Image courtesy of WVU.edu
By Bennett Conlin and Jared Serre
It’s game week! JMU travels to West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers on Saturday. Everyone is excited for the start of the college football season, and JMU fans are overflowing with excitement at the prospect of the Dukes upsetting a Power 5 foe for the first time since knocking off Virginia Tech in 2010.
We feel confident in our ability to discuss JMU football. We’ve covered the Dukes for years, and we know the roster inside and out. When it comes to West Virginia, however, we’re far from experts.
Luckily, we have some help this week. We talked to Jared Serre, the sports editor at West Virginia’s independent student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum. We sent Jared a few questions about this week’s game, and he shared his expertise from the WVU perspective.
Jared is a great follow on Twitter, and The Daily Athenaeum’s sports section is a tremendous resource this week for JMU fans craving information on West Virginia. You can also follow the newspaper’s sports section on Twitter.
Speaking with Serre
Bennett Conlin, JMU Sports News: WVU recently named Oklahoma transfer Austin Kendall the starting quarterback. What should JMU fans know about the talented signal caller heading into Saturday’s game?
Jared Serre, The Daily Athenaeum: I honestly can’t answer that question. I mean, he was the leading quarterback all throughout fall practice but, he’s fresh meat. He’s only attempted 39 career passes. When WVU head coach Neal Brown announced Kendall as the starter, Brown emphasized how Kendall hadn’t played a lot. Luckily he transferred from within the conference, which should help him a little bit, but it’s hard to say anything about Kendall until he plays in a game at WVU.
Bennett: Most JMU fans don’t know much about West Virginia’s roster. Who are two or three players JMU fans should keep an eye on when the Dukes and Mountaineers square off?
Jared: I’m a big fan of redshirt freshman wide receiver Sam James. After three of the Mountaineers’ top wide receivers from last season departed for the NFL, James has seen an increased role from the spring game through fall practice. I’m looking forward to seeing how he develops as he receives more game experience but the skills are there.
Defensively, the Stills brothers — Dante and Darius — are hard to miss. Two defensive lineman who went to high school half an hour from WVU, they help anchor the interior defensive line. I’m interested to see how they take to playing under new defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
Bennett: Nobody knows the student/fan pulse quite like the sports editor at a student newspaper. What’s the feeling among fans and students after head coach Dana Holgorsen left for Houston and Neal Brown came to Morgantown? Are fans expecting a big year this season?
Jared: Saying that Neal Brown’s hiring has brought excitement to Morgantown would be an understatement. Since stepping on campus in January, Coach Brown has placed an emphasis on the students and the fans. Just last week, Brown appeared and spoke to WVU’s incoming freshman class. Last spring, Brown spoke in our student union. It seems like fans everywhere, on campus and off, are looking forward to something fresh after eight seasons of Dana Holgorsen.
I think that some people may be lumping in the excitement of Coach Brown with an expectation of good performance on the field, but I don’t see them competing at the top of the Big 12 this season. They lost their starting quarterback and left tackle from last season, as well as the top four leading receivers on offense alone. Defensively, they’ve lost three of their top five leading tacklers from last season. But, hey, it’s more fun to cover a team that is winning so I hope they prove me wrong. I’ll gladly eat my words if that’s the case.
Bennett: I know West Virginia had a few talented safeties transfer this offseason, but the corner position looks strong from our view. What do you expect from the Mountaineers in the secondary?
Jared: One of the big things that has been praised through fall camp as of late has been the emergence of the younger players in the WVU secondary. Freshmen like Nicktroy Fortune, Tae Mayo and Tykee Smith have impressed. Outside of the young guys, Sean Mahone, a redshirt junior, will see some extended playing time. Keith Washington II and Hakeem Bailey both made an impact last season and are returning. You never know how a defensive unit will work out in the Big 12, but I think West Virginia is in good shape, depth-wise, in the secondary.
Bennett: You’ve been absolutely grinding on the sports coverage the last few weeks, especially when it comes to football. From your perspective, what are the biggest strengths and weaknesses of this WVU football team as we enter the 2019 season?
Jared: For one, I think that our running back unit is severely underrated. There are four guys that are all vying for the starting job and I think that having that ability to rotate guys in and out will be huge for the offensive unit.
Something that I think might be a negative factor would be the youth of our secondary, in case nobody redshirts. You can’t teach athletic skill, but you can teach football IQ. This isn’t high school anymore, this is one of the premier conference in offense in the NCAA.
Bennett: Prediction time! You don’t have to give us an exact score prediction if you don’t want, but how do you see this game playing out?
Jared: With JMU being one of the top FCS teams in the nation, I see this matchup being a nice challenge early in the year. Ultimately, however, I think that the Mountaineers will emerge on top.