This week’s Q&A feature’s Matt Kirchner of Smoking Musket, SB Nation’s West Virginia site. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Matt!
Jack: West Virginia doesn’t seem to be getting much respect from the College Football Playoff committee. Many cite the Mountaineers’ sub-par schedule, but plenty of teams ranked ahead of them are in the same boat. What’s your opinion of the ranking?
Matt: Frankly, it's gotten a bit comical at this point. Our resume isn't the greatest, but we've played at a high level all year long and seeing these two and three loss teams ahead of us is a slap in the face to the effort of these kids.
Hopefully, Holgo had been able use this to light a fire under this team. West Virginia has always played better with a chip on their shoulder and we've got a great opportunity in front of us here.
Jack: Skyler Howard struggled at times last season, but he’s had nearly a 10 percent improvement in completion percentage in 2016. What do you think accounts for this? Has the offensive scheme been adjusted to suit his strengths?
Matt: Holgo's quarterbacks seem to always take a big leap in year two. We saw it with Clint Trickett and we're seeing it with Skyler this year.
Now, he definitely has his Bad Skyler moments but the bulk of those come on the road. He has a great grasp of the offense now, but will still occasionally try to play outside of the scheme and that’s where problems happen.
Jack: The Mountaineers are averaging a solid five yards per carry this season. It seems like Rushel Shell has been a staple of the West Virginia backfield for years (even though he played a year at Pitt), but WVU has had some new guys step up this season. How do Shell, Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy compliment each other in the backfield?
Matt: It's a fantastic rotation and our offense generally goes as the run game goes. Shell is the bell cow and in an ideal world he takes 20-25 carries and opens up big playaction potential while the other two serve as change of pace options. Crawford is great out of the backfield.
There's injury concerns with both Shell and Crawford, but McKoy has been phenomenal in full time duty. He has future All Big 12 all over him.
With the injuries, there's a chance we see Martell "Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken" Pettaway burn his RS this weekend.
Jack: At the receiver position, Daikiel Shorts leads the way with 51 receptions for 753 yards, and Shelton Gibson is averaging 20 yards per reception and leads the team with six touchdown grabs. Outside of those two, who should Sooner fans know about in West Virginia’s passing offense?
Matt: Ka'Raun "Kevin's Brother" White is our other downfield threat and we've used Jovon Durante as a speed option in the slot and run a lot of plays we used to run for Tavon to him.
Jack: West Virginia’s defense has shut down some of the best offenses in the conference (and, therefore, the country) this season. Why is this defense the only one that seems to be able to stop anyone in this league?
Matt: This unit goes all out on every down, whether it's bringing seven amd dropping eight. The 3-3-5 is incredibly hard to figure out for QBs as it lets us disguise a ton.
Our best pros are on this defense and that’s not even factoring in our best defender, Dravon Henry, who hurt his knee in fall camp.
Jack: We’re expecting some rough weather in Morgantown this weekend, with potentially some freezing temperatures and precipitation. Do you think that bodes well for the Mountaineers, or will it favor OU?
Matt: I really don't buy into the weather effecting one team over the other. These are both spread teams who run. It'll be a factor but I don't think it goes in one team's favor.
Jack: Traditions are what separate college football from anything else in the sporting world, and West Virginia fans have made a tradition out of burning couches. When did this start? How prevalent is this practice? Have you every burned a couch?
Matt: Pull up a seat and let me tell you our greatest secret.
It's not known to many, but Morgantown used to be a dystopian wasteland ruled by evil, humanized couches known as the Ottoman Empire (no relation). The dark times are still known in Morgantown by virtue of the infinite potholes, the last relics of a great war.
In the 80s, a revolutionary by the name of Don Nehlen made his way south to Morgantown and began the great war. With the help of his greatest solider, Major Harris (now known only by rank), he drove the dictators out of Morgantown and ushered in the Golden Age.
Now, in remembrance of that great victory we set couches ablaze whenever other great victories are achieved. Only the drunkest of frat boys carry the honor of Torch Bearers.
And now you know our story. You are one of only a few.
Jack: Plenty of Oklahoma fans will be traveling to this one despite the long trek. What are some of the activities, nightlife establishments and restaurants you would recommend to fans that are visiting Morgantown for the first time?
Matt: Our very own David Smith covers this in his visitor guide series over at the Musket. He says it all better than I can, so I'll cede the floor to Smitty.
Jack: What do you think West Virginia has to do in order to pull out a win this weekend? What is your final score prediction.
Matt: WVU will be ready and this will be a battle. I think we'll need the #DAWGS to pull out a heroic defensive performance and perhaps score. Bad Skyler cannot show up, even for a series or two. Him being a strong field general all night long is imperative to our chances of success.
It'll be one of the hardest fought games in Morgantown history but I think we pull it out 31-28.