Defense Facing Sizable Questions Heading To Open Week
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In three games for Kansas so far this season — two against teams from the MAC and one against Southwest Missouri State — Khalil Herbert had carried the football 22 times for 147 yards.
Who knew he was sitting on the greatest rushing performance ever against a West Virginia defense?
But was this really a West Virginia defense that allowed him to rush 36 times for 291 yards?
It was a bunch of guys wearing Mountaineer uniforms and that bandy little rooster coaching them from the sidelines surely was Tony Gibson, the defensive coordinator and mastermind behind what normally is a difficult 3-3-5 stack defense that’s hard to score against.
Still, it didn’t look like a West Virginia defense.
And, in truth, it wasn’t.
At least it wasn’t THE West Virginia defense Gibson was counting on playing coming into the season.
Why did Herbert shake loose for those 291 yards — four more than Gale Sayers ever rushed for in his Kansas career and more than any running back had ever recorded against WVU (and you might recall WVU faced some running backs named Floyd Little, John Cappelletti, Larry Csonka, Tony Dorsett and Franco Harris, to name a few).
Remember, this a big run from the basement, a Kansas player who really isn’t in the Heisman Trophy race.
Well, consider that Gibson replaced eight starters last year and had to do likewise this year. Last year, he had seasoned veterans to use as replacements. This year, the cycle was on its downside with a lot of players who were inexperienced or transfers.
And then, in the course of this game, a number of his better players wound up injured … so it was as looked down his bench, he could see David Long, Kyzir White, Marvin Gross and host of other infirm players who were supposed to be out there stopping runs right up the gut.
“We couldn’t even get into our nickel package,” Gibson admitted.
At one point they were down to three linebackers and freshman Kenny Robinson at cornerback, sophomore JoVanni Stewart at safety, and freshman Lamonte McDougle at nose guard.
Even the now-accomplished Dylan Tonkery is a redshirt freshman, although it is often forgotten.
“These are guys who should be playing a lot of special teams, not on defense,” head coach Dana Holgorsen allowed.
It’s a problem, rest assured.
“We are going to have our defensive meeting in the training room,” Gibson said. “They’ll have to set the film up in there for our guys to see.”
Oddly, it wasn’t necessarily that the aforementioned players played badly. Stewart made two outstanding one-on-one tackles in open field and McDougle forced a fumble with a big pass rush, yet the situation is that it takes a toll.
“I don’t think we’re good enough to play two or three deep,” Holgorsen admitted. “There’s a lot of good offense in the Big 12. Kansas has a good offense.”
We’ll see. Or was it simply that this is a transition season for Gibson’s defenders, a year when, if WVU is going to win, the offense is going to have to carry it?
They have a week to think about it.
“The off-week couldn’t come at a better time,” Gibson said.
With TCU on the other end of it, obviously a contender for the conference title after its game with Oklahoma State, WVU needs to heal.
“I think we’ll be a different team in two weeks,” Holgorsen said.
They better be. They gave up 564 yards in this one.