The 2017 West Virginia Mountaineers fell short of expectations, there is no way around it.
Coming into the year hot off of a 10-3 2016 season, the Mountaineers looked primed for another big year led by their star transfer quarterback Will Grier. Although Grier played at an outstanding level, the team overall did not. They decreased their win total by three games, and finished the season unranked. The Mountaineers went 5-4 in a sub-par Big 12 Conference, and finished the season on a rough three game losing streak.
Offense leading the way
The poor season was not a result of the West Virginia offense. The aforementioned Will Grier posted an All-American level season. Grier finished the season with 3,490 yards, a 65% completion percentage and 34 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. The transfer quarterback was eighth in the NCAA in passing touchdowns, and third in the Big 12. Grier also had a 162.7 passer efficiency rating, fifth best in the NCAA.
Another bright spot on the offense was wideout David Sills. After transferring back to West Virginia after a year away, it looks like Sills made the right decision. The 6-foot-3 receiver totaled 60 receptions, for 980 yards and 18 touchdowns.
These 18 touchdowns were tied for the league lead with Anthony Miller of Memphis, who was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft a few weeks ago. Sills was also fourth in the Big Twelve in total points, which is very impressive for a wide receiver.
The Mountaineers also got solid seasons in the ground game from running backs Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy. Crawford totaled over 1,000 yards rushing, and both he and McKoy scored seven touchdowns each.
Improving the defense
It is pretty clear that West Virginia had a very solid year on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense was another story. In eight of the Mountaineers’ 13 games, the defense gave up 30 or more points, including 50 to Oklahoma State and 59 to Oklahoma.
The defense gave up 445 total yards per game, an absolutely abysmal number. They were only able to register about two sacks a game, which ranked No. 88 in the NCAA, and they also only had five players with 50 or more tackles.
The Mountaineers were only able to generate about one turnover a game, while their offense averaged two a game.
Although the defense had a very rough season, there were a few bright spots. Defensive End Ezekiel Rose had a breakout season and led the team with five sacks, and safety Kenny Robison record three interceptions in his freshman season.
It will not get much easier for the Mountaineers defense in 2018, as their two leading tacklers from 2017 have moved on. For West Virginia to have success in 2018, they are going to need another outstanding season from senior Will Grier leading their offense.
Looking on to 2018
The Big 12 Conference as a whole will not be as offensively powerful, as big time quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph have gone on to the NFL, but if they want to post a double-digit win season, West Virginia will need improved play from their defense.
Look for junior linebacker David Long to anchor the Mountaineer defense, and watch out for Dylan Tonkery to be a breakout player on the defensive side of the ball.
If Grier and Sills can be the dynamic duo they were on offense in 2017 again, it will not take a superman season from the Mountaineers defense. If they can hold opponents to under about 25-27 points per game, look for the explosive West Virginia offense to be able to carry the load.