(Photo credit: Associated Press)
The other day, there was a post on this 'Eers to the Ground blog outlining – in a bit of detail – each regular-season game West Virginia will play in this upcoming season.
When jumbled all together, mixed up, plopped into a "Stew" if you will (terrible pun, I know) it shook out, to these eyes at least, to be a 10-2 regular season.
That was sort of a on-the-surface post; now it is time to dig a little deeper, pull away a few more layers.
Here are 10 things, specifically, from the vantage of a guy on the beat, that West Virginia needs to do to hit 10 wins:
1. Ride Devine: During the course of last season, the topic of Noel Devine's carries – and more specific, touches – was thrust to the forefront on occasion. The question was this: Was he getting enough? At Auburn, he carried it "just" 15 times, and the questions started coming. Later on in the season, in the loss at Cincinnati, Devine had his most carries in any game, getting it handed to him 25. Overall, he had 241 carries in 13 games. Now, there is no question his stats in this department can be a bit misleading, because he catches some swing passes as well, but it would seem a more concerted effort will (or should, at least) be made to spike his carries this year. After all, this is what he came back for, right?
2. Ask me about kickoffs: The Mountaineers allowed 24.21 yards per kickoff return. That average was bad enough to be 105th on the country out of 120 Division I-A football playing schools. Simply put -- it has to get better. A lot better. There has already been a shift in this area, as head coach Bill Stewart -- formerly in charge of the unit -- has delegated power to defensive assistant Steve Dunlap.
3. Let Geno go: In the non-conference game against teams not called LSU, that is. While there is undeniable importance in getting the backups at all positions some playing time (if you are in position to) in the early season games, this situation might be a little different. It is understandable where quarterback Geno Smith might be watched closely because of injured feet of the past, but this is a situation where he also needs confidence. So, it is with that said, that if WVU is where they should be against Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Maryland (maybe) and UNLV, the thought here is you leave Smith in a bit longer than the normal starter would play. Allow the kid to get some confidence and command of the huddle.
4. Right the right (side): There can't be this flip-flopping, this uncertainty or doubt about the right side of the offensive line for too deep into the season. It needs fixed -- quickly. Cole Bowers, Jeff Braun or Eric Jobe need to step in and solidify things, win the battle and not look back. This team needs to have someone (especially in that right tackle spot) they can count on week-to-week, or opposing defenses are going to know everything is going left when the Mountaineers need to make a play.
5. Go vertical: Offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen knows lots about football. A ton about football. Seems there are times, though, where the offense becomes enamored with these comeback-screens, bubble routes and plays that run parallel to the line of scrimmage. There is a clear understanding of a "plug-away" mentality, I get that. But now, with guys like Tavon Austin out wide, it couldn't hurt to mix in, a little more, some cracks down the field in the passing game.
6. Let 'em loose, Stew: In a conversation not too long ago, Bill Stewart admitted to me that he might have had the leash a little too tight in the first two full seasons he's been the head coach in Morgantown. That maybe, just maybe, this team needs a bit more swagger back in them. Stewart made it clear he isn't going to put up with personal fouls, or taunting, or things of that nature, but he's going to let these guys have a bit more fun; going to let them loose. This is a bigger factor than fans could ever imagine.
7. Cultivate a backup back: Remember that Cincinnati game last year? Sure you do. In that loss, Noel Devine got a bit dinged up and, for a spell, Jock Sanders had to move to tailback. This, quite simply, cannot continue to happen. Guys such as Daquan Hargrett and Shawne Alston must understand they need to be ready, that they are one snap away and need to practice like they are starters throughout the week. If they do that, if they prepare like starters, when a starter gets injured, it won't force positional shuffling and borrowing from one side to pay another.
8. Have J.T. stay healthy: Senior linebacker J.T. Thomas insists that his neck injury is nothing to worry about. Sorry, I'm not buying it. There is some substance to this injury, there is something to worry about here. This is a case of the coaching staff, particularly defensive boss Jeff Casteel, needing to be highly-selective through the early portion of the season with how he uses Thomas. There is a dropoff after Thomas on the depth chart, no question. So, the best way to tackle this one: Do what you can to patchwork your way through the non-conference slate, be careful with J.T., and have him ready to go for Big East play.
9. Step on the gas: There is a certain romanticism, and old-school charm, with a guy who refuses to apologize after a win, who just goes about his business and figures that if his team had more points on the scoreboard, he was successful that day. Well, with Bill Stewart, seems some people want more --- that's just the way college football has become. In saying that, it could behoove this team to not have the type of wins it did last season (13-point win vs. Liberty, 15-point win over ECU, 8-point win over Louisville) but, rather, bury a team or two along the way. Doing so might pay off down the road in another game, might have this team feeling very good about itself.
10. Utilize that 40: Like Jeff Mullen, Jeff Casteel knows about 1,273,184,218,210,242 times more football than I do. But, from my vantage, it might be a good thing to mix in that 40-package a bit more, throw it in there on occasion (particularly against a team that has a good tight end) on a non-third down situation. This would get the ever-fearful Bruce Irvin on the field and also, perhaps, force teams into some down-and-distance situations that they don't want to be in. Just in the preseason camp practices that Irvin has been involved in, it is glaringly obvious the disruption he can be, thus it might help this defense a great deal to get him on the field on first and second down some.