180 Degree Turn For WVU Defense
A week earlier, they were hoisting glasses and making toasts to Tony Gibson and his West Virginia University defense all around West Virginia.
Linebacker David Long was being mentioned with the same reverence as quarterback Will Grier, the Heisman Trophy candidate.
The Mountaineers had nearly shut out TCU, had held its running game to negative seven rushing yards and seemed poised to tackle (the word used intentionally) two of the most dynamic offenses in the Big 12 Conference, if not the nation, in Oklahoma State and Oklahoma to close out the regular season.
That was a “weak” ago (again, the word used intentionally).
Who knew the defense was like the West Virginia weather, 75 degrees one week, 25 the next, for whatever magic powers they held over TCU proved to be evil spells when they went to Stillwater this week.
Those negative seven rushing yards became a positive 266 rushing yards.
This against a football team playing without perhaps the best running back in the Big 12, Justice Hill, and without its starting center and top tight end.
Despite such absences, Oklahoma State ran up 604 yards of total offense and enough points — 45 — to overcome the 41 the Mountaineers’ offense put on the board despite squandering numerous other scoring opportunities.
It was, as Gibson would relate after the game, enough to make you sick.
Like really sick.
“It was bad. It was bad all the way around. It was a bad second half of football,” he said, then added for emphasis, “It was puke.”
Hopefully, you are not reading this at the breakfast table, but anyone who saw WVU give up 31 second-half points and 396 second-half yards understands the feeling the Mountaineers had.
“If you look at it, 41 points in a game should be enough to win a game,” defensive end Reese Donahue said. “That is 100 percent the defense’s fault.”
That Hill didn’t play proved to be a blessing for Oklahoma State, for his backup Chuba Hubbard was simply overpowering with 134 yards on 26 carries, and his absence allowed Oklahoma State to make the decision to include 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback Taylor Cornelius to include himself more than he normally does in the running attack.
That produced 106 yards on the ground as well … 106 tough, punishing yards.
Most of the punishment, though, was being dished out by Cornelius, who had to have had some tight end genes in his makeup.
“You could see him moving and he wasn’t that fast,” defensive end Ezekiel Rose said.
Sort of like a slow moving railroad trail. You may not be impressed with it’s speed or agility, but you don’t want to be standing on the tracks when it gets there.
Amazingly, WVU did a solid job in the first half, so solid that Cowboys coach Mike Gundy just scrapped what they had been doing and went to Plan B.
“I thought our coaches made tremendous adjustments at halftime, maybe as good as I’ve been around in a long, long time,” Gundy said. “We got rid of what we were doing, revamped it, went to four wide receivers, ran six or seven base plays and said we’ll roll with it and play fast.”
But for everything Oklahoma State did right, WVU did two things wrong.
Take a play Cornelius made on third-and-21 to get a first down.
Good play on his part.
As for WVU?
“That was bad,” Gibson said. “It was not the call I wanted that got signaled in. The kids played something different.”
One suspects it wouldn’t have mattered if WVU had played 13 defenders out there in the second half.
“It was like a shot in the foot because we were hurting ourselves out there,” Rose said. “We did our own thing and someone would just blow an assignment or something and they’d stay on the field. We were talking about getting off the field on third down before we even got here. We don’t want none of those predicaments.”
Now they’ve got quite a predicament on their hands.