Mountaineers’ Inconsistency Befalls 2017 Season
DALLAS – It’s said that two out of three ain’t bad.
As it turns out, it’s not good either. That was largely the tagline applied to West Virginia’s season as a whole by multiple players, Dravon Askew-Henry among them. The Mountaineers limped away with a 7-6 record and three consecutive losses, including a fourth bowl game in five appearances and a half dozen defeats for the fourth time in six years.
The reason was that, far too often, was that WVU could check just two out of the three complete game boxes over offense, defense and special teams. When one or two were rolling, the other was a dud. If the Mountaineer offense had its first half over again versus Virginia Tech, West Virginia stands an excellent chance of a win, as timing was an issue for Will Grier after a 22-month layoff without a live game.
Defensive breakdowns late versus TCU spoiled an upset bid, as did a handful of difficult-to-swallow penalties on the final offensive drive. All three sides were floundering against Texas Tech before arguably the season’s best wake-up call spurred an 18-point comeback that segued into a 46-35 victory. That started a span of wins in four of five games, but with caveats that the defense collapsed in the second half versus Baylor, that the offense was badly lacking in stretches versus Kansas State and Iowa State and that all three sides of the ball had their ups and downs against Oklahoma State in a 50-39 loss that wasn’t that close.
What’s worse, the season was hard to decipher for the coaching staff as well. WVU struggled with missed assignments early on defense, then got gashed by the pass. Later, they couldn’t slow the run against teams like Kansas and OSU. Baylor nearly came back to beat the Mountaineers with a scrambling quarterback. The offense went south for entire halves against Iowa State, K-State and Texas – the last largely due to Grier’s injury. Then Oklahoma put on the capper with a 45-10 lead at the half that broke down every phase of play for the Mountaineers.
Every time the staff seemed to fix one issue, another emerged. It led to a ho-hum 7-6 record that was called a “disappointing end to a disappointing season” by Holgorsen.
“I wanted to win for the seniors. Unfortunately we didn’t,” WVU safety Dravon Askew-Henry said after the Heart of Dallas Bowl loss to Utah. “It’s been an up and down season. I feel like the defense did what we could. The offense did what it could. We didn’t come together as a team. We didn’t do that.
“I feel like we have to get better as a team, just offense, defense and special teams, everybody playing as one. Some games we show up, some games we don’t. If everybody shows up every game we will be all right.”
West Virginia does return the majority of its offensive line, particularly what was on the field in the finale’. It welcomes back Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway in the backfield to go with Grier. David Sills and Gary Jennings give WVU a solid start in a passing game complemented by Marcus Simms. Reggie Roberson and others and what could be an emerging tight end position with Trevon Wesco and Miami transfer Jovani Haskins.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson says he needs two corners and another defensive lineman and he will feel reasonable about where the Mountaineers are heading into next season. The Mountaineers lose spur Kyzir White and mike linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton, but have capable back-ups and an incoming player in Kwantel Raines, a rangy 6-foot-3, 206-pound safety that was among the gems of a quality class. They also bring back their entire starting front three, along with David Long, Brendan Ferns and Dylan Tonkery at the second level to pair with Kenny Robinson and Askew-Henry at safety and what should be an improved Hakeem Bailey at corner.
“Nothing but respect for Al and Kyzir. I love those guys,” Askew-Henry said. “We compete in practice everyday. Those guys always lead when we get down. Kyzir and Al were always the type to build us up and encourage us. I got all the respect for the two.”
WVU will also add another punter in Australia native Angus Davies along with placekicker Skyler Simcox, a transfer from Western Kentucky who is expected to enroll in January after hitting 16-of-22 field goals in 2016. All will compete against Evan Staley, Billy Kinney and Jonn Young. It should culminate, through until the start of fall drills, to an overall roster that is stronger and shows more depth than this past season. Consider the quarterback position alone, which now has Miami transfer Jack Allison, a 6-foot-4, four-star pure passer prospect, behind Grier as well as more mobile threat David Isreal and Trey Lowe to go with Chris Chugunov.
There’s reason for hope and confidence heading into 2018. But unless that conviction can be turned into consistency, West Virginia will be facing similar issues just eight months from now when it opens Sept. 1 against Tennessee in a neutral site game in Charlotte.
“Take these two weeks, get a break and then this next season I am ready to attack with my teammates,” Askew-Henry said.