Black & Gold Illustrated: How do the Mountaineers replace so much of their talent and production from the defense that was really strong a year ago?
Kinder: WVU has a number of veterans, at least in terms of time on campus, to fill some of these gaps. The entire linebacking corps departed, but players like Al-Rasheed Benton, Sean Walters, Hodari Christian and Justin Arndt have all been in the program for at least three seasons, and have seen solid backup work. They will have to go a long way to match the productivity of Nick Kwiatkoski, Jared Barber and Shaq Petteway, but they aren’t newbies without experience.
The secondary is more of a mixed bag. While there are, again, a number of seniors and juniors vying for playing time, many of them are either first year players (as transfers from other Division I schools or from junior colleges), or guys without a ton of playing time. The good news is that there are a lot of bodies, but they’ll be playing together as a unit for the first time.
WVU was really depending on Dravon Askew-Henry to anchor the rebuilt secondary, but his loss in the preseason to a knee injury threw that out the window. The Mountaineers have shuttled their three safeties around to compensate for that loss, but it's not one that is going to be easily overcome.
Early on, WVU could combat the run pretty well, but it might take some time to get the pass defense sorted out.
Black & Gold Illustrated: How high are the expectations for this offense with so many players returning? Is the offense good enough to carry what looks to be a rebuilding defense? What makes senior quarterback Skyler Howard so effective?
Kinder: The theme around fall camp is that WVU will have to outscore opponents, and while that’s a reasonable first take, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The key for the Mountaineers is consistency and rhythm. Head coach Dana Holgorsen builds his attack on getting first downs and extending drives, and that means limiting turnovers and getting accuracy in the passing game. WVU isn’t far from that goal, but needs to complete 2-3 more passes per game and take advantage of open receivers — things it didn't always do a year ago.
For Howard, it’s that's he’s a battler. He’s not the most accurate QB in college, and he’s not the tallest or possessor of the biggest arm. However, he competes out of his mind. He scrambles when necessary and does whatever it takes to keep the chains moving. He also doesn't back down from criticism, and shows great leadership skills. He understands the offense, and it should be rare when West Virginia is confused or in the wrong play call when the ball is snapped.
Black & Gold Illustrated: With West Virginia not having won more than eight games in any of the past four seasons, is this the year the Mountaineers get back to the winning ways we saw from 2005 to 2011 when they won at least nine games each season?
Kinder: Nine wins would be a really good mark, given the strength of schedule. (If that total includes a bowl win, that would help.) WVU has a tough October stretch of Texas Tech, TCU and Oklahoma State, with two of those games on the road. That makes the three non-conference games important, starting with this contest with the Tigers. WVU almost certainly has to win all three of its non-league games in order to get to nine, and that might be the ceiling for this club in the very talented Big 12. Other than Kansas, there’s not a dog in the bunch, and that makes it very difficult to pile up league victories. Six Big 12 victories might be out there, but it's probably at the high end of the expectation level.
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