Opponent Preview: West Virginia

After surviving USF last week, Maryland (2-0) heads back to Byrd Stadium Sept. 13 for a noon bout against West Virginia (1-1), which pounded Towson, 54-0, in Morgantown, W.Va., Sept. 6. The week before, WVU actually hung with Alabama throughout (the score was tied at 17 at halftime) before fading late in a 33-23 loss.

After surviving USF last week, Maryland (2-0) heads back to Byrd Stadium Sept. 13 for a noon bout against West Virginia (1-1), which pounded Towson, 54-0, in Morgantown, W.Va., Sept. 6. The week before, WVU actually hung with Alabama throughout (the score was tied at 17 at halftime) before fading late in a 33-23 loss.

Last year, in Baltimore, Md., the Terps made a statement with a 37-0 shutout of the Mountaineers, and this year their head coach, Dana Holgorsen, said, “our entire team is going to be fired up for that one.”

Offensive Scheme: Spread (38.5 points per game, 360 passing yards per, 139.5 rushing yards per)
Defensive Scheme: 3-3 Stack (16.5 points allowed per game, 165 rushing yards allowed per, 165 passing yards allowed per)


There were serious concerns about senior Clint Trickett (6-2, 186) -- who was coming off offseason shoulder surgery and was just OK during eight starts in 2013 -- and how well he’d be able to handle West Virginia’s up-tempo spread offense. But so far he’s performed admirably, throwing for 357 yards against Alabama and averaging 356 yards through two games. He has completed 64 of 85 throws (75 percent) for 713 yards and three scores against zero interceptions, giving him a gaudy 157.40 efficiency rating. Trickett’s long is only 32 yards, and he’s not considered a downfield gunslinger, but he’s done well managing that spread and using the multitude of receivers/backs at his disposal.

To run Holgorsen’s “Air Raid” offense well, quarterbacks have to read defenses quickly and then make sound decisions without forcing passes into traffic. Trickett is clearly improved after last year’s struggles, looking off defenders, making solid snap judgments, and letting his playmakers do their thing – make plays.

Trickett’s backup is senior Paul Millard (6-2, 222), who has experience in the offense and probably wouldn’t be a huge dropoff if he’s forced into action. The wildcard, though, is freshman William Crest (6-2, 214), who earned some burn during the Towson affair, completing 3 of 4 passes. Crest is the future, slotted to take over as the starter next season, and the folks in Morgantown are excited about his potential.

Running Backs

West Virginia uses the terms “A” back and “B” back to describe their feature runners, but basically the “A” backs are the guys handling the ball and the “B” backs do the blocking. The Mountaineers have no shortage of the “A” types, with three guys rotating through and a fourth in the equation on occasion too. Combined, they are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 137 yards per game, but they’re more talented than the stats indicate (the Alabama factor). Last week against Towson the quartet helped WVU rack up 251 rushing yards while averaging 4.8 yards a pop, to go along with five touchdowns.

Senior Dreamius Smith (6-0, 217) is the listed starter, though he’s arguably been the least effective so far. Smith, a bulldozer with deft enough feet to slice through gaps, has just 10 carries for 25 yards and zero scores, seemingly the only ‘Neers runner who didn’t join the touchdown party last week.

Sophomore Wendell Smallwood (5-11, 200) is known for his hands and speed, and has been used as a slot receiver at times. He’s got some power to him too (he muscled in from a yard out for a touchdown last week against Towson), so he’s not just a guy who operates in space. Smallwood is averaging only 3.2 yards per tote on 13 carries this year, but he’s caught nine passes for 128 yards coming out of the backfield.

Sophomore Rushel Shell (5-10, 215), a Pittsburgh transfer, is similar to Smallwood in that he can ram in up inside and make plays as a receiver. He’s got some shake to him, making him difficult to wrap up in space, though he’s strong enough to carry defenders on inside runs as well. Shell is currently WVU’s leading rusher with 24 attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown. He also has six catches for 66 yards, with four of those receptions coming last week against Towson.

Last but not least, there’s junior Andrew Buie (5-9, 185), a jitterbug who played in 2012 but redshirted last season. An elusive, make-you-miss type, Buie has nine carries for 70 yards and a score, all of that coming last week in the Towson bout.

The lead “B” back is junior Cody Clay (6-4, 262), who is basically a tight end. Clay will rarely touch the ball, as he’s known for his brute blocking force more than anything else. He does have two catches for 12 yards, however.


In WVU’s spread, the ‘Neers go four wide and don’t utilize a traditional tight end. Typically, the Mountaineers feature an embarrassment of speedy playmakers out wide, and this year is no different. That said, the group was called out for dropping too many passes and making mental mistakes against Alabama, so the question is, Will they fully realize their vast potential?

