SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  West Virginia Mountaineers

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Rich Rodriguez (3rd year, 12-12)
2002 record: 9-4 (Lost to Virginia 48-22 in Continental Tire Bowl)
Big East finish: 2nd
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 283.6 ypg
(1st in Big East, 2nd in nation)
Pass: 134.8 ypg (8th, 108th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 121.8 ypg (4th, 30th)
Pass: 213.6 ypg (6th, 55th)
Projected Starters
Offense (4 returning starters in bold)
WR  18  Travis Garvin  Sr. 
WR   83   Miquelle Henderson   Jr.  
WR  85  Dee Alston  So. 
WR  80  Aaron Neal  Sr. 
LT  Mike Watson  Jr. 
LG   68   Jeff Berk   Jr.  
67  Ben Timmons  Sr. 
RG  61  Geoff Lewis  Sr. 
RT   60   Tim Brown   Sr.  
TE  44  Tory Johnson  Sr. 
QB   2   Rasheed Marshall   Jr.  
RB  Quincy Wilson  Sr. 
Defense (4)
DE  92  Ben Lynch  Jr. 
DT  99  Ernest Hunter  So. 
DE  96  Fred Blueford  Sr. 
RLB  52  Leandre Washington  Sr. 
MLB  91  Adam Lehnortt  Jr. 
LLB   6   Grant Wiley   Sr.  
BAN   48   Jahmile Addae   Jr.  
CB   11   Brian King   Sr.  
CB   19   Lance Frazier   Sr.  
SS  23  Mike Lorello  So. 
FS  37  Anthony Mims  So. 
Special Teams
Brad Cooper  Jr. 
38  Todd James  Sr. 
KR  20  Cassel Smith  Sr. 
PR  19  Lance Frazier  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Wisconsin 
Sept. 6  at East Carolina 
Sept. 13  Cincinnati 
Sept. 20  at Maryland 
Oct. 2  at Miami 
Oct. 11  Rutgers 
Oct. 22  Virginia Tech 
Nov. 1  UCF 
Nov. 8  at Boston College 
Nov. 15  Pittsburgh 
Nov. 22  at Syracuse 
Nov. 29  Temple 
When West Virginia hired Rich Rodriguez, Mountaineer fans expected to see footballs flying. But a funny thing happened on the way to last season's second-place finish in the Big East: Rodriguez went to a power spread, and WVU finished 2002 as the nation's second-best rushing team.

This season, WVU is again expected to run to success. Rasheed Marshall is one of the country's fastest quarterbacks. Tailback Quincy Wilson, son of ex-Chicago Bear Otis Wilson, is strong. The Mountaineers also have Eddie George lookalike Kay-Jay Harris, a five-star juco recruit, waiting in the wings.

Defensively, West Virginia has been tinkering with its surprisingly effective 3-3 stack. "We put in a lot during the spring and everybody adapted to it pretty well," said linebacker Grant Wiley, the heart of the WVU defense.

Concerns include Marshall's touch passes, a questionable receiving corps and depth along both lines. But after last season's turnaround (from 3-8 to 9-4, tied for the country's best), expectations are running high in Morgantown.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Marshall's ability to elude mistakes as well as tacklers gives the Mountaineers an edge.

Despite losing Avon Cobourne, the Big East's all-time rushing leader, Rodriguez said WVU is "probably as talented at that position as we've ever been." Wilson is No. 1, but if Harris can catch on quickly enough, expect West Virginia to put both Wilson and Harris in the same backfield. If not, the Mountaineers have a weapon at fullback in Moe Fofana.

Receivers Miquelle Henderson and Travis Garvin had good springs. The receiver who has to come through, though, is Aaron Neal. He makes acrobatic catches but isn't physical enough.

At tight end, WVU is strong with athletic Tory Johnson and dependable Josh Bailey.

WVU offensive line coach Rick Trickett is still experimenting with his group. The most pressing issue: find a dependable center. Trickett was toying with junior college transfer Mike Watson at left tackle and hopes to leave standout Tim Brown at right tackle.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The defensive front may be the biggest area of concern. Perhaps the strongest player scheduled to start is nose guard Ernest Hunter. The problem? He's just 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds. Ben Lynch, Fred Blueford and Warren Young will play on either side of Hunter. Lynch may be the team's best pass rusher, but he has to get tougher.

WVU may have question marks at linebacker, but Wiley isn't one of them. "He has a great feel for the game," said Rodriguez. "He runs well. He's strong. He's confident. He's tough. He has great instincts."

In the 3-3 stack, WVU relies on two cornerbacks, a free safety and two "outside safety" positions called the spur and bandit.

During the spring, Rodriguez tried Brian King, star of last season's Virginia Tech victory, at free safety. In the end, though, Anthony Mims was standing as the No. 1 free safety with King back at cornerback. The Mountaineers have two other talented corners in veteran Lance Frazier and sophomore Adam "Pac-Man" Jones.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Last season, Todd James kicked and punted. This season, Rodriguez's idea is to have the senior simply punt. Casey Welch, Brad Cooper and Andy Good will vie for the kicking job.

As for returning punts, look for Frazier or Jones. Neal, Cassel Smith and Jubal Thomas are all candidates to return kicks.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

West Virginia has the runners. The question is whether Rodriguez's faith in his rebuilt offensive line is warranted. Also, Marshall and his receiving corps have to improve the passing game. If they can, West Virginia should again have success.

Defensively, the line is young, but Wiley and a solid secondary should be able to cover for the front. A key game will be the home opener against Wisconsin, which dismantled the Mountaineers last season in Madison. The game pits WVU against a Big Ten opponent and follows the Mountaineers' dismal bowl performance. The West Virginia faithful, on a high after a 9-3 regular season, helped sell out the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte. Then, before 73,535, Virginia blew out the Mountaineers, 48-22.

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