West Virginia 2011 team preview

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West Virginia Mountaineers
By R.J. Rico
 
Quarterback Geno Smith :: Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI
 
Team Vitals
Head Coach Dana Holgorsen
Holgorsen at WVU 0-0
Wins In Last 5 Seasons 11, 11, 9, 9, 9
Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgorsen
Defensive Coordinator Jeff Casteel
Returning Starters Offense 8, Defense 4
2010 Season 9-4 (5-2 Big East)
2010 Final AP Rank Not ranked
2010 Rushing Offense 50 (4)
2010 Passing Offense 67 (2)
2010 Total Offense 67 (2)
2010 Rushing Defense 2 (1)
2010 Passing Defense 11 (3)
2010 Total Defense 3 (1)
 
2011 Schedule
Sept. 4 Marshall
Sept. 10 Norfolk State
Sept. 17 at Maryland
Sept. 24 LSU
Oct. 1 Bowling Green
Oct. 8 Connecticut
Oct. 21 at Syracuse
Oct. 29 at Rutgers
Nov. 5 Louisville
Nov. 12 at Cincinnati
Nov. 25 Pittsburgh
Dec. 1 at South FLorida
 
ANALYSIS: LSU's visit highlights the nonconference slate, while a travel-heavy second half culminates in a game at South Florida that could decide the Big East title.
 
Depth Chart
OFFENSE
QB Geno Smith Paul Millard
RB Vernard Roberts Trey Johnson
FB Matt Lindamood Ricky Kovatch
WR Stedman Bailey J.D. Woods
WR Tavon Austin Willie Milhouse
WR Tyler Urban Daven Brown
WR Ryan Nehlen Brad Starks
LT Don Barclay Nick Kindler
LG Jef Braun Chad Snodgrass
C Joe Madsen John Bassler
RG Tyler Rader Cole Bowers
RT Quinton Spain Pat Eger
DEFENSE
DT Julian Miller J.B. Lageman
NT Josh Taylor Trevor Demko
DE Bruce Irvin Will Clarke
LB Doug Rigg Tyler Anderson
LB Najee Goode Branko Busick
LB Josh Francis Casey Vance
CB Keith Tandy Brantwon Bowser
CB Pat Miller Brodrick Jenkins
SS Terence Garvin Mike Dorsey
FS Eain Smith Travis Bell
S Darwin Cook Wes Tonkery
SPECIAL TEAMS
K Tyler Bitancurt Corey Smith
P Corey Smith Michael Molinari
KR Tavon Austin Brad Starks
PR Brodrick Jenkins Tavon Austin
SCOUTING REPORT
The beginning of the football season can't come fast enough for West Virginia fans, who suffered through a bizarre offseason. It'll be a tougher adjustment for the team forced to adapt to a new head coach, offensive scheme and depleted defensive lineup.

Luckily for West Virginia, its Big East rivals have problems of their own. The Mountaineers are favored to win the conference, receiving 21 of 24 first-place votes in a recent media poll.

That's partially due to the arrival of Dana Holgorsen, who assumed the head coach's role after the school eventually bough out lame duck head man Bill Stewart. Holgorsen, who will also be calling the plays, arrives amid much fanfare after helping Oklahoma State to a 10-2 record and the nation's No. 2 passing offense and No. 3 scoring offense last season.

Holgorsen's "Air Raid Offense" should do wonders for quarterback Geno Smith, who threw for 2,763 yards, 24 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in his first year as a starter. Smith has a strong corps of returning receivers -- four of the six players with 200 or more receiving yards return -- including budding star Tavon Austin. The loss of star running back Noel Devine will be tempered by Holgorsen's focus on the passing game, although the Mountaineers are looking to establish a running threat with true freshman Vernard Roberts, who has thus far impressed the coaching staff.

The true worries are on the defensive side of the ball. Last year, the West Virginia defense was as stingy as they come, only twice allowing its opponent to score more than 20 points. The loss of seven starters has left a lot of holes to fill, especially among the linebackers, where three of the four starters are now gone.

West Virginia will certainly feature prominently in the Big East title race, and as long as the defense can maintain some of last year's dominance, Smith's strong arm and Holgorsen's system should make BCS dreams an attainable reality.

THE BIG IF
Can the Mountaineers plug holes on defense, where they must replace seven starters from a stingy 2010 unit?

TELLING NUMBER
.250 -- The winning percentage of last year's team in games that were decided by six points or fewer. WVU went 1-3 in those games.

KEY RETURNEES
Geno Smith, QB, Jr. -- The Mountaineers may end up living and dying with Smith's arm. After throwing for 2,763 yards in his first year as starter, the sky is the limit for the junior, who should thrive in Holgorsen's pass-heavy offense.

Tavon Austin, WR, Jr. -- The receiver led the team with nine touchdowns last season, including a 71-yard bomb during last season's 35-10 win over rival Pitt.

Najee Goode, LB, Sr. -- The senior middle linebacker was third on the teams with 8.5 tackles for loss last year and will be the leader among an inexperienced linebacking corps.

Keith Tandy, CB, Sr. -- The All-Big East cornerback was fifth on the team in tackles and first on the team with six interceptions last season. He is the only DB in the Big East to be on the recently announced Jim Thorpe Award watch list.

BREAKOUT PLAYER
Quinton Spain, RT, Fr. -- Spain was a 2010 recruit, but red-shirted to work on his agility. Now in much better shape, the 6-5, 338-pounder will be a force to reckon with.

TOP RECRUIT
Vernard Roberts, RB, Fr. -- The true freshman arrived early in the spring and could be a surprise running threat for opponents struggling to cope with WVU?s passing game.
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