Senior Kevin White (6-3, 210), a former junior college player, has developed into a star during his second season in Morgantown. White’s speed, length and hands make him a potential NFL prospect, and if he has more days like he did against Alabama (143 receiving yards), he’ll undoubtedly have his name called in May. For the season, White has 19 catches for 244 yards and a touchdown, proving he already has a rapport with Trickett.

White mans the “Z” receiver spot, while the other outside target is senior Mario Alford (5-9, 177), who has six career starts. The “X” man has elite speed and shiftiness, as he showed on a 100-yard kick return against Alabama. Alford has 10 catches for just 75 yards and a score so far, but he is a threat to take the top off the defense every play.

The two inside receivers (the “H” and “Y”) are sophomore Daikiel Shorts (6-1, 198) and junior Jordan Thompson (5-7, 165). Shorts, a physical over-the-middle presence with soft hands and solid speed, caught all four of his passes (for 44 yards) against Towson last week. Shorts hasn’t been targeted as much in the early going, but he led the team in receptions last year as a nine-game starter. He is a playmaker down the seam and doesn’t shy away from contact.

Thompson, meanwhile, has standout acceleration, speed and hands, and he does his best work in space. Look for Trickett to hit Thompson with a few quick hitters and then let his legs go to work. Thompson has 10 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown this year, and has a team-long 32-yard reception.

Offensive Line

West Virginia’s offensive line is more experienced and seemingly more effective than last year’s up-and-down unit, though statistics don’t exactly bear that out. The Mountaineers have already surrendered five sacks and their backs are only picking up 3.67 yards per carry, both averages ranking in the bottom third of the FBS. But, remember, WVU’s first game came against No. 2 Alabama and the Tide’s stout defense, so the numbers are a bit skewed this early.

Stats aside, the reports have been fairly positive in regards to West Virginia’s front five. The two new tackles, blindside blocker Adam Pankey (So., 6-5, 302) and Marquis Lucas (Jr., 6-4, 315), had a few issues against Bama (who doesn’t?) as the ‘Neers failed to get the running game going, while allowing edge rushers to press the pocket, but they recovered against Towson last week.

Pankey and Lewis did see plenty of action in 2013, so it’s not like it’s a trial-by-fire type of deal. But word is Pankey may need help locking down the left side, especially against elite edge rushers. He is considered a better run blocker than pass protector at this point. Lucas, meanwhile, has been fine on the right side, though it’s tough to give him a grade after just two games. Like Pankey, Lucas is said to be a more developed run blocker.

While the tackles are still a question mark, the line’s interior is solid, anchored by three-year starter Quinton Spain (Sr., 6-5, 330). The left guard Spain will likely be an All Big-12 selection after the season, and he’s got a good shot at being drafted as well. A tough, physical blocker, he should help Pankey on the left side in pass protection while opening holes as a mauler up front.

Next to Spain, center Tyler Orlosky (So., 6-4, 301) was a sometimes-starter in 2013 and is considered a dependable if not spectacular trenchman. He’s held up reasonably well at the point of attack thus far, though he did surrender a sack. And at right guard, senior Mark Glowinski (6-5, 312) is in his second year starting and should be a steady presence all season long.

Defensive Line

West Virginia’s defensive line drew criticism following the Bama game for not finishing plays and getting to the quarterback, but the front three answered the bell against Towson. They practically lived in the backfield, recording five sacks and numerous tackles for loss, while holding the Tigers’ running game to 1.4 yards per carry.

For the year, though, WVU is surrendering 165 rushing yards per and 4.2 yards per carry, so it remains to be seen how effective these guys will be against a standout FBS unit. None of the three listed starters up front have started a full season’s worth of games, with Kyle Rose is the most experienced with eight starts (and he switched positions).

At defensive end, senior Shaq Riddick (6-6, 242) and sophomore Noble Nwachukwu (6-2, 265) rotate, and both are new faces in the starting lineup. Riddick has three tackles and a sack, while Nwachukwu has six stops and two quarterback hits. Neither has cemented themself as a clear No. 1 and they figure to battle for the job all season. Riddick, a transfer from the FCS level, has drawn high praise, though, and could be a solid piece, while Nwachukwu has made steady progress after filling in his freshman year.

At the nose, the aforementioned Kyle Rose (Jr., 6-4, 294) has seven tackles, but no tackles for loss, quarterback hits or sacks. Rose moved inside from defensive end this season, and he is a bit undersized weight-wise for an interior trenchman. He could conceivably have issues eating up blockers or pushing into the backfield, and indeed he wasn’t particularly effective against Alabama.

The opposite end, Dontrill Hyman (Sr., 6-4, 288), has racked up 10 tackles and a tackle for loss through two games. Hyman was a standout at Hinds Community College for two years, recording 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2012, before transferring to WVU before last season. He gets his chance to start in his final college season, and so far he’s done relatively well setting the edge and locating ball-carriers in traffic. He has not shown off his pass-rushing prowess yet, however.


