- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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It was a rough season at West Virginia.
Replacing talented players like Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin would have tested any program, and the Mountaineers struggled to overcome the loss of NFL draft picks from their offense. The defense took one step forward, then one step back. The result was an up-and-down season which ended in the most disappointing fashion with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State after WVU looked poised to earn a bowl appearance.
The Mountaineers finished in the bottom half of the conference in several categories and never looked like an offense that could scare Big 12 defenses. The execution was lacking as coach Dana Holgorsen tried to integrate inexperienced players into his offensive attack.
Imagine WVU’s offense without Charles Sims. Yikes. The Houston transfer rushed for 1,095 yards, averaged 5.3 yards per carry and caught 45 passes, tied for the team lead. The Big 12 newcomer of the year was one of the most explosive players in the conference and the clear headliner of the team's offense.
A lot of the Mountaineers' offensive struggles were rooted in their quarterback play. Clint Trickett and Paul Millard both passed for over 1,000 yards but neither completed more than 56 percent of their passes. By comparison, Smith completed 71.2 percent of his passes in 2012.
There’s talent at receiver with Kevin White, Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford, but the wideouts were just as inconsistent as the quarterbacks. There’s reason for hope at the position but it won’t matter if the young receivers don’t learn and mature after a season's worth of experience.
WVU finished among in the bottom three of the Big 12 in nearly every category including points allowed (33.3, 9th), yards (455, 9th), yards per play (5.9, 9th) and third down conversions allowed (42.7 percent, 10th). The only reason the Mountaineers' defense escaped an "F" was a couple key stretches of strong play including games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
Worse yet, WVU’s defense got worse as the season progressed, not better. There was some talent on the defense, including Will Clarke and Darwin Cook, but they weren’t productive and efficient as a unit despite featuring some quality athletes.
Nonetheless there are some talented defenders returning in 2014. including cornerback Daryl Worley. who could develop into an All-Big 12 performer before his career is over.
Special Teams: B
Outside of their return game, the Mountaineers 'special teams units were pretty solid. WVU finished among the top three in the Big 12 in several key categories including net punting, opponent starting position and opponent punt return average.
WVU’s special teams finished with 6.07 expected points added and was the lone unit of the three (offense, defense, special teams) that finished with a positive expected points added for the season.
The Mountaineers dropped to a D after they played their way out of a bowl game with losses to Iowa State and Kansas. WVU looked to be moving in the right direction after a road win at TCU then promptly lost a winnable home game against Texas before the losses to the Jayhawks and Cyclones. There was a thin line between hope for 2014 and a holiday season full of disappointment.