Disruption Still The Focus, Although Often Unmeasured, For WVU Defense

West Virginia defensive lineman Jeffery Pooler (9) tries to break the grip of EKU's Tucker Schroeder

Since Neal Brown came aboard as West Virginia’s head football coach in 2019, disruption has been the watchword of his defense. That key factor also stretches back to his time at Troy, where he wasn’t always able to recruit the biggest or strongest players. There, he focused on quickness, speed and technique, finding defenders who could get off or past blocks, knife into the backfield and interrupt plays before they got started.

At West Virginia, with more talent and depth to work with, the focus on creating negative plays has borne results. Out of 112 tackles the Mountaineers have made through three games in 2020, 26 have come behind the line of scrimmage (23.2%), including 11 sacks.

The driving idea behind this is that most college offenses don’t have the capability of consistently recovering when faced with long yardage conversions to keep drives alive. Creating those situations with an attacking defensive system is one of the best ways to prevent long drives and get the ball back.

Although this is a foundation of the Mountaineer defense, such plays, whether measurable by traditional statistics or newer methods in the modern analytics world, aren’t deep-tracked by the Mountaineer staff.

“We really don’t keep track,” co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “If those plays are made they will show up. We don’t necessarily talk about [the number of negative plays] as a goal. It’s just part of the defense. We don’t make a huge deal out of it.”

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For a team that relies heavily on analytics, that might come as a bit of surprise, but it is reflective of Lesley’s approach, and that of the defensive staff as a whole. Creating chaos and negative plays is expected, and simply part of the job. There may also be a subtle nod there to the fact that not all disruptions show up in stats, or can easily be tracked.

For example, a defensive lineman that gets penetration and forces the timing of a handoff to be altered doesn’t get any stat credit, but might be as much responsible for blowing up that play as the defender who makes the tackle. Quarterback hits and pressures are tracked, but WVU has just three on its official stat sheet for this year – and with the pressure the Mountaineers have gotten on the QB through three games, that number is surely low, and not reflective of the way in which the rush has affected opposing passers.

For his part, Lesley recently discussed the importance of not just getting penetration, but on finishing the play. While that’s a valid point, and a motivational one for his players, the value of other sorts of pressure and disruption can’t be discounted.

Disruption isn’t the sole province of players at the line of scrimmage. It also exists on the linebacker and secondary levels. Pass breakups and interceptions are one obvious stat area to examine for those successes, but not the only place where chaos can be created.

“We definitely don’t want free runners. Receivers love free releases. They love to be able to run with easy access,” co-defensive coordinator Jahmile Addae said of the approach to fouling the passing game. “The one thing we have done, starting in camp with Coach (Jeff) Koonz and Coach (Dontae) Wright, who have really done a heck of a job, is with their underneath droppers in terms of getting their hands on guys and not allowing them to run through zones. That’s important. You want to match routes, but if you can eliminate the route, that’s even better.”

West Virginia defensive lineman Darius Stills (56) fights through a hold to pressure Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer (5)

There’s a fine line that exists in executing that job, as officials looking to keep the game offense-friendly are always ready to throw flags for holding or pass interference. A certain number of those calls, though, are going to be lived with, just like fouls from an aggressive defensive team in basketball (surely Mountaineer fans can think of one good example). Getting receivers off their routes, breaking up passes and making the open field an unfriendly place to operate is at the head of the task list for those defenders working against opposing air games.

“That’s part of our defensive scheme,” Addae continued. “The guys underneath are playing physically, which is helping the over the top coverage, in terms of allowing them to really be able to keep a cap on the defense. That’s something we harp on during practice.”

So far, it’s been pretty good. WVU has broken up five passes and picked off four more in the first three games. Twelve different defenders have recorded tackles for loss, and although the defense hasn’t recovered any of the three fumbles it has forced, it has blocked a kick attempt. The Mountaineers are second in the Big 12 and 13th nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 8.7 per game, and that has translated to Top 10 national rankings in total defense, passing yards allowed, first downs allowed and red zone defense, along with Top 20 marks in rushing defense, scoring defense, and third down conversions allowed.

Put all of that together, and the picture, or at least the outline, of what the West Virginia defense wants to be is evident. It will have to continue to produce on this level, but so far the disruption meter has pointed the way to many positives.

 

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Home Page forums Disruption Still The Focus, Although Often Unmeasured, For WVU Defense

Home Page forums Disruption Still The Focus, Although Often Unmeasured, For WVU Defense