The Mountaineers run the odd front 3-3 stack, which means there’s that hybrid SPUR linebacker in there. The SPUR is a cross between a safety and linebacker, and for WVU it’s manned by K.J. Dillon (Jr., 6-1, 206), who has started six games during his career. A safety last year, he rotated in and still managed to lead the team with six pass breakups. He’s considered a rangy type who can thump as well, making him a perfect fit for the SPUR, where he’ll be asked to fill a variety of roles. An important, versatile player who can rush off the edge and operate in space, Dillon has seven tackles, a half sack and 1.5 tackles for loss in 2014.

A surprising starter at SAM, senior Wes Tonkery beat out incumbent Isaiah Bruce (Jr., 6-3, 234) for the starting job following fall camp. And Tonkery’s standout play has continued into 2014, where he’s second on the squad in tackles with 14, to go along with 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack. A downhill defender, Tonkery does his best work filling gaps and cutting down backs in traffic. He moves well laterally, too, and has enough speed to catch runners on the edge.

Junior Nick Kwiatkoski (6-2, 236) lines up next to Tonkery at the MIKE, and he has 12 stops so far. A hard-nosed, blue-collar player who has been known to de-cleat opponents, he is the leader of WVU’s defense. Kwiatkoski actively attacks gaps and is stout in run defense, though he’s effective in coverage as well. A former safety, Kwiatkoski has good range for a linebacker (he had three picks last year) and does well picking up tight ends and receivers who enter his zone. He anticipates well, has above-average field awareness and basically controls the Mountaineers’ defensive calls. Expect him to be in on, or have an influence on, most plays against Maryland Sept. 13.

The WILL linebacker is senior Brandon Golson (6-2, 228), a returning starter. He’s another hard hitter who ranked among the nation’s leaders with five forced fumbles last year. This season Golson will used in a couple different ways, both as a standup backer and with his hand in the dirt in order to take advantage of his burst. Golson doesn’t have a tackle for loss or sack so far this year (he has 10 stops total), but he’s known for his backfield-busting ways, someone offensive lines have to account for at all times. In 2013 teams tended to run away from his side of the field, and that’s continued in 2014, which is why a guy like Tonkery has more total tackles and tackles for loss.

Defensive Backs

It’s hard to get a true gauge of West Virginia’s secondary since the Mountaineers have played two teams who prefer to run the football. The numbers, though, certainly look good. Last week, Towson threw for just 80 total yards and completed only 8 of 24 attempts; on the season WVU is allowing just 165 passing yards per game and 5.8 yards per pass.

At boundary corner, junior Terrell Chestnut (5-10, 190) ascended to the starting role this year in the wake of Ishmael Banks’ season-long suspension. So far he has four tackles and a breakup, and while he hasn’t really been tested much yet, he’s done nothing to relinquish the starting gig. He reportedly played very well during fall camp and has the trust of the coaching staff.

On the other side of the field, sophomore Daryl Worley (6-1, 199) beat out several veterans for the starting field corner job. Worley did start six games last year, and while he had his share of first-year struggles, made plenty of progress this summer. Worley’s a big, physical corner with lockdown abilities, and may be the most talented defensive back on the roster. He has 13 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pick in 2014, the interception coming in the opener against Alabama.

Junior strong safety Karl Joseph (5-11, 196) is on the All Big-12 preseason list, and deservedly so. The guy’s a violent, ferocious hitter, and considered one of the deadliest thumpers in all of college football. Not surprisingly, Joseph leads the team in tackles with 20, and has one tackle for loss as well. Joseph isn’t particularly fast, but he’s instinctive and quick, making him valuable in coverage as well. While he did get beat a few times in 2013, so far so good in 2014.

The free safety, Dravon Henry (5-11, 198), is a talented true freshman, a four-star recruit from Pennsylvania. Henry had a standout offseason, and impressed the WVU coaches so much he nabbed the No. 1 spot ahead of a couple veterans. Henry, who has six tackles, has ably passed his first two tests as his maturation continues in his first college season.


WVU’s sophomore kicker, Josh Lambert, is decent but he’s not exactly automatic. He converted about two-thirds of his field goals last season, and this year he’s 4-for-6 with one miss from 47 yards and another from 34. He has hit from 19, 20, 41 and 42 yards out, respectively. Lambert, whose leg is OK, does not handle kickoffs. That job is senior Mike Molinari’s, who has four touchbacks in two games so far.

Junior punter Nick O’Toole, meanwhile, has been pretty good, averaging 43.4 yards per boot with two 50-plus yarders and five placed inside the 20-yard line. He has a long of 58 yards this year.

Naturally, given WVU’s wealth of speed options, the Mountaineers have a dangerous return game. Mario Alford handles the kick return duties, and he already has a 100-yard touchdown return. For the season he’s averaging 48.3 yards per bring back. Jordan Thompson is the punt returner, and he’s picking up 14.5 yards per, with a long of 30.

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