Friday, July 22, 2005

WVU Season Preview...UMD is going down..and F Pitt!

Updated: July 19, 2005, 3:07 PM ET

Team preview: West Virginia


Editor's Note: ESPN Insider has teamed with Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook to provide a comprehensive look at all 119 Division I-A teams. To order the complete 2005 edition of Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, visit www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).

(All information as of July 1, 2005)

West Virginia Mountaineers
LOCATION Morgantown, W.V.
CONFERENCE Big East
LAST SEASON 8-4 (.666)
CONFERENCE RECORD 4-2 (t-1st)
OFF. STARTERS RETURNING 4
DEF. STARTERS RETURNING 5
NICKNAME Mountaineers
COLORS Gold & Blue
HOME FIELD Milan Puskar Stadium (60,000)
COACH Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia '84)
RECORD AT SCHOOL 28-21 (4 years)
CAREER RECORD 73-57-2 (12 years)
ASSISTANTS • Rick Trickett (Glenville State '72),
Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line
• Calvin Magee (Southern '85),
Offensive Coordinator/Running Backs
• Jeff Casteel (California-Pa. '84),
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
• Tony Gibson (Glenville State '95),
Defensive Backs
• Bill Stewart (Fairmont State '75),
Quarterbacks/Special Teams
• Bill Kirelawich (Salem College '69),
Defensive Line
• Herb Hand (Hamilton '90),
Tight Ends/Recruiting Coordinator
• Butch Jones (Ferris State '90),
Wide Receivers
• Bruce Tall (Ohio Wesleyan '82),
Safeties
TEAM WINS (last five yrs.) 7-3-9-8-8
FINAL RANK (last five yrs.) 36-86-18-27-32
2004 FINISH Lost to Florida State in Gator Bowl.
2005 Schedule | 2004 Results | 2004 Statistics

COACH AND PROGRAM

West Virginia, like the Big East itself, will sport a new look in 2005. But while the conference is completing its makeover, the Mountaineers are just beginning the process.

Inside the Big East
Big 12Take an Inside look at the Big East with Blue Ribbon's 2005 team reports:
Coach Rich Rodriguez enters his fifth season in Morgantown with a radically different team from the one that has captured Big East co-championships each of the last two seasons.

Rodriguez watched as three players from last year's Gator Bowl team went in the first five round of the NFL draft in April. Junior cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, widely considered the best defensive player produced by West Virginia in the last decade, went to the Tennessee Titans with the sixth overall pick. Wide receiver Chris Henry was taken by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round, while quarterback Rasheed Marshall, the 2004 Big East Offensive Player of the Year, was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the fifth round.

The talent drain didn't stop there.

West Virginia lost 14 starters, leaving Rodriguez with an extremely inexperienced team. How young are the Mountaineers? Approximately 70 percent of West Virginia's lineup now consists of freshman and sophomores.

But if anyone relishes a rebuilding challenge, it's the man affectionately know around Morgantown as "Coach Rod."

"We had a nice senior class graduate and we lost two juniors to the draft," Rodriguez said. "Those were productive players. They're going to be difficult to replace. But that's also going to give our young players a lot of opportunities to show what they can do. It's a challenging time, but it's also an exciting time. There's a lot of enthusiasm around this team and the effort's there. That's going to give us chance."

Rodriguez came to West Virginia in 2000 from Clemson, where he served two seasons as Tommy Bowden's offensive coordinator and associate head coach. Since his arrival, Rodriguez has steadily built the Mountaineers into a Big East power and a consistent Top 25 team.

West Virginia has put together three straight winning seasons and made two consecutive appearances in the Gator Bowl. Last year, West Virginia even cracked the Top 10 in the national polls. The Mountaineers started the season 4-0 and were ranked as high as No. 6 before stumbling to an 8-4 finish that included Big East losses to Boston College and Pittsburgh that ultimately cost West Virginia a BCS slot. The Mountaineers finished the season with a 30-18 defeat to Florida State in the Gator Bowl, their third-straight bowl loss under Rodriguez.

