still receiving votes in the national polls. #1 Baylor is the highest ranking of the seven Big 12 Conference teams that are receiving votes.
  • Redshirt senior Killian Cardinale and sophomore Peyton Hall both finished in second place in their respective weight classes at Chattanooga’s Southern Scuffle. The West Virginia wrestling team finished in seventh place at the event.

AROUND THE BIG 12

AROUND THE NCAA

  • The first College Football Playoff Semifinal game on New Year’s Eve went to #1 Alabama, as the Crimson Tide cruised past #4 Cincinnati, 27-6.
  • The College Football Playoff Final will be a rematch between the Tide and #3 Georgia, after the Bulldogs defeated #2 Michigan 34-11 in their Semifinal game.

ODDS AND ENDS

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