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Still Climbing

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Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers try to build off a season that saw them play some of the nation's top teams to the wire.

West Virginia made plenty of improvement last season, but the Mountaineers are still striving to solidify themselves in the Big 12. With spring practice underway, here are the issues facing WVU.

QB Battle: Sophomore Skyler Howard was impressive after taking over for the injured Clint Tricket. The Mountaineers scored 37 points in Howard’s two starts and while his completion percentage was under 50 percent, he averaged 316 yards and three touchdowns—plus 51 yards on the ground—per start. He did not throw an interception in 110 attempts.

William Crest, West Virginia's prized recruit in the 2014 class, saw action in one game before taking a medical redshirt after a shoulder injury. He completed 3 of 4 passes and ran for a touchdown in a blowout win over Towsen in Week 2. WVU was planning to use Crest in specific sets before the injury.

Who Replaces Kevin White and Mario Alford? With White and Alford set to move on the NFL, the Mountaineers lose 174 catches, nearly 2,400 yards and 21 touchdowns. While that production is virtually irreplaceable, the cupboard isn't bare. Jordan Thompson had 49 receptions for 595 yards and two touchdowns in 2014, and Daikel Shorts had 24 for 346 and a pair of scores.

The Mountaineers use four receivers regularly, though, and the next two on the depth chart—Shelton Gibson and Vernon Davis—have just 11 career receptions between them. Veteran KJ Myers will have to fend off redshirt freshmen Jacky Marcellus and Lamar Parker.

Defensive Improvement: Two seasons ago, the WVU defense was one of the nation’s worst. The 2013 Mountaineers allowed 455 yards (103rd in the country) and 33.3 points per game (100th). The defense improved after Dana Holgorsen promoted Tony Gibson to defensive coordinator and hired Tom Bradley as a defensive assistant. WVU was better by 66 yards and nearly six points per contest, ranking 66th in total defense and 72nd in scoring defense, both in the middle of the Big 12 pack. In addition, WVU was ninth in the country on third downs, allowing a 31.4 percent conversion rate. Bradley has moved on to UCLA, but forcing more turnovers and getting to the quarterback will be priorities this spring, as WVU ranked 113th in turnovers gained, and 99th in sacks.

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