WVU Football Season Keys on Defensive Side
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The hottest sports debate in this area these days centers around West Virginia’s upcoming football team next fall.
The local faithful, seeing quarterback Will Grier, his broken hand healed and his two top receivers returning, are hopeful the team will match the school’s greatest years.
At the same time, and equipped with the same knowledge, the early line out of Las Vegas puts WVU’s over/under win total at seven wins, which seems to offer the view that this is not a special team at all.
The early over/under in the Big 12 had Oklahoma’s total at 10.5, far ahead of WVU; Oklahoma State at 8.5; TCU at 8; Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State at 7.
This leads us to question just what goes into a great football team? What positions hold the keys to championships and does WVU possess them?
This, of course, is a tricky evaluation, but it has been studied and discussed quite often over the years.
Bill Walsh, the architect of the great San Francisco 49ers teams when they were churning out Super Bowl championships, was asked what five positions he would pick first if he were to put together a team from scratch.
This was what Walsh listed:
2. Pass Rusher
4. Running back.
The game has changed a good bit since Walsh made his picks. More recently, NFL.com offered an article listing the most important positions and its Top 5 were:
2. Designated pass rusher
3. Left tackle
4. Left cornerback
5. Wide receiver.
With the game more pass happy, the two changes here are from a safety to a left cornerback and from a running back to the top pass protector, the left tackle.
Other studies seem to offer a great deal of importance upon the tight end because of the various options he gives the offense, both as a blocker and as a third-down alternative receiver.
So let’s look at this for a moment.
Quarterback is obvious and you have to give WVU a passing grade — if you will allow one pun — in this area as many believe the Mountaineers return the best quarterback in college football and a QB with Heisman Trophy hype in Will Grier, who if healthy figures to surpass 4,000 passing yards.
The receiver area is well covered with a dangerous deep threat in David Sills V, who led the nation in TD receptions last year, and possession receiver Gary Jennings, a 1,000-yard receiver who fell just short of 100 catches at 97.
If one had to guess, this year could well be when the greatest improvement will come from Jennings, who will rise not only into a possession receiver, but into a threat to score on deep passes, especially as other teams key on Sills.
Left tackle is a key spot in that it is the main protector of the quarterback, keeping him from being blindsided by defense ends who normally are the best pass rushers from the left side, to say nothing of being able to also handle outside linebackers who offer maybe even more of a threat.
Yodny Cajuste’s decision to return for his final year was celebrated throughout the Puskar Center and recognized with Athlon naming him a preseason All-Big 12 First Team selection.
This season, they are even bubbling over with excitement over adding a tight end/fullback into the mix with 270-pound Trevon Wesco and Jovani Haskins, a redshirt sophomore transfer from Miami, both of whom coach Dana Holgorsen is building into his and Jake Spavital’s offense.
But once again the question is on defense. See, if football is a quarterback-centric game, then your key players on defense become those who can disrupt him and that comes down to that pass rusher and the cornerbacks.
Tony Gibson, the defensive coordinator, promises that he is going to unleash his pass rush with more ferocity than it had a season ago when, quite frankly, its 25 sacks were disappointing, ranking in the middle of the conference.
He is hoping to get more of a rush with junior college transfer Ezekiel Rose in a starting role and with incoming freshman and Fairmont product Dante Stills being given a chance to prove himself at the other end. Stills is the son of one-time great WVU pass-rusher Gary Stills and comes as a four-star recruit and as a bigger version of his father.
This gets us to cornerback. How important is it?
Two years ago, Rasul Douglas came out of nowhere to intercept eight passes while breaking up another eight as he played himself right into a role with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles last season.
The result was seen in the wins and losses, WVU winning 10 games that year and only seven last season without him.
All eyes will be on Doug Belk, the young cornerbacks coach from Alabama, to see how he puts his group together and develops that key left cornerback.
The numbers back up the importance of players in the positions listed. In the NFL draft since 1995, the breakdown on No. 1 and No 2 picks in the draft offer an interesting look at how the game goes around the quarterback.
In those 23 years, 20 quarterback have gone as either the No. 1 or 2 selection, followed closest by his bodyguard, offensive tackles, with nine and then by his top tormentor, defensive ends, with six.
A word of warning about getting too high because of the offensive potential. If you look at last year’s National Championship game, Alabama ranked No. 9 in the nation in passing yards allowed and 91st in passing yards gained and No. 1 in rushing yards allowed and No. 13 in rushing yards gained, while Georgia was No 8 in passing yards allowed and No. 105 in passing yards gained while being No. 9 in rushing offense and No. 20 in rushing yards against.
The key to a good season may be found on the offensive side of the ball, but the key to a great season lies in the defense.