Despite ending the season on a sour note, Rodriguez claims he was pleased with his program's overall progress.

"We had a great opportunity to win the conference [outright] and earn a BCS spot and we didn't close the deal," Rodriguez said. "Those were two disappointing losses. I thought we played better in the bowl game. Even though we lost, we competed with Florida State. We battled to the end. That was encouraging."

West Virginia fans have grown accustomed to winning. But 2005 is shaping up as a transition season in Morgantown, where a young team will struggle to equal the win totals posted the last three seasons.

But Rodriguez remains confident. He's quick to point out that he's been through this before. In 2003, West Virginia was forced to replace 22 seniors, including 11 starters, from a 9-4 team. The result? West Virginia went 7-4 (6-1 in the Big East) and earned a share of the conference title with Miami.

The conference looks different today, but a resilient Rodriguez is hoping history repeats itself this fall in the new-look Big East.

"It's going to be a challenge," he said. "We've never had to replace this many players since I've been here. But it's a little like a couple of years ago. The only difference is that we're a more established program. We've won back-to-back Big East titles. We've been to back-to-back New Year's Day bowl games. We've had success. Now we have to buckle down and try to keep that going."

QUARTERBACKS

The competition to win the job vacated by Marshall started in spring practice and will continue right up until the season opener Sept. 4.

Rodriguez has three inexperienced signal callers to choose from: sophomores Adam Bednarik (6-2, 215) and Dwayne Thompson (6-2, 190), and redshirt freshman Pat White (6-1, 185).

Bednarik, the team's No. 3 quarterback last year, was the favorite to win the job before he missed all of spring practice with a shoulder injury. Bednarik underwent successful surgery and started his throwing program in late May. Rodriguez thinks Bednarik will be ready to go in fall camp.

Bednarik, a former standout at Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic High, saw little time under center in 2004. He didn't attempt a pass, rushed twice for six yards, and, surprisingly, punted once for 36 yards.

When he's healthy, Bednarik is West Virginia's best pure pocket passer.

"He's a big, strong guy," Rodriguez said. "He's a very accurate passer. He's intelligent and he's a tough individual. He's not a real running quarterback, but he's not afraid to pull it down and go. He has a good feel for the position."

Thompson possesses all the tools Rodriguez loves in a quarterback. He's big, strong, fast, versatile, and arguably the Mountaineers' best overall athlete. Thompson showed off that athleticism last fall, catching four passes as a wide receiver for 26 yards.

In West Virginia's spring game, Thompson completed 10-of-15 passes for 65 yards. He was less impressive on the ground, running 11 times for minus-3 yards. Thompson is still raw, but Rodriguez believes he'll have a role in West Virginia's offense. Whether it's at quarterback or wide receiver remains to be seen.

"He's a very, very good athlete," Rodriguez said. "He's played receiver so he knows the offense; he knows how we approach things."

White may be the youngest of the three quarterbacks, but he enters fall camp as the prohibitive favorite to win the job after an impressive spring.

Like Thompson, White is an exceptional athlete. The former Alabama high school player of the year runner-up completed 10-of-18 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown and rushed 11 times for 89 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game.

Rodriguez isn't tipping his hand, but it's clear he likes what he's seen from White so far.

"He's a very talented young man," Rodriguez said. "He's the fastest guy on the team and he has a very strong arm. The only thing he needs is experience. We think he's going to be an exceptional player."

The wild-card in the quarterback race is J.R. House (6-0, 210), a 25-year-old, former two-time West Virginia state player of the year who played professional baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization after graduating from high school in 1998.

House, who was a catcher, hasn't thrown a meaningful pass in six years and is coming off surgery (his fourth) to repair an injured elbow on his throwing arm. It is unlikely House will be ready to go in September, but he's an intriguing talent who could play a role in the future.

