Big 12: Dakiel Shorts

Season report card: West Virginia

January, 14, 2014
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.

Offense: C-

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.

Defense: D-

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.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTailback Charles Sims was one of the few bright spots on the Mountaineers' offense in 2013.
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.

Overall: D

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.

Freshmen impact in the Big 12

September, 25, 2013

Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Texas Tech signal-caller Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, has been the surprise of the Big 12 thus far.
1. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders practically earn this top spot by default by relying on two true freshmen at quarterback. Baker Mayfield made a big first impression, but it seems the battle is opening back up after two solid games from freshman Davis Webb, and the imminent return of Michael Brewer. Still, going 4-0 with two rookies behind center makes coach Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch a worthy No. 1 on this list.

Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.

2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.

Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.

3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.

A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.

Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.

5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.