Fall camp begins in just days, with players reporting on August 1. Fan day occurs just a few days later, on August 3. With the beginning of the season just around the corner, we wanted to start our 2019 season coverage in earnest. The athletic department and the staff have been managing expectations, but the Mountaineers are moving forward regardless. As we previously wrote, there are reasons for optimism. But a lot needs to happen for the Mountaineers to exceed preseason predictions. Here is our Mountaineer wishlist on the offensive side, with one player we would like to see step up at each position for West Virginia this season.
Mountaineer Wishlist: The Offense
As of today, the Mountaineers have not yet anointed a starting quarterback. We wrote about the competition here. However, pre-season reports out of Norman last season claimed that eventual Heisman winner Kyler Murray barely edged out four-star signal caller Austin Kendall for the starting nod for the Sooners. Lincoln Riley echoed that sentiment. And a recent report from The Athletic strongly suggests that Riley meant what he said. The vigor with which he fought against Kendall’s transfer adds more support.
Regardless, Head Coach Neal Brown could use a strong quarterback to lead his first-year offense. At Big XII media days, Brown said that each quarterback competing for the job had a strong skill set, but that one would no doubt set himself apart from the crowd. If Kendall can take that step forward, then the offense will be in capable hands. Regardless, Kendall’s name tops our Mountaineer wishlist on offense.
Last season, the Mountaineers brought in five-star USC transfer Kenny Bigelow. After he suffered several season-ending injuries, the Mountaineers offered Bigelow a second chance he did not pass up. And Bigelow made an instant impact, blowing up the Tennessee offensive line on the first defensive play of the season opener.
This year, the Mountaineers brought in five-star Florida State transfer George Campbell. The recruiting services do not hand out five star ratings easily. Campbell even earned a lofty top ten ranking for all Class of 2015 high school recruits by ESPN. Campbell’s career at Florida State was similarly marred by injury, and he never put his skills together in the Seminole offense to make an impact. But he has a second chance in Morgantown, and West Virginia’s offense could definitely use a productive deep threat after the loss of Marcus Simms after Spring camp.
The Mountaineers return an abundance of talent at the running back position, and they even added the highly-regarded Tony Mathis out of Georgia in their 2019 class. Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway, and Leddie Brown will undoubtedly share the vast majority of the carries this season. Each of those backs offers a slightly different skill set, but Alec Sinkfield possesses burst and high top-end speed that will provide a unique change of pace for this group. The diversity that he can bring to this offense assuming he has fully recovered from the injuries that limited his use last season cannot be understated.
Jovani Haskins rightfully earned a spot on the Mackey Award watch list, so he would be the obvious choice here. But the Mountaineers could benefit tremendously from a second tight end either to anchor two tight-end sets or to simply allow Haskins relief through the course of a long season. West Virginia’s roster includes several candidates for this second tight end. But T.J. Banks offers the most intrigue. Banks carried a four-star rating (from Rivals) coming out of East Allegheny High School. And Banks stands at 6’5” while weighing in north of 250 pounds. That size could help him rumble for extra yards or pick up blitzing defenders off the edge. No matter how his size and skills are used, the Mountaineers could benefit from his development.
Outside of Mike Brown, the starting four offensive linemen for the Mountaineers logged plenty of snaps the last two seasons. Brown appears poised for a breakout year, and he offers the size and strength (at 6’3, 345 pounds) Coach Brown and company look to develop. Beyond the starting five, however, West Virginia has serious question marks. Returning snap counts beyond the starters and Jacob Buccigrossi, whose status after two straight seasons marred by injury is in doubt, are low. Having at least a couple second-string linemen step up would answer many of those questions. A 3-star redshirt freshman out of Atlanta, Junior Uzebu could easily fill that role. Known for his run blocking skills in high school, his strengths could complement the power run game that Coach Brown clearly seeks to establish. That’s why he takes the last spot on our offensive-side Mountaineer wishlist.
If the Mountaineers can add production from each of these players this season, they could exceed the modest expectations set for them. Even if they do not, production from these players certainly would help West Virginia establish a strong foundation for the future. This completes our Mountaineer wishlist on the offensive side of the ball. In our next article, we’ll present our candidates for each position group on defense.