"Let's face it, I'm pretty much useless unless I can throw a football, right?" House told the Charleston Gazette. "I mean I never had the speed or the moves. I have to be able to throw the football and distribute it."

The last football game House played was in December 1998, when he piled up 594 yards and 10 touchdowns in leading Nitro High School to a 69-52 victory over Morgantown in the Class AAA state title game. House is still the nation's all-time leader in career completions.

RUNNING BACKS

Rodriguez always seems to have a stable of productive, if not spectacular, running backs.

This year is no different.

Kay-Jay Harris, who led the Mountaineers in rushing last year with 959 yards and 10 touchdowns, is gone after signing with the Miami Dolphins as an un-drafted free agent. But Mountaineer fans needn't worry. Harris's departure only paves the way for promising junior Jason Colson (6-1, 220) to take over as the Mountaineers' featured back.

Colson was impressive last fall when he split time as a starter with Harris. He rushed for 706 yards on 142 attempts for a healthy 5.0 yards-per-carry average, and caught 12 passes for 120 yards. Colson had four 100-yard games and finished second on the team behind Harris with six rushing touchdowns.

Colson showed up to practice this spring bigger and stronger after an off-season in the weight room. Colson looks primed for a big year.

"He's versatile," Rodriguez said. "That's his strength in our offense. He's played a lot at tailback, but he can also be used as a slot receiver."

Right behind Colson on the depth chart is Pernell Williams (5-10, 195). The sophomore, a squat, tough running back, saw action in seven games last fall as a true freshman and made the most of his opportunities, rushing 65 times for 313 yards and three touchdowns.

There's also talented junior Erick Phillips (5-9, 220), another hard-nosed runner who returns after missing all of 2004 with a knee injury. Expect Phillips, a former all-Ohio running back who rushed for a school record 4, 858 career yards at Davidson High, to get plenty of touches if he's healthy.

"Phillips was one of our better tailbacks two years ago," Rodriguez said. "He just needs to get some of the rust off."

Sophomore fullback Owen Schmitt (6-3, 250) saw zero game action last fall, but emerged from spring practice at the top of the depth chart. Schmitt, a transfer from Wisconsin River-Falls, is a grinder. A tough, physical player with excellent blocking skills, Schmitt impressed the coaching staff by winning the team's Iron Mountaineer award as the top performer in winter workout program.

Junior Justin Dziak (5-11, 230) will push Schmitt for playing time. Dziak, who was used exclusively as a blocker last fall, missed all of spring practice after breaking his leg in a practice leading up to the Gator Bowl, but should be ready in time for the season opener against Syracuse.

"We always want to establish the run," Rodriguez said. "Obviously running back is one of our deepest positions. With the inexperience at wide receiver and quarterback, we're going to need to be productive to take the pressure off the passing game."

WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS

There's no way to say this politely. West Virginia's wide receiver situation is a mess.

"Right now," Rodriguez said during spring practice, "I could not name you a starting wide receiver, a guy that we could play in a game."

Ouch.

West Virginia graduated its five top wide receivers: Henry, Miquelle Henderson, Eddie Jackson, and John Pennington. That group accounted for 95 catches and 1,346 yards last year, and their departure leaves a gaping hole that Rodriguez admits his staff is struggling to fill.

Senior Brandon Myles (6-3, 180) and junior Rayshawn Bolden (6-5, 210) enter fall camp as West Virginia's two most experienced receivers. There's only one problem: Neither is a proven No. 1 pass catcher.

Myles caught six passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns last fall. He distinguished himself as a deep threat, hauling in a 51-yard pass against East Carolina and a 57-yard touchdown pass against Central Florida. But Myles missed most of the spring after having hernia surgery. He should be ready for fall camp, but questions remain about his consistency.

Bolden has the size and speed of a No 1 receiver but has yet to prove he can be an every-down player. He started one game in 2003 and then caught just one pass last year, a 49-yard bomb late in the Gator Bowl. Bolden, like Myles, has struggled at times with his focus.

