The Georgia Sports Blog continues its Spring Practice look around the country by venturing beyond the SEC to look at other top ranked preseason programs. Today, we spend some time with Johnny Arrrr of the Mountain Lair talking about West Virginia. As always the photos and captions are from Westerdawg.
PWD: Many of the pre-pre-season pubs have you guys in the Top 5-10. Much of that is based on the jaw dropping first quarter of the Sugar Bowl. How realistic is it that WVU will finish that high?
JA: No one is as good as WV was in the first quarter and a half of the Sugar Bowl. WV wasn't that good most of the year, and it would be foolish to think they could repeat that kind of performance over a 12 game schedule. There were a ton of expectations for WV 2 years ago, with Pac Man Jones, Chris Henry, and Rasheed Marshall. That team expected everyone to lay down for them, and ended up getting their butts kicked. It will be important for this team to stay focused and hungry.
The only positive moment for Georgia defensively in the Sugar Bowl.
Considering the number of starters WVU has returning, and the relatively easy schedule, I think anything less than a top 10 finish would be a failure. With a schedule like that, any loss will be devastating. Probably more so than for a top flight team from one of the power conferences. The one game WV must win, and convincingly if possible will be the Louisville game. I expect Louisville to be better than last year simply because they were expected to roll over the Big East and it didn't happen. They will be very talented and hungry.
Expectations are flaming in Morgantown
PWD: In the Georgia game, it looked like you guys had serious problems in the defensive secondary. What is being done to resolve that for 2006?
JA: Well, we lost Lorello (fs), Addae (ss), and McCain (cb) to graduation. What the returning starters and newcomers lack in experience, they make up for in speed. The real key, and something Rodriguez talked about constantly last year, was an improved pass rush. WV only recorded 29 sacks last year, and you have to look back at the competition and realize that we didn't go against too many good offensive lines last year, present company excluded. I expect Johnny Dingle, a transfer from Florida, to help out with that this year. The defensive line and linebackers return most of the starters. That being said, I expect a few more blitz packages to be installed.
Clearly WVU has speed on offense, but do they have the DBs?
PWD: What is the off-season story that the mainstream media hasn't written yet about WVU? What should they be writing about?
JA: I think the last question you asked is one that more media types should be asking. Everyone knows Pat White and Steve Slaton, and it is all anyone talks about. Kind of like before the 2004 season. You need to be strong in all areas to compete for a national championship. The secondary will make or break this team when we face Louisville. Last years seniors were the last of the Nehlen recruits, this is Coach Rod's team now. One thing I have heard that might surprise you is that a redshirt freshman quarterback, Jarrett Brown, might have the skills to replace Pat White.
I have to admit, when they busted into Country Roads pre-game I was in stitches.
PWD: Heading into the Spring, what are the areas that concern you most about WVU for 2006?
JA: Outside of the secondary, I would say replacing the two starting offensive tackles. There is good depth at the offensive line, but the chemistry has to be there. When you only run two or three different running plays a game, the blocking has to be precise. Pat White needs to be a more complete passer to really open this offense up. Recruiting has to be a major emphasis this year as well. By the time the Sugar Bowl came around, most guys had made up their mind where they were going. We need to capitalize on that win with a strong regular season. People know the name now. We can't afford to lay an egg on TV.
Embrace the flaming couch
PWD: What areas are you most confident about?
JA: Running backs! The two guys that back up Slayton were starters in 2004. You don't hear much about him, but our fullback, Owen Schmitt, is a horse, and he can run the ball as good as any fullback in the country. He's good enough to take snaps at running back if we need him. There is a great deal of depth at the wide receiver and quarterback positions as well.
If my freshman RB was Slaton, I'd be confident too.
PWD: Where will WVU start the season on your preseason Blog Poll ballot?
JA: I plan to put them at #10. Being in the Big East, they won't see a lot of heavy competition. Putting them any higher makes me think about the year BYU won the national championship without really playing anyone. If they can run the table, they will be there at the end of the year, and at least the BCS guarantees they will play a top 10 team in a bowl. Yeah, I know, I'm thinking about Florida St. too.
Coach Rod leads WVU into a season with high expectations.
PWD: What is the key to WVU's 2006?
JA: From the inside looking out, they need to stay hungry and ignore all the pre-season hype that will follow them around. There are a couple guys on the team that could start anywhere in the country, but not nearly enough to abandon the team first concept that got them through last year.
From the outside looking in, they need to beat Louisville. They can, and they really should beat everyone else on the schedule. But Louisville will make or break them on the road to a national title.
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Huge thanks to Johnny from the Mountain Lair for the thoughts.
Note: Spring previews for Tech, Tennessee, Florida and Texas are also available. More on on the horizon.