MORGANTOWN — The high expectations for WVU’s 2018 football season rest squarely on what Mountaineer fans hope is brewing: a perfect offensive storm.
The head coach, Dana Holgorsen, is a Mike Leach disciple of the high-flying “Air Raid” offense. Holgorsen’s past successes with offenses were why ex-Athletic Director Oliver Luck hired him.
The offensive coordinator, Jake Spavital, has been at Cal, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, in addition to WVU, and likewise has had offensive success. He’s coached a Heisman Trophy winner in Johnny Manziel, as well as professional QBs Davis Webb, Brandon Weeden and Case Keenum.
The 2018 Mountaineer quarterback, Will Grier, is a preseason All-America selection.
A receiver, David Sills V, was an All-America selection last season and a preseason pick this year.
Also, the rest of the receiving corps is strong and the offensive tackles are NFLcaliber.
“I feel good,” Sills said. “I feel we have an older team with a lot of leadership. So I feel good going into the opening game and the rest of the season.”
Spavital acknowledges the pressure any offensive coordinator faces. Yet he also acknowledges how fun this WVU season could turn out.
“It’s fun,” Spavital said. “But you still have to stay true to the game. I know of people, when they have good returning talent, that go through the motions. That’s not what our coaching staff is doing. We’re making sure we have the right amount of film study and preparation to make sure these kids are put in the right spot. They have the ability to do something special if they stay close together and on course.”
Ask Sills if he feels comfortable with the personnel around him.
“Absolutely,” said the wideout. “I feel good with everyone we have offensively. I feel we’re in a very good spot. A lot of guys have improved from last year.”
Sills gave Spavital credit.
“He’s very hands-on with the players,” Sills said. “He has a good relationship with pretty much everyone on offense. He wants to have that. He wants feedback from the players.
“We’ve had a great relationship and it’s grown. He’s in here every day like we are, grinding, trying to be the best.
“A lot of players see that and respect that.”
They’ve noted Spavital’s long hours.
“Even last year he was a grinder and worker,” Sills said. “He stayed here all summer. He was in the office watching film, seeing how he could get better from last year. He pretty much has the same mindset as we have to get better.”
With the personnel pieces in place, though, one wonders what the big picture will look like.
“I think you’re going to see a lot of similarities to last year,” Spavital said. “There aren’t many new faces, which is comforting from a coaching standpoint. But you’re going to see a lot of different twists and little nuances. ... You evolve your offense based on the studies you’ve made in the offseason. So you’ll see a lot of different looks, but you’ll see the same faces. I think it’s an exciting brand of football. I can’t wait to watch these kids go out there and play.”
“I wouldn’t say we’ll be different,” Sills added. “But there are definitely things we want to improve on. We want to be a more efficient offense. We don’t just want to be the ‘big-play offense.’ We worked a lot on that.
“It’s not going to be much different. We know what our bread and butter is and what we’re good at. That’s what we’re going to continue to do.”
The key, both know, wears No. 7: Grier.
“He was good in every area of his game last year,” Sills said. “I can just see he’s improved on every area this year. The biggest thing that makes him so good is his playmaking ability. When the bullets are flying, he can make a play with his feet or do something like that. I definitely expect some huge plays out of him this week.”
The Mountaineers are a 10-point favorite Saturday for their 3:30 p.m. CBS (WOWK-13) game against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“I’m curious to see how we respond to adversity,” Spavital said. “That’s the beauty of this game: Not everything goes as planned. You wish it did, but it doesn’t.”
No. 17 WEST VIRGINIA vs. TENNESSEE
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.
Radio: WWQB 102.3-FM