The Mountaineers are heading into the 2018 season with key depth and experience issues at two positions on defense, as well as a shortage of quarterbacks. For head coach Dana Holgorsen to lead the team to a successful 2018 campaign, he will have to find several answers for all three positions as the team finds itself utilizing 13 scholarships less than NCAA-allowed 85. Coach Holgorsen will need to find appropriate solutions for those positions, in order to have a successful 2018 campaign.
West Virginia only has four defensive ends on scholarship and very little returning experience. There are only 16 starts returning at defensive end, 13 of those belonging to Reese Donahue. Only four players have actually played in a game, and only three of those players have played in six or more games. With only three of them playing in more than six games. This poses an interesting issue, because West Virginia typically plays four to five defensive ends per game.
Freshmen All-American Lamonte McDougle’s recent announcement, requesting to be released from the program creates another large void at nose tackle. This announcement leaves the Mountaineers with very little experience at the nose tackle position. Sophomore Darius Stills, who appeared in nine games last fall will now likely be asked to step into that role. Brendon Thrift, a redshirt junior who transferred in from Penn State last year, will also be available to help fill some of the deficit.
Coach Holgorsen failed to sign any defensive ends in the 2018 signing class and has missed out on several key graduate transfer and junior college players that could have added critical depth and talent. Incoming freshman Dante Stills and Tyrese Allen are listed as defensive tackles by several recruiting services, may be pressed into playing defense end this season. Dante Stills was ranked the 187th best player in the country and the 21st best defensive tackle; making him a possible option to fit in at defensive end for the Mountaineers this fall. While playing for the Fairmont Senior High School Polar Bears, he would often line up across from tight ends and offensive tackles in more a traditional defensive end alignment. Tyrese Allen, an incoming freshman from Paintsville, Kentucky, is listed as a defensive tackle by most recruiting services but just like Stills often played defensive end in high school. Also in the mix to play nose guard will be freshman James Gmiter.
The football staff has tried to add defensive end depth this spring but has been unsuccessful. Preston Gordon, a three year starter for the Rice Owls was looking to transfer this spring and the coaching staff was quick to offer him scholarship. Gordon could have been a fit for the Mountaineers at defensive end or nose guard but on March 10th, he decided to sign with Texas Tech.
With the departures of David Israel and Chris Chugunov, the Mountaineers are now down to three scholarship quarterbacks. This is a big deal because the team will have to go find one or two players to join the team before fall camp. Will Grier is clearly cemented as the starter; with Jack Allison as the backup and Trey Lowe III will hopefully be able to take a redshirt year to develop. The team will need two more arms just to get through passing drills for receivers and to run drills for the defensive backs. The role of scout team quarterback is a very important position in developing an elite defense. The more game realistic the scout team quarterback can make practice, the better the defense will be able to develop. The coaching staff will likely have to find walk-ons to fill this role.
The depth at corner is hardly any better than defensive end but the players have far less experience. There are currently five scholarship corners on the roster with the recent departure of Kevin Williams. To make matters worse, the returning players have only three starts between them. One of these players, Derek Pitts, recently moved to corner from safety but has a pending gun charge from January. This could easily place the team with only four corners for part or the entire season depending on the verdict of his case. Similar to defensive ends, teams typically play more than two corners during a game and this is especially true in the pass heavy Big 12. In certain passing situations defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will have three corners on the field at one time. If there was an injury, it is possible that every corner on scholarship could see meaningful playing time in any given game. With no proven players at cornerback, it seems that it could be a tough season on the backend of the defense.
The Mountaineer staff tried desperately to sign Dominique Harrison, a junior college player from Blinn College for the 2018 recruiting class. The highly touted corner at the last minute decided to go with Arizona State. Harrison as a junior college player showed proven talent and had experience, two things that the West Virginia defensive backfield desperately needs right now.
For all of these positions of need, it is still possible to sign a graduate transfer who decides to leave after the spring. A junior college player that required the spring semester to become academically eligible could also be recruited and signed. It is much harder to find quality players after the spring semester because most recruits have already committed elsewhere. Whatever way you look at it, time is running out for the coaching staff to add much needed depth and talent for the 2018 season.