That time of the year is finally upon us. Football season! Saturday evening, the West Virginia Mountaineers kick off their 2015 campaign against the Georgia Southern Eagles.
The Mountaineers start the season coming off of a disappointing 47-35 loss to Texas A&M in the Autozone Liberty Bowl, but the Mountaineers are more than confident about their chances in 2015 as they bring back one of Dana Holgerson’s most experienced teams.
On offense, the Mountaineers return 10 players who have started in at least one game, including the dynamic running back duo of Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell. The two junior running backs combined for a total of 1,510 yards on 324 carries and 9 touchdowns in 2014. With the departure of 1st round draft pick Kevin White and 7th rounder Mario Alford at wide receiver, WVU may rely more heavily on their experienced running backs to carry the load in 2015. However, there is much to look forward to with Skyler Howard coming in as the starting quarterback for the Mountaineers in his second year learning Holgerson’s system.
On defense, WVU brings back what could be Holgerson’s best defensive lineup to date. The Mountaineers return 12 players who started in a game. In 2014, the Mountaineers ranked No. 9 nationally on getting opponent’s offenses off the field following the 3rd down and were No. 15 in the nation forcing three-and-out possessions. Top performers to watch for include the senior hard-hitting safety, Karl Joseph and the Mountaineers top tackler for the past two seasons, Nick Kwiatkoski.
On the opposite sideline, the upset-minded Georgia Southern Eagles are confident entering 2015 after finishing a perfect 8-0 in the Sun Belt conference and having a very successful first year as a Division 1 level football program.
It is safe to assume for WVU that Georgia Southern could be a trap game if they are not up to the task of defending the run. The Eagles bring an explosive rush offense to Mountaineer field that amassed a staggering 4,573 yards and ranked No. 1 nationally in rush yards per game at 381.1yds/gm in 2014.
The Eagles will be without their starting quarterback, Kevin Ellison who accounted for 1,096 of their total rushing yards last season. However, his absence should not provide WVU many advantages. He will be replaced by Favian Upshaw who is also a duel threat quarterback. Although Upshaw had only 40 carries all of last season, he was able to produce 385 yards and 2 touchdowns in his limited action. Upshaw also completed 70% of his 27 pass attempts for 285 yards and 2 touchdowns.
In addition to Georgia Southern’s inflated 2014 statistics, they are no stranger to pulling upsets, or coming within just a few points of doing so. In 2013, the Eagles knocked off SEC power Florida 26-20 in “The Swamp” and in 2014 lost by a narrow margin to North Carolina State 24-23 and the eventual ACC Coastal Champions Georgia Tech by a score of 42-38.
Kickoff is at 7:30pm Saturday night.