The Dana Holgorsen era in Morgantown is over, but the high-flying, high-powered offenses are here to stay under new head coach Neal Brown. There are a ton of question marks heading into this spring, many surrounding the quarterback battle and what the offense will look like. There will be slight changes of course, but nothing completely different like running the triple option or running a pro-style, ground and pound type of strategy. The spread attack will remain, but with some minor tweaks.
So, let's have at it. Here are the three things to watch from the Mountaineer offense this spring.
3. Offensive line realignment
Offensive lineman Colton McKivitz rushes over to help his teammate Kennedy McKoy off the ground after scoring a touchdown vs Kansas State (Photo: Dominion Post)
The Mountaineers new offensive line coach, Matt Moore, will be tasked with replacing three starters from last years team including a first-round talent in Yodny Cajuste. Last week Moore met with the media to give the first update on the big fellas since spring started. "I like the enthusiasm. I think this group enjoys to practice. We just have to do a better job of coaching them and staying on their feet, this is a learning process." he said.
Replacing Cajuste may be a bit easier than many would think with redshirt senior Colton McKivitz flipping over to the left side. Moore believes that McKivitz is the best player they have up front. "I think he's one of our best o-lineman, I think you got to put him at left tackle. He had some trouble today with his sets, but that's just because it's the first time he's done it live, but I think he can be a really good left tackle in this league.
The center position will be up for grabs for the first time in two years after the previous starter Matt Jones decided to utilize the grad transfer route to Youngstown State to be with his new fiancé and closer to his family. Redshirt junior Jacob Buccigrossi figured to be the next guy in line considering he was a heavy favorite to beat out Jones the previous two seasons before injuries derailed that opportunity. Coach Moore said that he wants to find out which guys can snap and ideally would like to have three that are able to go at all times. "(Chase) Behrndt, you know, he's learning. That's a tough position to come out and play if you haven't played much of it. He's going to get better every day and that's what I'm going to challenge him to get better every day.
2. Replacing Sills V/Jennings
West Virginia receiver Marcus Simms hauls in a catch for a touchdown at Texas Tech (Photo: WV MetroNews)
It's never easy to replace a high-caliber, NFL prospect at receiver. What's even harder is having to replace two of those guys as Gary Jennings and David Sills V have exhausted their eligibility and are off to the next level. The presumed favorite to be "the guy" is rising senior, Marcus Simms.
Simms has been the waiting his turn and if there's a year he is going to break out, it's 2019. Mainly because well, it's his last opportunity too. Simms' speed is hard to match and he has steadily improved ever since arriving on campus. There's no doubt that with a full offseason with being labeled as the leader and veteran of this group that he will put up some gaudy numbers.
Other guys to watch out for are redshirt freshmen Sam James Jr. and Bryce Wheaton. Like Simms, James has the ability to take the top off the defense with his speed and could be what everyone hoped Jovon Durante would be and then some. Wheaton has a big frame and can go get those 50/50 balls with his physicality and toughness. Although he has some things to iron out, he could be that red zone threat that Sills was the last few years. I wouldn't expect it right away, but the raw talent alone could carry him there quicker than anticipated.
Coach Brown commented on the young guys who are looking to step up, "We just got to let them play. Early through four practices, I think Bryce Wheaton has done some things. He looks like a redshirt freshman at times, he's got to grow. Randy Fields, I've been really pleased with him. He's a smart football player and we move him around a bunch. Sam James has shown some flashes."
The one that everyone will tend to forget about is junior Tevin Bush. There is no expectation for Bush to put up huge numbers or play his way into the Biletnikoff talk, but he will play a pivotal role in Neal Brown's offense. It wouldn't be all that bold to say he probably has the best footwork or shiftiness since Tavon Austin, although they are not exactly the same player. You always have to find ways to get the ball in the hands of your playmaker's hands and that's exactly what Bush is, a playmaker. With Sills and Jennings gone the door opens for someone like Bush to provide a spark in the quick pass game.
"Tevin Bush is a guy I've been impressed with. He competes, loves to play, he's made a ton of big plays, had a couple of long touchdowns today. He's just got to play." Coach Brown noted.
1. Who's going to sling it?
Quarterback Jack Allison sets up to deliver a pass during the home opener vs Youngstown State (Photo: WVU Athletics)
The obvious; Who's going to replace Will Grier and will it be a two-player battle or three?
Neal Brown added Oklahoma grad transfer Austin Kendall, which adds more than just depth to the quarterback room. Now, there is a serious competition of two highly talented veteran signal callers along with a redshirt freshman, Trey Lowe.
All of the focus will be on Allison and Kendall, but coach Brown has said that it will be a three-man battle and each quarterback will receive equal reps until one or two guys start to emerge. "When you have three guys that are really competing, you got to divide up the reps and we're not overly deep at wideout as far as numbers are concerned, so it's hard on them to not get the same amount of reps that they normally would." Neal Brown said.
Jack Allison was very erratic in his lone start in the bowl game to say the very least, but judging a quarterback off of one performance is not ideal. Allison will head into an offseason for the first time having a legit chance to win the starting job and having the same playing field as the other quarterbacks having to learn a slightly new system under a new coaching staff.
Austin Kendall has sat behind two Heisman winning quarterbacks at Oklahoma and was tutored by one of the best offensive minds in the game, Lincoln Riley. He has all the tools needed to not only win the job but to potentially be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. He is a passer first but is certainly capable of using his legs if needed.
Trey Lowe is the long shot in the group due to his youth, but he has a bright future and can maybe even push Neal Brown into creating a package or two for him as a redshirt freshman.