Gibson Suffers Slings And Arrows Of Defensive Rebuild
LANDOVER, Md. – Tony Gibson suffered the slings and arrows of a defensive rebuild on Sunday.
West Virginia’s defense was a mix of bend-don’t-break until fatigue, lack of numbers and a dose of poor execution allowed Virginia Tech to make just enough plays to escape with a 31-24 win. The Mountaineers returned just three starters from last year’s Big-12 leading unit, but Gibson’s magic piecemealed a solid starting 11 together.
But that was about it. WVU didn’t flash much depth, and in the heat and exchange of 72 plays and 469 yards, was unable to hold up at the end as the Hokies used a pair of long quarterback keepers by duel-threat signal caller Josh Jackson to help seal the seven-point victory.
“I thought they fought hard, played hard at times,” Gibson said. “Too many mistakes. That’s the inexperience and the youth out there. It’s a hard way to learn, but it’s gotta happen that way. There was a lot of fatigue. We have to be able to play more guys (but) I didn’t feel comfortable. I think we played three corners. The linebackers played every snap they could. Up front we had a good rotation, but we have to get to the point where I can play 22 guys, and we probably played 14 guys total, all night.”
West Virginia did roll in freshman nose tackle Lamont McDougle, and used Brendan Ferns at middle linebacker. Derrek Pitts and Kenny Robinson also had a handful of plays on special teams, though that did nothingg to aid the defensive effort. Aside from that, it was slim pickings after the first 111, and eventually Virginia Tech took advantage to hit big plays, like Jackson’s 32-yard pass to wideout Cam Phillips that put the Hokies ahead 24-17 late in the third quarter.
The back breaker came in the next stanza, when WVU was gifted a first-and-30 situation after Tech was flagged for a false start and an unsportsmanlike penalty call on an assistant coach. But the Hokies picked up 14 and seven yards on first and second down via a pair of completions from Jackson before Elijah Battle was flagged for pass interference and an automatic first down on a ball thrown well out of bounds.
That pushed the ball into WVU territory, allowed the drive to continue and set-up Jackson’s 14-yard scramble for another set of downs. That then segued into what would have been a game-clinching field goal that sailed wide and left the Mountaineers in the game. Still, allowing the opponent to convert a first-and-30 set-up, on a penalty, then allowing a busted run over the left side for another chunk of yardage showcased the issues this defense will be saddled with as it grows.
“They had momentum and our kids were on their heels,” Gibson said. “They hit us with an unbalanced formation and we bit up on a screen and we let a guy run free. They made a play when they had to and we didn’t. The long (run) at the end was a bad, bad call by me. I didn’t want to zero pressure (Jackson) a whole lot because of the quarterback run if he could pop it. That’s what happened. Al (Benton, WVU’s middle linebacker) went out and I wanted to have Ferns in a position where he could hit a gap. That was a bad call and I hate that it came down to that play and we didn’t execute.”
In All, Virginia Tech amassed 234 yards on the ground, and 235 in the air – nearly the definition of balance. WVU failed to force a turnover and often couldn’t harness Tech quite as well as hoped, though the Mountaineers did limit the Hokies to just three of 15 on third downs.
“Right now we are searching,” Gibson said. “Corey Winfield is a guy who has to be able to play. He has to get in the mix more. At safety, (Derrek) Pitts has to play more. At linebacker, I have to keep bringing these guys along.”