Mountaineers Preparing for Improved TCU QB Hill - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Mountaineers Preparing for Improved TCU QB Hill

Posted:
WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital prepares to face his former quarterback when the Mountaineers meet TCU on Oct. 7. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital prepares to face his former quarterback when the Mountaineers meet TCU on Oct. 7. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
MORGANTOWN -

The first week that Jake Spavital became an offensive coordinator, he took a trip to Southlake, Texas. Whatever on-field responsibilities he would ultimately have, his most important role would be an in-home visit.

He immediately went to see Kenny Hill Jr.

The son of former Major League Baseball standout Ken Hill, Junior had already committed to Texas A&M prior to Spavital’s arrival. The co-offensive coordinator was brought in to make sure the commitment stayed strong as the Aggies prepared for the inevitable departure of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Spavital and Hill spent two years together. The first featured Hill watching Manziel’s final year of collegiate football from the sideline and the second only lasted eight games before Hill was suspended for a violation of team rules.

And that was it. Hill never got his started job back and ultimately transferred after the season. A year later, Spavital departed from College Station and took the offensive coordinator position at the University of California.

Fast forward to 2017 and here we are. When the teams take the field in Fort Worth on Saturday, it’ll be Spavital and Hill back together again. Only this time, they’ll be on opposite sidelines and wearing colors that don’t go along with their old maroon and white.

Spavital now serves as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator and Hill is in his final season of college football for TCU.

“He’s an exceptional kid. It’s pretty impressive what he’s doing,” Spavital said of Hill. “Had a bunch of highs and lows throughout the course of Texas A&M, but then to overcome adversity, have a clean slate, start over again and have some success right now. He has a top 10 team right now and he’s doing a great job of leading them and he’s doing a great job with the offense.”

The Kenny Hill Jr. who has taken the field for the first four games this season is a far cry from the one who led the Horned Frogs to a 6-7 record a year ago.

Head coach Gary Patterson is no longer relying on Hill to make the offense work. After pass happy co-OC Doug Meacham left for Kansas in the offseason, Hill stopped being asked to carry the load. Instead, he hands it off to some of the most capable running backs in recent TCU memory.

“They’re managing the game a lot better,” WVU safeties coach Matt Caponi said of TCU. “Obviously their main priority is to run the ball first. I think that takes a little bit of stress off their defense, too. Try to run the clock and have their defense not play as many snaps. They’re doing the right things. Running the ball to set up the play action, and I think it makes the game more manageable for him as a quarterback.”

The proof is in the pudding. In Hill’s second season as TCU’s starter, he is on pace to finish with the best completion percentage in program history, currently sitting at 73 percent.

His ground game features Darius Anderson, who has 422 yards on 68 carries for six touchdowns, tied with West Virginia’s Justin Crawford for the most in the Big 12. Anderson is already drawing comparisons to LaDainian Tomlinson, arguably the greatest offensive player in TCU history.

So, yeah, hand it off to that guy.

“It’s not relying on [Hill] to throw the ball 40, 50 times a game. They’re going to put it up 25, 30 where he feels comfortable and not try to force as much on him,” Caponi said. “A little bit different from last year, but this falls into helping him manage the game better and be a better player these first four or five weeks.”

Caponi, and the majority of WVU’s defensive staff, has seen Hill in action before. A 34-10 win last season in which the Horned Frogs didn’t manage a single point in the second half is the only experience this staff has with the TCU signal caller. Now that he is asked to manage the offense in a different way from what he did in 2016, don’t be surprised if Spavital suddenly becomes the most important coach for West Virginia’s defense.

As much as his defensive counterparts may ask, though, he isn’t so sure the Kenny Hill Jr. they’ll see on Saturday will be too similar to the one Spavital visit in Southlake all those years ago.

“When you evaluate him right now, he seems like he’s learned and he’s grown as a man, grown as a player. He’s more managing now,” Spavital said of Hill. “He’s not taking those ill-advised throws and that gunslinger mentality that he has. He’s operating and hitting the check downs and doing a good job of just managing a lot better what they’re asking him to do.”

Spavital says even though they no longer work together, he and Hill still stay in contact via text message and that this weekend, he hopes to get a chance to reunite with the family who welcomed him for an in-home back in 2013.

This week, the text messages slowed down a bit. Spavital says he simply sent Hill one character: The “surprised face” emoji.

“He just laughs and says, ‘I’ll see you Saturday,’” Spavital said.

  • More SportsMore>>

  • Izzo-Brown Inducted into WVSA Hall of Fame

    Izzo-Brown Inducted into WVSA Hall of Fame

    Monday, September 18 2017 1:34 PM EDT2017-09-18 17:34:43 GMT
    WVSA announces induction of WVU women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown as meritorious member into WVSA Hall of Fame - Class of 2018. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)WVSA announces induction of WVU women’s soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown as meritorious member into WVSA Hall of Fame - Class of 2018. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)

    The West Virginia Soccer Association has announced the induction of WVU women's soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, as a meritorious member into the WVSA Hall of Fame - Class of 2018.

    The West Virginia Soccer Association has announced the induction of WVU women's soccer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown, as a meritorious member into the WVSA Hall of Fame - Class of 2018.

  • Inside WVU Game Day: The Mountaineer Mascot

    Inside WVU Game Day: The Mountaineer Mascot

    Sunday, September 17 2017 10:32 AM EDT2017-09-17 14:32:13 GMT
    The Mountaineer Mascot celebrates a WVU touchdown at FedEx Field.The Mountaineer Mascot celebrates a WVU touchdown at FedEx Field.

    The atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium on game day is truly unlike any other and the Mountaineer mascot plays a big part in making the experience one of a kind.

    The atmosphere at Milan Puskar Stadium on game day is truly unlike any other and the Mountaineer mascot plays a big part in making the experience one of a kind.

  • No. 3 Mountaineers Swarm Spiders

    No. 3 Mountaineers Swarm Spiders

    Sunday, September 10 2017 5:18 PM EDT2017-09-10 21:18:38 GMT
    Michaela Abam and the WVU women's soccer team earned a 3-0 victory over Richmond on Sunday. (PHOTO: Anjelica Trinone)Michaela Abam and the WVU women's soccer team earned a 3-0 victory over Richmond on Sunday. (PHOTO: Anjelica Trinone)

    The No. 3-ranked WVU women’s soccer team earned its fifth win of the season on Sunday. Hear from Coach Izzo-Brown and the Mountaineers after the win.

    The No. 3-ranked WVU women’s soccer team earned its fifth win of the season on Sunday. Hear from Coach Izzo-Brown and the Mountaineers after the win.