After an unusually long off-season due to the global pandemic, we pick up our coverage as teams begin to enter summer camps. Fortunately, the athletic department has plans in place to prevent, identify, and isolate future COVID-19 infections. Hopefully, these measures result in a 2020 football season. Until told otherwise, we assume that the season will progress. Thus, we begin our pre-season content with our West Virginia Mountaineers’ 2020 Quarterback Preview.
Mountaineers’ 2020 Quarterback Preview
2019 Quarterback Review
Last season, the Mountaineers finished 5-7 while distributing starting snaps to both Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall and Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege. Head Coach Neal Brown has ties to both quarterbacks and their families. As a result, he was able to add both to strengthen the competition at quarterback after Will Grier’s departure.
Late last Summer, Brown named Kendall his starter. That decision was not without controversy, however. Particularly, Trey Lowe, who entered the transfer portal but has not yet declared a destination, had plenty of supporters. Those voices cried louder as the season wore on.
West Virginia found itself 3-5 through eight games. Kendall endured a frequently-collapsed offensive line, and the starter suffered lingering injuries as a result of the extra punishment he took. Kendall put some great plays on the highlight reel, but his play was also inconsistent. As Brown said several times last season, fans cannot lay blame solely on Kendall. The offensive line was bad enough to see a talented backfield put up less than three yards per carry. Pass protection was a little better but left plenty to be desired. A youthful receiving corps sought to replace over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Those young receivers dropped plenty of catchable balls.
Enter Doege, who played in the Mountaineers’ final four games. Doege commanded the team to a 2-2 record in those four games. And while he similarly put plenty of material on the highlight reel, his play also suffered inconsistency. The offensive struggles continued under his tenure.
2020 Quarterback Preview
While many fans presumed that the final four games featured the Mountaineers’ next starting quarterback, Brown put those thoughts to rest early. Brown unequivocally said that he and his staff would review film and metrics, both from the season and from off-season workouts, and approach the quarterback position as if there were an active quarterback competition. More cynical fans contend that Brown employs this approach to ensure retention of both quarterbacks. This holds especially true after many predicted Kendall would transfer after the season based on little more than his late-season body language.
Brown, however, remains a straight-shooter by all accounts. Sure, he employs motivation “tactics” like any other head coach, but, if he did not believe in his competitors, Brown would jump far out of character to make promises–in this case that the quarterback competition would play out through the off-season–he could not keep. As a young coach, Brown also knows the reputation hit he could take by making such empty promises. As a result, even if fans do not, Brown certainly believes what he says here. The quarterback competition continues.
Behind an offensive line that replaced over 70% of its snap counts from 2018, Kendall found pockets collapsing frequently. Because of the Mountaineers’ inability to produce in the run game, the passing game also suffered from blanket coverage by opposing defenses. An inexperienced receiving corp dropped plenty of Kendall’s well-thrown passes, at least half a dozen for easy touchdowns. Communications breakdowns between Kendall and his receivers also plagued the offense.
Still, Kendall’s numbers were not terrible. He completed 62% of his passes for just shy of 2,000 yards. Multiple lingering issues did not help his production either. Kendall’s strengths lie in the accuracy of his deep throws, his general pocket awareness, and his confidence.
By the time Doege stepped in under center, some of the issues with the receiving corps had been resolved. Receivers did not drop the ball as frequently, though that issue still persisted. Routes looked crisper, too. But the offensive line still struggled, and the Mountaineers’ run game still suffered. Thus, while the Mountaineers won half of their games under Doege, the offense remained anemic, averaging just 19 points per game.
Doege’s individual numbers looked a bit better. He completed 66% of his passes for 818 yards, averaging almost a half a yard more per attempt than Kendall. Doege also threw interceptions at a much better clip than Kendall, averaging one per 40 attempts (versus one per 30 attempts for Kendall). Doege also flashed between evasiveness than Kendall.
The competition between Kendall and Doege should help every quarterback in the room, including freshman signal-caller Garrett Greene. Thus, while we suspect that Doege might start the season, we also think the Mountaineers’ offense is the real winner here. Both players have now had a full season to develop rapport with the rest of the offense and to learn what Brown and company expect from them. Offensive Coordinator Gerad Parker also brings polish to the offense, particularly its passing game.
We give the nod to Doege to start the season based on a combination of his evasiveness and poise. Overall, he looked more comfortably in command of the offense, and players seemed to respond to that. That said, we would not be terribly surprised to see the senior Kendall start several games this season. Unfortunately, the pandemic led to the cancellation of Spring camp and the Spring Game, so we have not heard much from the staff on ongoing player development. As a result, we expect updates and changes to all of the articles in this series as we learn more.