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2012-2013 WVU Football Season Preview- Offense

By Jude

Editor's note: Every year, Wemustignitethiscouch.com provides a season preview that combines all the in-depth analysis you'd hope for from a college scout with a snarkiness usually reserved for the least mature among us. This year is no exception, as Dusty provides us with a preview of the offensive side of the ball in Part I, while Dan and I will team up to get you up to speed with the defense.

If you've been avoiding all the other hype-inducing coverage of the Mountaineers over the past 8 months and just want to get to the season, we understand. Here's the basics.

By Dusty

West Virginia has got offensive muscle in spades. That much is obvious.

Just look at the records not just set but destroyed last season. The team returns a bevy of talented players, including national sweethearts Geno Smith and Tavon Austin, and has an extremely talented second-year head coach/offensive guru in Dana Holgerson.

But this side of the football is a lot more than just Geno, although he gets plenty of ink in the following preview. Let's take a look at how where the offensive fireworks will come from, starting with....


Despite all the considerable hoopla surrounding his senior season, including frequent mentions as a Heisman candidate in national publications, third-year starter Geno Smith acknowledges he has plenty of room for improvement. "I made poor decisions in a lot of situations," Smith said in this AP article, bringing to mind key interceptions in losses against LSU and Syracuse.

"That's really where I've improved the most, my decision making and being able to get us in and out of good plays, taking care of the ball a little bit more and just overall being a better quarterback."

WVU finished the year No. 6 nationally in passing yards per game under the new spread offense. The QB position provided 4,509 yards total, breaking the 1998 record of 3,700 yards by more than 800 yards total.

Reports are that Smith has added upwards of 10 pounds of muscle to his frame to supplement having his nose in the books and in front of the film screen constantly studying opponents and himself. Despite all the accolades from last season, the Big 12 Preseason Offensive Player of the Year has plenty of chances remaining to pad his resume.

Smith needs 697 yards take over the top spot on the WVU career passing list, while he needs but 12 completions to become the school’s all-time leader in that category, and he needs just four TDs to take over that category as well.

A third-year starter, Smith has played in 31 games, including 26 straight for the Mountaineers. The signal-caller finished last season with 4,385 yards passing, the first WVU quarterback to surpass to break the 4k milestone in breaking Marc Bulger’s single-season record from 1998.

Smith led the way to 33 touchdowns setting a WVU record, breaking the previous mark held by Bulger (1998) and Pat White (2006) at 31 TDs. His junior campaign included eight games with more than 300 yards passing, setting both school and Big East records.

The backup spot belongs to Paul Millard, who saw limited action in four games last year. He managed an unimpressive 7-of-15 passing for one touchdown and two interceptions. But all reports from camp are that Millard has progressed considerably and will show a steadier hand when given the chance this year.

Millard took exclusive reps with the first team with Smith missing the last two days of fall camp, earning rave reviews from teammates and coaches alike.

The third spot on the depth chart belongs to true freshman Ford Childress, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound up-and-comer who will pose more than just a passing threat to Millard for the top spot next season.

Reports are that Childress has improved greatly since struggling in the spring but will still redshirt this season to continue to learn and develop in the Holgorsen’s system. Childress and Millard will then battle next spring to determine the heir to Geno’s throne.

Let it fly, Geno. Just let that sweet thing fly.

Wide Receivers

Helping Geno to pile up another stellar offensive season will be a returning cast of familiar faces. Chief among them will be all-world candidate Tavon Austin, who is coming off no less an impressive 2011 campaign.

Austin led the nation in all-purpose yards, totaling a single-season school record with 2,574 yards with an average total of 198 yards per game. Just as dangerous as the main kickoff and punt returner, Austin was No. 6 nationally in punt returns (14.1) and No. 20 in kickoff returns (26.1), taking two kickoffs to paydirt last season. He collected a 100-yard return against Marshall and a 90-yard return for a score against USF.

Impressive numbers to go along with a school record of 101 receptions while racking up 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns in his junior season. He was ranked No. 8 nationally in receptions per game and No. 23 in receiving yards per game while pulling in 10 or more catches in four games last year. He finished with 100 or more yards in five games, including a season-high 12 receptions against Clemson in the Orange Bowl and a season-best 187 receiving yards against LSU.

Austin had six all-purpose performances of 200 yards or more, including a season-high 287 yards against LSU, which included 187 yards receiving and 100 kick return yards. He offered another extremely impressive performance with 280 yards in the Orange Bowl demolition of Clemson. He also finished with 150 yards or more in all-purpose yardage in 10 games.

Tavon will move from the H receiver spot to the Y slot, which will help him continue to add his name to even more records this season. He needs 33 catches to take over as WVU’s all-time reception leader and needs just seven scores for the top spot in career TDs. Austin also needs just 485 yards to take over the career receiving throne and is 1,386 yards away for the top spot in all-purpose yardage.

All told, West Virginia finished with 15 receiving performances of 100 yards or more during the 2011 season, marking the most 100-yard receiving performances in a season in WVU history. The total is five times higher than the three times the feat was managed in 2010’s season.

Another familiar face on the field and in the record books is fellow standout Stedman Bailey, who will hold down the X receiver slot on the left side.

Bailey set the school record during the 2011 season with five consecutive games of 100 or more yards receiving. He has seven career games over the century mark, which is just two short of the school record. For the season, he finished with seven 100-yard receiving performances, also a school record, while finishing with 1,279 yards and 12 TDs, both records in themselves.

