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We asked a reporter who covers the West Virginia Mountaineers to give us his five things to know about the Gophers opponent in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.
Huge thanks to Christopher Hall of WVU on Sports Illustrated for contributing!
Follow Christopher on Twitter: @WVHallBilly
Doege quietly became second in the Big 12 Conference in passing yards
West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege had an up and down season. At times, he was efficient picking apart opposing defenses such as hitting a Mountaineer career-high 370 yards and three touchdowns in the win over then 22nd-ranked Iowa State but suffered terrible lows, notably only passing for 109 yards against Oklahoma State, and his 11 interceptions are the second-highest total in the conference, two of which went for a pick-six. However, he still ranked second in the Big 12 Conference with 2,908 passing yards, the most since Will Grier tossed for 3,864 yards in 2018, and his 19 touchdowns were good enough for No. 2.
West Virginia regrouped to get to bowl eligibility
After starting the season 2-4 and coming off an abysmal 45-20 road loss to Baylor, the Mountaineers circled the wagons during the bye week and finished the back half of the season 4-2, notching home wins over Iowa State and Texas and on the road versus TCU and Kansas.
100-plus rushing yards equals success
Under the Neal Brown era, West Virginia is 13-0 when rushing for 100 yards or more, including all six wins this season. The Mountaineers average 190.2 yards on the ground in the wins and 65.7 rushing yards in the losses.
Injuries plagued a thin defense
In the first six games of the year, the Mountaineers allowed just 89.3 rushing yards per game but injuries, most particularly at linebacker, began to pile up, allowing 157.0 yards on the ground per game. However, West Virginia will be near full strength. The will be without starting corner Nicktroy Fortune due to an injury he suffered in game seven and BANDIT linebacker VanDarius Cowan, who transferred to Maryland at the conclusion of the season.
Limited experience at tight end
West Virginia came into the season without its starting tight end Mike O’Laughlin for the first two games of the season before losing him for the season just four games later. Then, TJ Banks transferred out of the program following the season. That leaves redshirt freshman Charles Finley. He’s seen limited action, playing in six games on the year but did start in the season finale against Kansas. Also, head coach Neal Brown stated that we will see freshman Viktor Wikstrom who’s only made one appearance on the season.
West Virginia has lacked consistency on offense. They have moments of moving the ball with ease, then a string of mistakes puts them behind the sticks, a loss of field position or even resulting in six points for the opposition. The success has come behind an evolving offensive line and if they can give quarterback Jarret Doege time in the pocket and some space for running back Tony Mathis Jr., it may be enough to keep enough points on the board to stay within striking distance.
However, the Minnesota offense has a significant size advantage against the West Virginia defense and I believe they’ll use it to wear them down after hitting big plays early to put the Mountaineers on their heels.
West Virginia has had costly turnovers this season, sitting with a -8 turnover margin, and I believe it will be the difference in this game. Minnesota’s late touchdown puts the game away 34-24.