MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Head coach Neal Brown announced changes to the coaching staff in January. He and the West Virginia football team were coming off a season in which the Mountaineers ranked eighth in the Big 12 in total offense, ninth in scoring offense, and last in the league in rushing offense.
The most notable of those changes was the addition of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell, who came to West Virginia after spending three years at USC in similar roles.
Under Harrell, the Trojans had the top passing attack in the Pac-12, and ranked inside the Top 25 in the nation in numerous offensive statistics in both 2020 and 2021.
The hope is that he can bring similar success to WVU.
“Having a guy like [Harrell] in this program where his big thing is having fun, and kind of just letting loose and lighting the scoreboard up, I think it’s what this offense needs,” said veteran left guard James Gmiter. “We have guys that can make explosive plays like [Kaden Prather], Tony Mathis, our offensive line is experienced enough where we have the ability to make the explosive plays work. And he brought that in within the first three days.”
Harrell and WVU installed the offense over the course of the three practices last week. He essentially cut the playbook into thirds, and had players work on it one portion per practice session.
That was to not only get players more reps on each play, but also to learn the new terminology of a new offense quicker.
“It’s so early in the process, that you want to get the most basic stuff in early on,” Harrell said last week.
However, based on what Gmiter said Saturday, the new offensive play-caller hasn’t been shy about showing his players the capabilities of the playbook.
“Today, I think, is the most explosive plays we’ve had in a practice,” Gmiter said Saturday. “So, you can see that, just by what he brings to the table, it’s going to elevate our offense.”
Harrell has the luxury of an experienced, and “rejuvenated” offensive line. Part of the good feeling that’s reverberating throughout Gmiter and the offensive line comes from Harrell’s arrival, along with some of the first words the new OC spoke to the offense.
“The first thing he told us when he got here is, ‘We’re gonna light it up,’” said Gmiter. “We have guys that want to score points, want to win games, and him reassuring that to us really put it in perspective that we can do it with him.”
In order for Harrell’s offense to succeed, West Virginia will need to find a quarterback that checks the most boxes throughout the spring, summer and early fall. WVU will also need the high expectations of its running back room to come to fruition.
As the quarterback battle rages on, Harrell wants each passer to focus on their footwork. He noted that getting their feet set properly, and having the correct drop backs will improve accuracy on throws and the efficiency of the offense.
One play the quarterbacks learned Thursday was a deep pass that Harrell said he felt like he could have called every play last season with USC.
“If we can get those receivers consistently winning on stuff like that you can still push the ball down the field and have a young quarterback,” Harrell said. “That kind of takes a little big of the decision making out for him.”
At least one of the quarterbacks hit the intended receiver in practice, Thursday, when that play was called, according to Harrell. It’s an explosive play that, if executed in practice over the course of the next five months, could be seen in action once the regular season gets underway on September 1 versus Pitt.