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The Smoking Musket Q&A: Triple-Headed receiving attack to test Longhorns

We welcome in Matt Kirchner, editor of The Smoking Musket, to break down the matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Year-in and year-out the West Virginia Mountaineers are one of the top offenses in the country, this year led by quarterback Will Grier. Grier easily ranks as one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and when it’s all said and done, one of the most prolific quarterbacks to play for the Mountaineers.

However, West Virginia boasting a top offense is not a surprise to anyone, especially during head coach Dana Holgorsen’s tenure with the Mountaineers. More often than not, by the end of the season, his WVU squads rank as one of the top offenses in the country, and it generally propels them to success nationally and in the conference.

Coming into Austin, the 2018 edition West Virginia is once again the offensive powerhouse you’d expect, but what has been the secret to their continued success?

To answer that question and more, we welcomed Matt Kirchner, editor for the Smoking Musket. You can follow Matt (@MKirchner12) or The Smoking Musket (@SmokingMusket) for more on the Mountaineers.

Burnt Orange Nation: The West Virginia offense is once again one of the top units in the country, ranking No. 15 in total offense, sitting in the top 20 for the third-straight year. What has been the secret to the consistent success for the Mountaineers under Dana Holgorsen?

The Smoking Musket: Dana has recruited very well for a program with the natural disadvantages of West Virginia, and it’s shown through the depth of talent that West Virginia is finally able to deploy on offense. To me, his biggest strength is being able to adapt to what his team gives him talent-wise instead of trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole.

You saw this play out during Skyler Howard’s 10-win 2016 campaign, when Holgo deployed a run first spin on the offense that forced Mike Leach to kick him out of the Air Raid Club, and the power run concepts give this team the ability to keep defenses honest while attacking over the top and middle.

BON: A secret to WVU’s success is quarterback Will Grier. The senior is in the top 10 nationally in seven offensive categories, including completion percentage and passing efficiency. What makes him such an efficient passer in this wide-open offense?

TSM: With the exception of the Iowa State debacle, he’s been very willing to take what the defense gives him. Grier understands that attacking with short and intermediate routes will open up big plays and is generally content to nickel and dime until the floodgates open and he attacks with his gunslinger mentality.

Grier also has a much better understanding of Dana’s system in Year Two. Holgo’s QBs have always taken a massive step up in year two as a starter and Grier is his most naturally talented passer to date. It’s a very good combination.

BON: Grier likes to spread the ball around with three receivers averaging at least four receptions per game. Why does the focus seem to fall on just one of those guys, David Sills V, while Gary Jennings Jr. and Marcus Simms quietly have impressive years?

TSM: It’s the story line. People love the David Sills story, and thus it overshadows two players who I think may carve out more productive careers at the next level.

Jennings reminds me of Jarvis Landry when I watch him, solid and a reliable when you need a big conversion, and Marcus Simms growth as a route runner combined with his natural speed has been a revelation.

BON: With the offensive prowess West Virginia shows, it’s easy to overlook the defense. The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (19.6 ppg), but struggled on the road against Iowa State. What has been the secret to WVU’s success and what did Iowa State do differently to come away with the win.

TSM: The final score in Ames was misleading to their actual performance, considering how much they were on the field. There were some tackling miscues, obviously, but a lot of it game down to West Virginia not having an answer to Unfair Allen Lazard Clone Hakeem Butler. If there’s a way to consistently beat what has been a very formidable defense, it’s big receivers.

BON: What’s your key to the game for Saturday?

TSM: West Virginia running the ball. Jake Spavital needs to remember that our jet and off tackle concepts are the key to running because our interior line is a major weakness. In Ames, he fell in love with running up the middle and consistently lost first and second down because of it.

If WVU is able to establish the run, it opens up even more for Grier and his receivers and frankly the offense becomes close to unstoppable.

BON: What’s your prediction?

TSM: Ugh.

Frankly, I have no idea. This is a huge game. I don’t believe that Texas has a huge home field advantage, so environment isn’t as big of a factor as in Ames to me. Again, a huge key is offensive line play for West Virginia. If Texas is able to bully at the line of scrimmage, it will be a long day for the visitors in Austin. However, I think a lot of the concepts from the demolition of Baylor will carry over and West Virginia survives its biggest test to date.