New Beginnings, Similar Results for WVU in 2008
Posted By:Geoff Bentzel Tags:
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“This is my final job, bar none. And if I’m not getting it done, they won’t have to tell me, I’ll tell them.”
January 3, 2008
Seldom does a college football program experience its worst loss and biggest win in the same season. It is almost unthinkable that both could occur in consecutive games. Such was life in Morgantown during WVU’s 2007 campaign.
The tumultuous stretch that concluded WVU’s 2007 season was punctuated by a devastating loss to archrival Pitt that denied the top ranked Mountaineers a shot at its first national title, an acrimonious departure by Rich Rodriguez, and finally, a stunning 48-28 blowout of No. 3 Oklahoma in the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, West Virginia’s second BCS bowl win in three seasons. The enduring legacy of this period undoubtedly belongs to Bill Stewart, whose steady hand and calm demeanor guided the program through the December 2007 chaos. After doing so, the New Martinsville, W.Va., native was named the school’s 32nd head football coach. Stewart’s hiring was controversial, with many fans and pundits questioning his ability to lead one of the nation’s top programs.
Stewart will be supported in his endeavor by a tremendous coaching staff. After retaining Jeff Casteel and Bill Kirelawich as Defensive Coordinator and Defensive Line Coach, respectively, Stewart persuaded John “Doc” Holliday to return to his alma mater as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator, a position he previously held with the University of Florida. Holliday is regarded by many in college football as one of the best recruiters in the nation. The coaching staff also includes three defensive coaches with experience as coordinators at the FBS level (Casteel, Steve Dunlap, David Lockwood), as well as offensive coaches whose previous stints included Georgia, Florida, Wake Forest, and Appalachian State.
Lingering doubts about Stewart and Co. will likely not be answered until 2009 and beyond. In 2008, No. 8 WVU remains the class of the Big East and should again be cause for celebration and occasional furniture combustion in Morgantown.
On offense, the Mountaineers are experienced and explosive. Heisman Trophy candidate and two-time Big East Offensive Player of the Year Patrick White returns for the finale of his legendary career at WVU, one that may end with him joining NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff as the only players in school history to have their numbers retired. While White’s exploits with his legs in the spread option are unrivaled (White is 784 yards from the NCAA rushing record for quarterbacks), new Offensive Coordinator Jeff Mullen, formerly of Wake Forest, wants to utilize White’s underrated arm to deliver more balance to WVU’s offensive attack. The reduction in White’s carries should make him less vulnerable to injuries, which removed him from significant stretches of the South Florida and Pitt games – WVU’s only losses in 2007.
Protecting White will be an offensive line rated by Athlon as the best in college football. All five starters return from 2007, led by All-Americans Ryan Stancheck at left tackle and Greg Isdaner at left guard. All-Big East seniors Mike Dent and Jake Figner also return at center and right guard, respectively. Running behind one of the nation’s best lines is unanimous preseason All-Big East Running Back Noel Devine, who lived up to his “YouTube” reputation as a reserve in 2007, averaging 8.6 yards per carry. Devine routinely ran circles around WVU opponents, including Oklahoma, whom Devine gashed for 108 yards and 2 TDs on only 13 carries. Sophomore Will Johnson will split time at fullback and tight end. The receiving corps should be solid, if unspectacular. Seniors Dorrell Jalloh and Tito Gonzales return, and junior college transfer Alric Arnett, a 400 meter state champion at Glades Central High School (Fla.), is expected to provide a home run threat.
For WVU to continue its streak of Top 10 finishes, it must effectively replace several starters from its 2007 defensive unit, which ranked 7th in the nation in total defense. The strength of the unit is its linebacking corps, led by seniors Mortty Ivy and Reed Williams, the defensive MVP of the 2008 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. In Athlon’s preseason publication, Stewart touted the speed of this unit, noting – in classic Stewart fashion – that they “can run like scalded dogs. Like hungry, scalded dogs.” The defensive line and secondary have size and speed, but lack experience. Groza finalist Pat McAfee returns as WVU’s punter and placekicker.
The schedule is challenging, but manageable. If WVU can avoid an early season landmine at Colorado, the Mountaineers should enter its Thursday night showdown with No. 11 Auburn undefeated. The “Backyard Brawl” with hated Pitt arrives in late November, and the 2008 season concludes with South Florida, which may serve as a de facto Big East championship game in Morgantown.
Despite the turnover on the staff and roster, if White and Devine stay healthy, and the defense comes together, WVU should repeat as Big East champions and contend for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.
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