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2019 Season Opponents Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

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Mizzou still goes head-to-head against Neal Brown, just not in the way we thought it would happen

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Head Coach Neal Brown, 1st year

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Overall Record: 35-16 (23-9)

School Record: 0-0

Offensive Coordinator: Chad Scott – 1st year (former Louisville RBs coach) & Matt Moore – 1st year (former Troy Co-OC/OL coach)

Defensive Coordinator: Vic Koenning – 1st year (former Troy DC/Safeties)

Last Game Against Mizzou: 2016 at Milan Puskar Stadium, won 26-11

This Year: Faurot Field – Columbia, MO – September 7th, 11a

Projected Overall S&P+ Rank: 38th

Projected Offensive S&P+ Rank: 19th

Projected Defensive S&P+ Rank: 77th

Returning Production: 54% – 42% Offense, 67% Defense (105th in the nation)

Offensive Players to Watch

-Jack Allison – QB – R-JR: 23-45 (51.1%)/352 yards/1 TD/2 INTs/4 sacks/6.5 YPA

-Kennedy McKoy – RB – SR: 145 rushes/802 yards/8 TDs/5.53 ypc/50.3% OPP Rate/1 fumble

-21 targets/17 catches (81%)/224 yards/1 TD/13.2 ypc/10.7 ypt/4.8% TR

-T.J. Simmons – WR – JR: 46 targets/28 targets/341 yards (60.9%)/1 TD/12.2 ypc/7.4 ypt/10.6% TR

Defensive Players to Watch

-Reese Donahue – DT – SR: 18.5 tackles/13 solo/2 TFLs/1 sack/0 INTs/0 PBUs/0 FFs/10.8% HAVOC

-Shea Campbell – MLB – SR: 32.5 tackles/25 solo/4.5 TFLs/1 sack/1 INT/1 PBU/0 FFs/20% HAVOC

-Josh Norwood – CB – SR: 54.5 tackles/47 solo/4 TFLs/0 sacks/0 INTs/11 PBUs/2 FFs/31.2% HAVOC

Preview

West Virginia has had quite the journey since they last played Missouri. After they played spoiler to the debut of the Odom-era, they went on to win 25 games, challenge for the Big XII crown twice, have both a legitimate Heisman contender and Biletnikoff contender…and had their coach willingly leave for a G5 team. Quite a journey, eh? Dana Holgorsen replaced Bill Stewart in 2011 after the latter had requested that the media dig up dirt on the former and smear his name in public. Now, aside from the fact that anyone familiar with college football already knows the roguish tendencies of the sport’s favorite be-skulleted air raid disciple, the act was enough for Holgorsen to be rushed to the HC’s office and take over a talented team that won 10 games. However, the 2012-2014 campaigns were lackluster and, even with a 10-win 2016, the Morgantown natives were restless and Holgorsen seemed to not want to go through the pressure of another rebuild after losing two NFL talents in Will Grier and David Sills V. Add in the fact that Houston tapped into their oil-mogul slush fund to woo the former Texan back to familiar turf, and we found the Mountaineers rebuilding with a new regime. Despite the fact that West Virginia entered the 2018 coaching carousel relatively late, they benefited from other programs overthinking (and embracing the philosophy of hiring the best coaches of the early 2000s), and were able to scoop up Neal Brown, one of the foremost up-and-coming coaching commodities in the country.

Brown was a super young offensive coordinator at both Texas Tech (under Tommy Tuberville) and Kentucky (under Mark Stoops) before getting the head gig at Troy. Kentucky was certainly not sad to see him go (and his time there apparently eliminated him from the possibility of becoming Louisville’s next HC), but he proved his coaching bonafides by taking a Troy team that had grown complacent in Larry Blakeney’s final years and took them to 4, 10, 11, and 10-win seasons. In that time, they put a scare into #2 Clemson in 2017, outright beat LSU in Baton Rouge, claimed a Sun Belt championship, and won all 3 bowl games they qualified for. While Brown’s reputation is based off a modified air-raid offense, his calling card at Troy was always super tough defenses, ranking 89th, 43rd, 39th, and 48th in S&P+.

NCAA Football: Camping World Bowl-West Virginia vs Syracuse Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

So, what does Brown and his staff inherit? Well…. not much. That have the 105th most returning production in the nation, with less than half of the production on the offensive side returning. They have 4 quarterbacks (2 of them transfers) but, as of this week, none has stepped up to claim the QB1 throne. Jack Allison has been around the program the longest but that doesn’t matter when a new regime is in charge. Bowling Green transfer QB Jarret Doege has his eligibility in NCAA limbo and is unable to be relied upon starting this year (despite having by far the most experience), and Austin Kendall, while apparently having tremendous loyalty of the locker room, has yet to show it in practice. The offense returns two linemen that started every game, but lose 1st Team All- Big XII and NFL draft pick Yodny Cajuste, as well as three other starters. And while Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway bring back a combined 1,400+ yards rushing, the pass game is starting over whole cloth, with 1 of their top 5 receivers returning (T.J. Simmons and his whopping 341 receiving yards).

The defensive side of the ball isn’t much better, and new coordinator Vic Koenning is transitioning the defense from a 3-3-5 to a 4-2-5. The line played 8 guys but the top 3 are gone and the backups really didn’t do much damage. The linebackers lose their biggest playmaker in David Long and, while Shea Campbell was a good battery mate, Long alone accounted for over 14% of the team’s total tackles and had 7 sacks, with only one other player contributing more than 5% of the team’s tackles and none logging more than 1 sack. That player who had more than 5% of the team’s tackles is cornerback Josh Norwood, a legitimate playmaker who somehow broke up 11 passes without intercepting a single one, but also logged 47 solo tackles and 4 TFLs. His partner at corner, Keith Washington, Jr., returns as well, but they’ll be breaking in new safeties on the back-end which doesn’t bode well for a 4-2-5 scheme. The defense does return more than the offense does, but it’s not a guarantee that they’ll improve much beyond their 76th rating in S&P+ last year without some huge leaps in development.

You should never count on Missouri easily beating a fellow P5 team handily, but this is about as close as you can get. New staff, new players at the most important positions (QB, receiver, d-line, safety), and their first road trip being the home opener to a veteran Tiger squad. Keep in mind that West Virginia opens the week before with James Madison and the Dukes are not only consistent FCS Playoff participants, but won the whole damn thing in 2016. What am I saying? Oh, nothing. Just that there’s a chance that a new staff doesn’t get their new players rounded into form in the opener then has to trek to the midwest to face a team waiting to make a statement. But let’s not jump ahead. Any P5 team is dangerous until proven otherwise, but this is a great chance for Missouri to show what it can do against a power conference peer.