5. West Virginia: Running Game Passes Test
Coach Dana Holgorsen knows he gets Oklahoma in the second game, so he picks Florida State transfer Clint Trickett as his starting quarterback. Trickett, the most experienced and best leader among three options, makes it work and hands the ball off about 50 times in the heat in Norman for an upset as the Mountaineers do what they did a year ago and run all over the Sooners.
This time, it’s not Tavon Austin, but a rejuvenated Dustin Garrison, who’s finally himself again after tearing an ACL in December 2011, and big junior college back Dreamius Smith.
The rest of the non-conference schedule is easy and Trickett is settled in and developing junior college receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford and freshman Sheldon Gibson while the Mountaineers continue to give opponents fits with a more rugged running style with Stanford’s old offensive line coach, Ron Crook.
WVU doesn’t get cozy with a schedule that won’t keep them home in consecutive weeks all season, but gets through a rough stretch in the middle in good shape and manages to beat Texas in a defensive struggle before a crazy crowd.
Trickett is a good housekeeper who avoids mistakes and keeps the team in favorable positions. Garrison and Smith both top 700 yards rushing and help keep a third running back, Andrew Buie, healthy and effective while left tackle Quinton Spain plays at a professional level.
The defense is wildly improved under new coordinator Keith Patterson and the Mountaineers lead the league in sacks, thanks in large part to a swarm of junior college transfers – Dontrill Hyman, Brandon Golson and D’Vante Henry. The cornerback position is again a problem, but there are more bodies and they can play more physical and aggressive and they don’t embarrass themselves quite the same. The difference is the play of safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook, who are active against the pass and run and battle one another for all-conference honors.