Threat Assessment: A deep dive into the Mountaineers before week 4

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Opponent: West Virginia

Record: 2-1

Threat level (1-10): 7

Rundown:

If the Mountaineers can find a way to hold onto the football, they could be a pretty good team this year. Through just three games, they have coughed up four fumbles and three interceptions and rank 124th in the FBS in turnovers lost.

Takeaways proved to be the difference-maker in week one. West Virginia was perfectly capable of knocking off Maryland, going 4-5 in the red zone and starting with terrific field position after 217 return yards. But a muffed kickoff return and a pair of Jarret Doege interceptions spotted the Terrapins an extra three possessions and the 30-24 win.

Much like Oklahoma against Tulane and Nebraska, West Virginia grabbed a big lead against Virginia Tech before the Hokies clawed their way back into it. The passing game dried up in the second half, and the Mountaineers survived by bludgeoning VT quarterback Braxton Burmeister with six sacks.

Strength: Rush defense

WVU allows a meager 2.6 yards per rushing attempt.

Weakness: Ball security

At -6, the Mountaineers hold the second-worst turnover margin in the FBS.

Monitor:

Redshirt freshman quarterback Garrett Green. Head coach Neal Brown likes to incorporate him in running situations.

Up Next: Leddie Brown

Sep 11, 2021; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers running back Leddie Brown (4) runs for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Long Island Sharks at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Leddie Brown, RB

West Virginia views Leddie Brown as a genuine extension of the passing game. Brown has the second-most receptions on the team (9) for 92 yards and a touchdown. The Mountaineers actively seek ways to place the ball in Browns’ hands in space with screens and passes to the flat.

Of course, Brown is at his best as a rusher. His five ground touchdowns tie Baylor’s Abram Smith and Kansas State’s Duce Vaughn at the top of the conference standings.

Up Next: Sam James & Sean Ryan

Sep 18, 2021; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Sam James (13) celebrates a first down during the second quarter against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Sam James & Sean Ryan, WRs

Sam James leads the team — and the Big 12 — with three touchdown receptions. In week two, James took two of his three catches to the house against Long Island University and shrugged off a Hokie defender for a third touchdown on Saturday.

Although the season is still young, the redshirt junior is halfway to a breakout season. James tallied 31 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns in 2020. Now, as the leading man, the 5’11 wideout looks poised to make noise in the Big 12.

Sean Ryan enters the weekend, averaging an absurd 18.5 yards per catch. After starting six games in 2020, Ryan continues to emerge as a big-play pass catcher for the Mountaineers. His presence alongside James and slot receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton could prove formidable in 2021.

Up next: Jared Bartlett

Sep 12, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Jared Bartlett (50) tackles Eastern Kentucky Colonels quarterback Parker McKinney (18) during the third quarter at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Jared Bartlett, Bandit Linebacker

Before the 2021 season, Bartlett had started just two games and recorded 3.5 sacks. The redshirt sophomore destroyed that total with three sacks and a forced fumble vs. Virginia Tech. The 6-2 edge rusher demonstrated tremendous bend against the Hokies’ offensive tackles, manipulating his body under their pad level to lay hands on Burmeister.

It doesn’t matter if Bartlett’s outburst vs. Virginia Tech was an isolated occurrence or a sign of things to come; the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Game deserves the utmost respect by OU’s offensive line.

How Spencer Rattler handles, the pressure Bartlett generates off the edge could make or break his Heisman hopes.

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