Bailey needs eight catches to earn his way onto the school’s career catches list, with 111 needed to take the top slot. With 201 yards, he will make his way onto the school all-time receiving, with 1,013 needed for the No. 1 slot, while eight more touchdowns will give him the career lead in TD receptions.

Senior J.D. Woods has reportedly taken hold of the top spot at the Z receiver, after seeing limited action in 9 games last year. Ryan Nehlen and Ivan McCartney will see plenty of action as well behind Woods on the outside. McCartney, last year's third- leading receiver, had some concerns with eligibility over the summer, and will have to rapidly make up lost ground as he doesn't even appear on the 2012 depth chart released for the season opener.

True freshman Jordan Thompson is one of two first-year players to earn his way into the starting lineup, taking over for Austin in the H receiver slot. He won’t be able to match Austin’s production, but won’t need to. He simply needs to show he can provide yet another option for the offense, which relies on giving the ball to athletes in space and watching them do their thing.

With the Mountaineers looking to throw upwards of 50 or 60 times per game possibly, plenty of wideouts will need to see the field behind the starters, and right now it's uncertain just who will step up. Look for redshirt frosh Dante Campbell at the backup Y slot on the inside, while Travares Copeland will look to provide a fresh all-purpose threat when he makes his way onto the field, which many reports indicate he will.

Freshmen Devonte Robinson, Cody Clay, and K.J. Myers are all relatively unknown but will look to step up and change that quickly.

For his part, Tavon Austin sees potential in the freshmen, as he indicated in this article from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel:

"They come in and they work hard, and they listen for the most part, they are doing what the coaches ask of them to do. One thing that I ask from them right now probably that they need to pick up their blocking a little bit."

I implore you to mute the volume on this highlight package, but another year of highlights like this one will cement Tavon Austin as one of WVU's all-time greats.

Running Backs

With all the emphasis on the passing game, the rushing attack was mostly an after-thought last season, finishing 92nd in the nation with a paltry 123 yards per game average.

Dustin Garrision, who led the team with 742 yards rushing, provided some bright spots but is still in recovery mode from a knee injury he suffered prior to the Orange Bowl. Reports are that he may dabble his toes in the season's first few games before the decision is made whether to redshirt him or not. The NCAA allows players to apply for a medical hardship waiver if they play in fewer than 30 percent of a team's games. That means he could actually take the field in four of the first six outings before deciding to shut it down and retain a year of eligibilty.

Shawne Alston has been named the starter this year after posting a team-best 12 touchdowns last season. "Shawne Alston will start for us," Holgerson said in this Charleston Gazette article. "He ended the season being a starter for us in the bowl game. He's a senior and had a great camp and we're looking forward to getting him out there.

"Andrew Buie's been doing some good things, as well.''

The problem with Alston and Buie has been durability. The former has been held back by knee and neck problems over the past two years, but he says he is finally healthy for the first time in Morgantown. The latter rusher missed time last year with a miriad of nagging injuries.

The depth chart contains simply a question mark after these two, as Garrison's status remains hazy and D'Vontis Arnold, a freshman walk-on from Florida's Miramar High, is the only true running back remaining after freshman Torry Clayton transferred out of town and scholarship player Roshard Burney didn't qualify academically.

Fullback Ryan Clarke has been mentioned as a possible change-of-pace back, but Holgerson seems to like him more as a blocking back. Clarke didn't touch the football once last season.

"Ryan Clarke is a guy that can do multiple things for us,'' Holgorsen said in the previously-cited Charleston Gazette article. "Donovan Miles has been a bigger guy. Cody Clay has been doing some stuff where he can do some tight end-fullback stuff. We've got quite a few bodies, but we're going to need all of them, that's for sure.''

"We've got quite a few bodies, but we're going to need every one of them, that's for sure," Holgorsen said.

Dustin Garrison emerged from the pack of WVU running backs last year, but injuries could open up the position to a number of other contributors.

Offensive Line

With all the potential offensive dynamite, the o-line looks to finally have some quality depth for the first time in a while, returning four starters.

That lot includes three seniors, led by center-and-perpetual-Rimmington-Award-finalist Joe Madsen, who has 38 starts and is consistently considered for the award given to the nation's best center. The unit also welcomes back 24-time starter Josh Jenkins, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, at tackle and Jeff Braun at right guard. These three provide a boatload of in-game experience, while junior Pat Eger is the third returning starter at the other tackle spot.

Sophomore lineman and sometimes aircraft carrier Quinton Spain moves from guard to left tackle after playing alongside Eger in all 13 games last season.

Russell Haughton-James and Brandon Jackson make the depth chart as reserve guards. John Bassler should see time behind Madsen at center, while JUCO transfer Mark Glowinski, Curtis Feigt and Nick Kindler are also likely to log time at tackle or where needed.

The returning talent here helped the Mountaineer offense average 37.6 point per game while setting the record book on fire with heretofore unheard of offensive heroics. With the glut of in-game experience returning to this unit, plus the reported play of some of the up-and-comers mentioned, it looks like the o-line will more than hold its own while the offense runs while in Year Two under Holgs.

A rare shot of the WVU offensive line pre-game.


The offense is going to put up some points, folks. Ultimately the question going into WVU's inaugural season in the Big 12 is whether or not the offense is going to be able to match touchdown for touchdown with the other explosive, pass-first attacks that the Mountaineers are going to be meeting week after week.

The vivid memories of the 70 points the Mountaineers put on the Clemson Tigers in the Orange Bowl last year has led many Mountaineer fans to expect no less than 50-points a game from this senior-led unit. With an unproven defense and suspect special teams, the Mountaineers might need every point of that.
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