For the majority of fall camp, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen and the rest of his coaching staff have downplayed talks of preparation for the Mountaineers’ season opener against preseason-No.2 Alabama.
Although the focus of fall camp is often evaluating talent and establishing a depth chart, a game of this magnitude has to be in the back of every player and coach’s mind.
The main question going around Morgantown right now is whether or not the Mountaineers can beat – or even compete with – the Crimson Tide.
My answer , in short: Yes.
West Virginia now has something that it lacked – and desperately needed – last season: A leader at quarterback. Redshirt senior Clint Trickett said he feels much more comfortable with the offense in his second year with the program. He has said he has taken the necessary steps to becoming a leader.
Trickett, who has a plethora of talented playmakers at his disposal, will need to make good decisions in the passing game and limit turnovers against an elite Alabama defense. Interceptions plagued the Mountaineers last season, and there will be very little room for error against the Crimson Tide.
Alabama’s defensive backs struggled last season against up-tempo, spread offenses and will be relatively young and inexperienced at the cornerback position.
Although Alabama head coach Nick Saban is the best in the game at replacing elite talent with top-ranked recruits, I like an experienced Trickett’s odds against a true freshman cornerback.
Paired with one of the nation’s most talented group of running backs, I believe West Virginia’s offense will be able to move the ball against a relatively young Alabama defense.
On defense, junior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is a tackling machine (86 tackles in 2013), and anchors a talented group of linebackers.
The Crimson Tide run more of a traditional, pro-style offense, and Kwiatkoski is the ideal middle linebacker to counteract it.
Alabama will break in a new quarterback, while the Mountaineers return several ballhawks in the secondary. Sophomore Daryl Worley is probably the most talented of the group, and is the defense’s vocal leader. I look for Worley to force at least one interception from an inexperienced quarterback.
With Alabama more than likely starting a true freshman at left tackle, I believe first-year defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s multischeme defense can get after the quarterback and force a few turnovers.
The talent and leadership is in place for West Virginia to earn a milestone victory against the Crimson Tide. Winning the turnover battle will be essential in pulling off the upset.
If history has proved anything, the Mountaineers perform at their best on the big stage.
“Is it a challenge? Yes, but we look forward to challenges,” Holgorsen said.