West Virginia Football’s Biggest Questions In 2019: No. 1 – Quarterbacks
(Editor’s Note – In this series of stories, we’re taking a look at each of West Virginia’s top 10 question marks heading into the 2019 football season. After that, we’ll also look at what we consider to be the top 10 strengths of Neal Brown’s first Mountaineer squad.)
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1. Quarterback – Football is a team game that takes a coordinated effort by all 11 players on the field.
Admittedly there is a hierarchy, though, and the quarterback definitely stands at the top.
An offensive tackle is vital, but if he misses a block, the running back or quarterback can still make a play to overcome that miscue. But if the QB makes a mistake, the best blocking and route running in the world can’t negate that.
West Virginia’s football program has been blessed with outstanding quarterback for a period going back 40 years. From Oliver Luck, Jeff Hostetler and Kevin White, to Major Harris, Greg Jones, Darren Studstill and Jake Kelchner, to Chad Johnston, Marc Bulger and Brad Lewis, to Rasheed Marshall and Pat White, to Geno Smith, Clint Trickett, Skyler Howard and finally Will Grier, the Mountaineers have enjoyed a long line of good quarterbacks.
Obviously some were better than others, but most were successful in the area that matters the most – winning games.
In that span going back to Luck’s junior season in 1980, WVU has suffered through just six losing seasons, and quarterback play that has ranged from solid to incredible has been a big reason West Virginia has enjoyed so many victories in those 39 years (290-168-4). In the six seasons in that time in which the Mountaineers were relegated to losing records, it suffered subpar quarterback play each year because of either inexperience at the position (1986, 1990, 1995 and 2013) or injuries (1999 and 2001). In five of those six losing seasons, West Virginia QBs threw more interceptions than touchdowns and in all but one they failed to complete 55 percent of their passes.
But that has been the exception rather than the rule for Mountaineer signal callers.
In the past four decades, when WVU has enjoyed strong quarterbacking, it has always enjoyed winning records.
Which brings us to the question regarding 2019. Coach Neal Brown’s first at the helm for West Virginia features five quarterbacks, and each of them has major questions as they compete to replace Will Grier. Grier was 15-6 in games he was able to play completion, while the Mountaineers were 0-4 without him in 2017 and ’18.
Life after Grier, who was a third-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers, features a quarterback roster that includes three juniors – Jack Allison (6-6, 210 lbs.), Austin Kendall (6-1, 221 lbs.) and Jarret Doege (6-2, 198 lbs.) – and two redshirt freshmen – Trey Lowe (6-2, 218 lbs.) and Trent Jackson (6-2, 211 lbs.).
The most experienced of that quintet is Doege, who started five games as a true freshman at Bowling Green in 2017 and then all 12 for the Falcons last season. During that time, he completed 362-of-577 passes (62.7 percent) for 4,041 yards with 39 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But when the BG coaching staff was fired last season, including his brother, Seth Doege, the former Texas Tech QB who was the Falcons’ receiver coach, Jarret decided to part from Bowling Green as well. He transferred to WVU this summer, and as a traditional transfer, he will not to be able to play in a game for the Mountaineers until 2020 unless his appeal to play immediately is approved. As of July 17, his appeal to do so is still in process. Whenever he does play, he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
West Virginia’s four quarterback candidates after Doege aren’t nearly as experienced.
Jackson is a walk-on from Stevensville, Maryland, who was limited to a scout team role last year. He’s earned more praise than the average walk-on from both the old staff and the new one, but it’s safe to say he won’t be this year’s starter unless there is a wave of injuries.
Meanwhile Lowe spent his true freshman season getting most of his work in practice. He was WVU’s third-string quarterback, but never saw any game action until the Camping World Bowl. There against Syracuse he was on the field for seven snaps, completing both his pass attempts, though for a net of zero yards. He also rushed the ball once for nine yards.
WVU currently lists Allison, Kendall and Lowe with an “or” between their names on its most recent depth chart, meaning Brown is not ready to reveal a starter yet and all three remain in contention for the No. 1 spot. He confirmed that status at Big 12 Media Days, noting that when a starter became apparent, he would share it.
Of course some are probably more in contention than others.
Lowe provides a dual threat that neither Allison nor Kendall possess, but in the spring, the Collierville, Tennessee, native didn’t seem a threat to overtake either of his older competitors for the No. 1 QB job.
Thus the battle for the starting spot truly appears to be between Allison and Kendall, though neither really latched on to the post in the spring.
Many thought Kendall would move to the top of the quarterback list immediately upon arriving at WVU in January as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma. After all, the most recent memory of Allison was an admittedly mediocre performance against Syracuse in the 34-18 loss in the Camping World Bowl. Replacing Grier, who decided to sit out the bowl game to get a jump start on his NFL career, Allison’s final numbers didn’t look that bad – 17-of-35 for 277 yards with no touchdowns and one interception – but in reality his first career start was lacking.
That was just one performance, though, and the former four-star recruit who transferred to West Virginia from Miami in 2016 showed better in his six games mopping up for Grier last season. The Palmetto, Florida, native was 6-of-10 in the regular season for 85 yards with two TDs and no interceptions.
In the spring, Allison, who possesses an exceptionally strong arm, seemed locked in a very close competition with Kendall. Neither appeared to separate themselves during the open practices in March and April.
Kendall, as the shiny new object, gained the most attention from those on the outside. The Waxhaw, North Carolina, native spent three seasons as a backup at Oklahoma, playing in eight games total. In that time he completed 28-of-39 passes for 265 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Both Kendall and Allison spent the spring trying to learn Brown’s offense, and maybe that’s the reason neither displayed great consistency.
If West Virginia is going to be successfully in 2019, though, that has to change. At least one of them needs to step forward and provide the Mountaineers with solid quarterback play. History shows WVU can’t win without it.
Previously In The Series