The West Virginia University football team has a personnel problem.
It comes at perhaps the worst time of the season for the Mountaineers, with a trip to mighty Oklahoma due up next for WVU, and was on full display during Saturday’s lopsided loss to visiting Iowa State.
It starts at the quarterback position, but it goes much deeper than that.
Austin Kendall got hit hard while attempting to make a throw during West Virginia’s first possession against the Cyclones and missed the rest of the game with what head coach Neal Brown called an injury to his “chest area.”
That meant the Mountaineers had to go with the backup, redshirt junior Jack Allison in this case, and the results were bad. Allison looked competent at times in the first half Saturday, but once ISU figured him out it was all bad news for WVU as the Cyclones pulled away in the second half.
We should find out the verdict on Kendall’s injury in the next few days, but if he is out an extended period of time, the already bleak outlook for the rest of West Virginia’s season gets even worse. Allison clearly isn’t the answer at quarterback, and if Brown elects to stick with him the Mountaineers might not win another game in 2019.
Could Trey Lowe or Bowling Green transfer Jarret Doege be the answer? That’s hard to say, but trotting Allison out for any extended period of time would be waving the white flag on West Virginia’s season and I don’t think that’s in Brown’s nature.
The running back position has been a big problem for WVU this season, too. Brown told the media after Saturday’s loss that the plan for senior Martell Pettaway, barring any injuries at the position, is to redshirt this season. Coming into the season, running back was thought to be one of, if not the strongest, position group the Mountaineers possessed. Once the games got started it has been anything but.
Senior Kennedy McKoy gets the bulk of the carries, and he’s not getting the job done. Some of that is on the offensive line, which was certainly not at its best Saturday against Iowa State, but a failure to get the run game going is not an isolated incident. Sophomore Leddie Brown looks like West Virginia’s best option at running back, and with Pettaway presumably on the shelf for the rest of the season and Alec Sinkfield — when healthy — not factoring into the run game much at all, it might be time to put Leddie in the lead role there.
More than just the issues at quarterback and running back, this West Virginia team is very young. Need proof? With Keith Washington on the shelf with a leg injury and Hakeem Bailey in the locker room after a targeting ejection Saturday, the Mountaineers were playing true freshman, Nicktroy Fortune and Tavian Mayo, at both cornerback positions — a prospect that likely has Oklahoma receivers CeeDee Lamb and Charleston Rambo licking their chops ahead of the Mountaineers trip to Norman.
Throw in Tykee Smith — the starter at spear after JoVanni Stewart bailed on the team for the transfer portal — along with Kerry Martin Jr., who sees plenty of playing time at free safety, and Jordan Jefferson on the defensive line and there are a lot of guys who were playing high school ball this time last year seeing significant snaps for the WVU defense.
That should pay off in the long run, with all of those players gaining some valuable experience in the early stages of their college careers, but in the present, with the Sooners on deck, it seems like it could be a problem.
There have certainly been bright spots — T.J. Simmons emerging as a reliable target at receiver no matter who the quarterback is and finding what appears to be a potential four-year starter at center in Briason Mays, for example — and maybe the Mountaineers were doomed to the fate of a losing record even before the personnel problems. Neal Brown has done a very good job of adjusting game plans and managing the depth chart so far, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that the 2019 season is slipping away from the Mountaineers — if it’s not gone already.