WVU trying to pick up pace in Big 12

| Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 10:21 p.m.

DALLAS — In a conference full of offense, West Virginia could fit right in this fall.

The Mountaineers look to improve after averaging just 26 points during a disappointing 4-8 season in 2013.

They will begin this season Aug. 30 against Alabama with their top four wide receivers from a year ago, and four viable running back candidates.

WVU also will have an established quarterback instead of three question marks.

Quarterback Clint Trickett has erased most of the doubts that followed him after he transferred from Florida State last summer.

“He's healthy, 100 percent,” coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday at the Big 12 media day. “Arm strength is awesome, body weight is good.”

That's important because Trickett made six of his seven 2013 starts with a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery. He has changed his diet to gain weight lost during his battle with Celiac disease, which prevents the body from processing gluten.

“The leadership aspect of (quarterback) is something that was missing last year. He'll be able to take that to another level,” Holgorsen said. “People follow him.”

Senior receiver Kevin White confirmed what the coach said about Trickett.

“He's a vocal leader. He trains hard. He doesn't lack in the weight room. He's a good guy,” he said. “I think that I'll be able to (surpass) 1,000 yards with Clint as my quarterback. We have a pretty good connection. With the new rule that allows team work during the summer, we got a lot accomplished.”

White, one of three Mountaineers players at media day, led the team with five touchdown catches last fall and gained 507 yards with his 35 catches.

Daikiel Shorts is back after grabbing a team-high 45 passes, as are Mario Alford, who led WVU with 552 receiving yards, and Jordan Thompson (23 catches).

If one of them reaches 1,000 yards in 2014, that would replace the 1,095 yards that running back Charles Sims took to the NFL.

The Mountaineers might not have a 1,000-yard rusher this season.

But they do have Dreamius Smith, who gained 494 as Sims' backup; Dustin Garrison, WVU's leading rusher in 2012; Andrew Buie, the 2011 leader, and Pitt transfer Rushel Shell.

“Last year, we had a lot of young talent,” said junior Nick O'Toole, the All-Big 12 second-team punter and a Ray Guy Award candidate, “but we did not have a lot of game experience.”

Holgorsen said that shouldn't be a problem in the Mountaineers' third year in the conference.

“We have 55 guys on our team that have played Big 12 football,” he said. “That just means that there's guys that are experienced and should continue to get better.”

The experience is present on defense as well as offense. All nine conference opponents will use some form of up-tempo spread offense, but WVU has a talented secondary. Holgorsen called sophomore right cornerback Daryl Worley “one of the better cover guys that I've seen.”

Junior Karl Joseph was an honorable mention All-Big 12 safety.

“We definitely have such a strong group,” Worley said. “With our work mentalities, we thrive off each other. Nowadays in the game of football, who doesn't like a challenge?”

In the Big 12 preseason poll, the Mountaineers were picked to finish eighth.

Holgorsen and his players weren't buying that. Instead, they talked about winning the conference title after its round-robin nine-game schedule.

The coach had a caveat: “(Trickett) needs to stay healthy.”

Lary Bump is a freelance writer.

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