The receiving corps got a boost when Rodriguez shifted sophomore cornerback Vaughn Rivers (5-9, 170) to receiver late in spring practice. Rivers, who has good hands and speed, excelled last fall when he filled in for Jones as a kick returner against Boston College and Rutgers.

Junior Joe Hunter (6-1, 205), a converted defensive back, and red-shirt freshman Tito Gonzalez (6-2, 205) round out the depth chart. Hunter had one reception last year, a 16-yarder against Pittsburgh, while Gonzalez saw no action last fall after catching 25 passes for 425 yards as a senior at Howard Blake High in Tampa, Fla.

Tight end is also a question mark. Senior Josh Bailey (6-6, 270) saw significant time in 2003 but injured his shoulder in the Rutgers game last fall and sat out the last two months of the season. Bailey was limited during spring practice, but should be set for fall camp.

Junior Brad Palmer (6-3, 255) is a converted defensive lineman who played sparingly at tight end and fullback last fall. A good all-around athlete, Palmer did see action on special teams, where he recovered a fumble against Syracuse.

Junior Lou Davis (6-6, 290), a big, rangy blocker, will also compete for playing time after transferring in January from Cerritos College in Nowalk, Calif.

Sophomore Chris Malamet (6-4, 255) and red-shirt freshman Mike Villagrana (6-4, 225) round out a shallow depth chart.

"We're making steps," Rodriguez said when asked about the inexperience at receiver and tight end. "But we're clearly not at the level we need to be."

OFFENSIVE LINE

The good news is that West Virginia returns three starters -- All-Big East junior guard Dan Mozes (6-4, 290), junior guard Jeremy Sheffey (6-3, 290), and hulking senior tackle Garin Justice (6-8, 300) -- to a punishing line that helped the Mountaineers rush for 3,019 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall.

The bad news? Mozes and Sheffey missed all of spring drills while recovering from off-season surgery. Mozes, who graded out at 89 percent last year and starts the season on the Lombardi Award watch list, underwent shoulder surgery.

Sheffey, who had 20 knockdowns last year and graded out at 81 percent, had what Rodriguez described as "minor surgery on his spine."

Rodriguez anticipates both guards, who started a total of 33 games between them over the last two seasons, will be back by August. When they return, Rodriguez believes he has the making of another solid front five.

"When Mozes and Sheffey get back in there, we'll have some experience and some toughness," he said. "They understand how we play the game. The big thing will be to keep them healthy and keep them in the lineup."

West Virginia's line features a pair of mammoth tackles: Justice, who could be shifted to left tackle after starting 23 games over the last three years on the right side of the line, and senior Travis Garrett (6-6, 305), a promising talent who's been limited to just three starts during an injury-plagued career.

Junior center Jeremy Hines (6-2, 285) returns to the starting lineup after serving as a backup last fall when he saw action in six games. Hines started eight games as a freshman and was voted to the Big East All-Freshman team.

Offensive line is one of the few positions where West Virginia has plenty of depth. If the injury bug bites, look for help to come from red-shirt freshman tackle Chris Bassler (6-5, 280), an athletic lineman who played tight end in high school, versatile sophomore Zac Napier (6-4, 280), who could see time at guard or center, redshirt freshman guard/tackle John Bradshaw (6-6, 290), who improved steadily during spring drills, red-shirt freshman center Mike Dent (6-4, 265), a converted defensive end, and red-shirt freshman guard/tackle Jake Figner (6-5, 285), a former first-team Pennsylvania all-state player.

"We're going to have a lot of competition for spots," Rodriguez said. "That's something we like to foster. A lot of these guys have been in the program for a year or a year and a half. They're ready to take on significant roles."

KICKERS

The kicking game is usually an afterthought during spring practice. But West Virginia had to scramble when starter Andy Good unexpectedly quit the team in April, forcing the Mountaineers to abandon the kicking game completely until August.

