Another West Virginia University football season is officially in the books. Up and down doesn’t even begin to describe the road traveled by this Mountaineer squad. But, one has to admit that this past season turned out to be something of a surprise for a program that failed to make a bowl trip for the first time in over a decade in 2013.
Now that 2014 is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to start thinking about what we learned in year three of Big 12 play.
Overall, we learned that Dana Holgorsen can put a winning product on the field. And for the first time, he did it with his recruits, running his system, in his conference. Beyond that, we saw that the Holgorsen offense can play incredibly well balanced football; call it an aberration, but the Mountaineers actually carried the rock 29 more times than they chucked it in 2014. The loaded WVU backfield averaged over 180 yards per game, and produced a very respectable 4.2 yards per carry.
Perhaps most importantly, we found out that defense is still a priority of this team, a claim that nobody was making at the end of an abysmal 2013 campaign. A new coordinator and new base defense made the Mountaineers nearly a touchdown better on that side of the ball this past season, and that touchdown difference played a major role in the team’s overall turnaround. Of WVU’s six loses, just three were by double digits; the other three came by a combined 15 points. That number alone should tell you that this team was a couple lucky bounces away from one or two more wins in a season that already went better than expected.
But, enough about the past; 2014 was a pleasant surprised, but the word “satisfied” isn’t something I’ve heard tossed around Morgantown. In the spirit of the season, I’d like to offer a couple New Year’s Resolutions for Dana and his team.
Resolution #1: Better clock management.
Dana’s struggles navigating the ends of halves are well documented, and this season was no different. While this glaring deficiency didn’t result in any major catastrophes in 2014, the heart health of Mountaineer Nation would be greatly improved if its leader fixed this problem in the New Year.
Resolution #2: Allow for a true QB competition.
I have to admit that Clint Trickett played quarterback better than I ever could have imagined in 2014, but still, two and half games with Skyler Howard have me wondering what might have been. Trickett got the nod early in the summer primarily because of experience, and never for a second did his play suggest that the coaching staff made the wrong decision. But, with a pair of legitimate dual threat guys waiting behind him, a couple more months of healthy competition could have benefited everyone involved. In 2015, let’s not be so quick to give the job to one of these signal callers, and let’s see if one of them can earn it.
Resolution #3: Continue to put emphasis on defense.
The Big 12 isn’t necessarily known for its defensive prowess, but the teams at the top of the conference have certainly been more capable of stopping opponents than those at the bottom. The Mountaineer defense can potentially return eight starters from 2014, which would mean eight players with a year of 3-3-5 experience under their belts. And don’t forget another a year of play-calling experience for DC Tony Gibson. All of that sounds good, but unless WVU can move up from the sixth best defense in a defense-phobic league, the team can’t have any real aspirations of a conference title next season.
Resolution #4: Be better on special teams.
Astronomically better to be quite frank. With Mario Alford taking his talents to Sundays, WVU will need to find itself a new return man. It’d be preferable to find one that can field a fair catch without giving the Mountaineer faithful a brain aneurism. On the flip side, the kick coverage teams have to be the most improved portion of the lineup if this team wants to contend for a conference crown. The old football adage is that offense wins games and defense wins championships, but special teams can just as easily lose you both of those regardless of how well the other units are performing.
With an eye toward a New Year and a new season, fans of the Gold and Blue have something they haven’t had over the last couple go-rounds: hope. The great Bear Bryant once said that it’s not the will to win that matters, but the will to prepare to win. This Mountaineer team is prepared to take the next step in 2015, they just have to get out of their own way.
See you in the fall!…