Landover Leftovers From WVU’s Defensive Showing
LANDOVER, Md. – The numbers are in on West Virginia’s defensive performance, and the most concerning one is in the teens.
With coordinator Tony Gibson “uncomfortable” with the depth situation, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary, the Mountaineers trotted out only a handful of reserves on defense. Included in that was nose tackle Lamonte McDougle, by far the true freshman to see the most time on the defensive side. McDougle was credited with two solo tackles, one for loss, while reserve middle linebacker Brendan Ferns had one stop.
But that was largely the bulk of the second team snaps taken, while the first team was littered with first-time starters like linebacker Dylan Tonkery – who is replacing the injured David Long on the weakside – cornerback Hakeem Bailey, nose tackle Xavier Pegues, linebacker Xavier Preston, corner Mike Daniels and end Reese Donahue. That’s five – or almost half the starters.
Factor in safety Toyous Avery and end Adam Shuler, who each had one career start entering the opener, and the Mountaineers put a whopping seven players on the field for the first snap who had combined to do that just twice ever before.
It made for a mostly inexperienced unit outside of linebacker Al Benton and safeties Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White, and that combined with a lack of proven ability throughout the reserves limited Gibson to far fewer than the full two deep of 22 players he would like to have. The best guesstimate is that the Mountaineers played 14 to 15 different bodies on defense through Virginia Tech’s entire 72 plays.
“That’s no excuse, though,” White said. “We needed to make more plays and we didn’t. We could’ve cleaned up a lot of different things. We’ll get better.”
With fatigue setting in late, Tech quarterback Josh Jackson was able to rip off a trio of big plays, including a 32 yard pass touchdown pass to Cam Phillips and a run of 46 yards to set-up the game-winning score.
“We knew what kind of offense they run and what type of players they put back there,” Benton said. “They always have a quarterback who can run, and they have another one in Jackson. We went over those things all game and all week. We did what we had to do for the most part, but we let them get out a few times and it hurt us.
“All these teams run this type of stuff. We might not necessarily have had film on (Jackson), but we had film on the scheme and how to block against it. Coach Gibby and those guys do a great job of getting it.”
The issue was continuing to try to handle the Hokies’ offense while managing the building snaps and weariness against the sheer numbers situation. Virginia Tech managed just 165 yards of offense in the first half, but rolled up 304 yards and 21 points over the third and fourth quarters.
“We gotta come back and use it as motivation,” White said. “Even though we lost I feel like everybody was out there fighting and grinding. Nobody gave up. We are resilient and we find ways to step up.”
Which, as Gibson pointed out, means finding additional younger players ready to see action. Included on that list, according to Gibson, is transfer corner Corey Winfield and safety Derrek Pitts.
“Right now we are searching,” Gibson said. “At linebacker I just have to keep bringing these guys along.”
Cramps An Issue In Opener
With the amount of snaps played, and the early September conditions, a handful of players on both sides cramped during the game. But this wasn’t a 90-degree game at 1 p.m. It was a 7:30 night kick, with little to no radiative heat transfer, especially on a grass surface. WVU strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph said perhaps the sheer emotions, and being too excited to play and keeping muscles more tense than relaxed, could have played a role.
As for Benton, he remained unsure.
“Mine, specifically, I have no idea,” Benton said of his cramp. “The adrenaline and running around and seating a lot in pregame and on the field…I just need to do a better job of drinking during the game. I think (depth) helps. Some teams do a good job of that, taking guys in and out, keeping guys fresh. That’s the biggest thing. But with the strength and conditioning program we have, these guys can play all the snaps.”