Good's departure opens the door for one of the Mountaineers' prized recruits: freshman Pat McAffe (6-1, 205), who was rated the No. 1 kicker in the nation by Scout.com after going 7-of-7 on field goals with a long of 48 yards last fall at Plum High in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Good's leg strength is already the stuff of legend. He won the One on One kicking competition in Miami in January with a 65-yarder, and 80 percent of his kickoffs last year went into the end zone. He was also a 2003 national Punt, Pass, and Kick champion.

"We'll see what he can do when he gets here in August," Rodriguez said. "We'll see pretty quickly if he's ready to handle the job."

DEFENSIVE LINE

Competition for playing time will be fierce on the defensive line, one of West Virginia's deepest positions. Rodriguez believes he has "five or six quality guys" competing for three starting spots in the Mountaineers' unique 3-3-5 defense.

Sophomore defensive tackle Keilen Dykes (6-4, 295) returns to anchor the middle of the line after an impressive freshman season that saw him play in all 12 games, make 36 tackles (21 solo), and record two sacks for minus-19 yards.

Senior Ernest Hunter (6-4, 295), a converted defensive end, will also see significant time at tackle. Hunter finished 2004 with 18 tackles (11 solo), two sacks, and an interception despite fracturing a thumb against Pittsburgh.

Hunter's production was even better in 2003 when he had 43 tackles and three sacks. Big, strong, and quick, Hunter should have no trouble moving inside to tackle. Junior Craig Wilson (6-1, 295) is also back in the mix after recording nine tackles (six solo) and two sacks last fall in his second season as a backup nose guard. The defensive end situation is less solidified.

Sophomore Pat Liebig (6-4, 265) was a bright spot in spring practice after taking a medical red-shirt last year while recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery. A former Sporting News Big East all-freshman team selection, Liebig made 10 tackles in seven games in 2003 before injuring his knee against Boston College.

Junior Warren Young (6-4, 290) is also returning from an injury after breaking his foot in a practice leading up to the Gator Bowl. Young, who played in six games last year and made four tackles, should have an opportunity to distinguish himself as a three-down player.

Rodriguez also believes he has uncovered a pair of quality young ends in sophomore Andrae Wright (6-5, 280), a former Alabama all-state selection, and sophomore Johnny Dingle (6-3, 250), a speedy edge-rusher who sat out last season after transferring from Florida.

"The line has more depth than we've had in the past," Rodriguez said. "We should be able to make some plays."

LINEBACKERS

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's top priority in the off-season was to find two linebackers to fill the hole left by the graduation of Scott Gyorko and all-Big East second-team selection Adam Lehnortt.

Casteel will try to rebuild his linebacking corps around junior Kevin "Boo" McLee (6-1, 245), who moves from the strong-side to the weak-side position after finishing eighth on the team last year with 44 tackles (26 solo) and two sacks.

Junior Jay Henry (6-2, 225) slides into the starting middle linebacker roll after backing up Gyorko at weak-side linebacker last year. Henry should have no trouble getting up to speed. He played in 11 games last year and made 39 tackles (21 solo) with one sack.

Senior Jeff Noechel (6-3, 230) should get the call at strong-side linebacker after serving as a backup last fall when he played 11 games, made 15 tackles (seven solo), and intercepted a pass against Connecticut. Noechel is also a special teams ace who has improved his level of play each year since he walked on as a freshman.

Sophomore Marc Magro (6-2, 240), a homegrown product from Morgantown, will serve as a backup middle linebacker after making 32 tackles (20 solo) last year, while excelling on special teams. Red-shirt freshman Mortty Ivy (6-3, 230) could see time at weak-side linebacker after a solid spring.

"In our defense, we count on our linebackers to make a lot of plays," Rodriguez said. "They have to be able to rush the passer and cover somebody. They've got to be athletic and they've got to play physical. I think we've got these guys to the point where they understand how they have to play. The only thing they're missing right now is experience."

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Rodriguez is like the rest of us. He has no idea how West Virginia is going to replace "Pacman" Jones.

"He was the most explosive player on the team," Rodriguez said. "He made an awful lot of plays, and he could change the game with just one. People talk about replacing him, but I'm not sure you can replace a Top-10 NFL pick. They don't come around that often. He was a special player."

Seniors Dee McCann (5-11, 195) and Anthony Mims (6-0, 175) will get the first crack to replace Jones as West Virginia's starting corners.

McCann started in place of an injured Jones against Rutgers last fall and finished the season with 21 tackles (14 solo) and tied Jones for the team lead with three interceptions. McCann capped his season with six tackles and two interceptions in the Gator Bowl.

Mims also had a strong junior season. He started opposite Jones and finished the season with 45 tackles (35 solo) and one interception. Mims is a versatile player who saw limited action at free safety each of the last two seasons.

Rodriguez would not have moved Rivers to wide receiver if he wasn't pleased with the progress of sophomore corners Antonio Lewis (5-10, 190) and Larry Williams (6-1, 190), an athletic duo who served useful time on special teams last year.

There's also senior Thandi Smith (5-11, 185), a fixture last year in West Virginia's nickel and dime packages. Expect to see him there again this fall.

There are no worries at safety, where all-conference free safety Jahmile Addae (6-0, 205) is back for his senior season. Addae, who is on the Ronnie Lott Trophy watch list, returned to full strength last fall after missing most of 2003 with a shoulder injury. Addae made 59 tackles (36 solo) and intercepted two passes.

West Virginia also welcomes back spur safety Mike Lorello (6-1, 200), a second-team All-Big East selection last year. A smart, consistent player, who rarely misses an assignment, Lorello was third on the team last year with 66 tackles (50 solo) and intercepted two passes. Lorello missed most of spring practice, however, after breaking his arm in the Gator Bowl.

Sophomore Ridwan Malik (6-1, 195), who made 23 tackles in 2004, and junior Akeem Jackson (6-0, 190) are competing for time at bandit safety and could also be utilized in two-deep coverage schemes.

Junior Abraham Jones (6-1, 195) had a good spring backing up Addae at free safety, while junior Eric Wicks (6-1, 215), who returned an interception 34 yards for a touchdown last year against Virginia Tech, excelled during spring drills at spur safety while Lorello recovered from his injury.

"Having Addae back is going to help a lot," Rodriguez said. "He's a smart football player. It's a big plus having him back there."

PUNTERS

Senior Phil Brady (5-9, 185) returns after averaging 38.3 yards per kick last fall. Brady, a transfer from East Carolina, enjoyed big games against UCF (61-yard punt), James Madison ( 46.5 yard average), and Virginia Tech (43.9 yard average) but was plagued by inconsistency.

Brady will get stiff competition from another top recruit, freshman Scott Kozlowski (6-0, 190), who was ranked the No. 1 punter in the nation by Scout.com. Kozlowski averaged 46.5 yards per punt as a senior at Royal Palm Beach (Fla.) High and was the 2005 National Kicking Expo punt champion.

Don't be surprised if the Mountaineers open the season with a pair of true freshman handling the field goal and punting duties.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The loss of Pacman Jones will be felt here, too. Look for Rivers, Lewis, Myles, and possibly Colson to try to fill the void left by the departure of the Big East special teams player of the year.

Rivers returned two kickoffs last year for 42 yards and one punt for 17 yards. Lewis had four kick returns for 90 yards (22.5 average) and three punt returns for 16 yards (5.3 average). Myles was used exclusively on kickoffs, returning five for 119 yards for a healthy 23.8 average. Colson saw some action as a kick returner in spring practice and could find himself in the mix this season.

1 comment:

Joel said...

dude, UMD is gonna beat y'all like a red-headed stepchild....

 
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