Continuity Missing For WVU Defense

Continuity Missing For WVU Defense


MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Just how difficult has building continuity been for the West Virginia defense? Consider this: The Mountaineers had just three players on the field in the third quarter against Iowa State that started against and were playing the same position they did in the opener against Virginia Tech. Defensive end Reese Donahue, middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton and spur Kyzir White are in the spots they manned back on Sept. 3, but that’s it. Here’s how the rest of the lineup morphed from the VT game to the second half of the Iowa State win:

POSITION
VT
ISU
Nose Tackle Xavier PeguesLamonte McDougle
EndAdam ShulerEzekiel Rose
Will LBDylan TonkeryDavid Long
Sam LBXavier PrestonDylan Tonkery
BanditToyous AveryDravon Askew-Henry
CornerbackHakeem BaileyElijah Battle
CornerbackMike DanielsHakeem Bailey
Free SafetyDravon Askew-HenryKenny Robinson

Some of these don’t look like big switches. After all, Bailey was the starter in game one, so flipping over to sub in for Daniels shouldn’t be a big deal, right? That should also apply to Tonkery – what’s the big difference between to linebacker positions? And a safety is a safety, isn’t it?

The answer? Not exactly. Sure, there are similar techniques at those positions, but assignments can often vary greatly. The sam linebacker spot usually requires a bigger body more suited to run support, while the will gets a bit more against the pass. The same is true for the spur and the bandit. And at corner, it’s different playing with the sideline off your left side, then suddenly flipping to the opposite side where it’s the right.

Also keep in mind that in the games between the opener and Iowa State, there has been more shuffling and more players out due to injury for all or parts of games. There hasn’t been a contest where the Mountaineers have finished with the lineup it started with, or with a close approximation of what its best 11 on the field might be. Tony Gibson’s opinion on that has obviously had to change over the two months of the season – some players have improved and worked their way into the lineup, while others have stalled or regressed.

Not having players available is bad enough, but the absences have crushed the hoped-for development of the defense as a whole. Had WVU been able to put the same, or at least a similar, lineup on the field through the first eight games, it would have been able to build synergy and continuity, as defensive coordinator Tony Gibson wanted. Now?

“I just told them to go play hard,” Gibson said of his pregame preparation for Iowa State.

That they did — and it overcame all of the problems that come along with massive substitutions and player unavailability. It started in practices the past week, which were a bit different.

“We went back to how we have been practicing,” linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “A lot of good on good, a little more hitting. The way we practiced was good.”

While there were still mistakes made, the attitude stemming from the week’s approach was different. Benton noted that “a lot more guys bought in” during the preparations, and that had to have helped when the lineup was again shuffled. It was a mental issues as much or more than a physical one, but the belief helped lead to better performance.

“I never once lost confidence in my team. I never once lost confidence in this defense,” Benton emphasizes.” Guys may need to get their [confidence] up and trust and believe in what they can do. I think a lot more guys bought in this weekend, and you see what they can do.”

Is that enough to overcome the avalanche of injuries? The next two opponents, Kansas State and Texas, aren’t offensive juggernauts on the order of the Oklahomas, so there is some optimism there. A week of players returning to the lineup could also help — Gibson hinted that the play of some of the backups might help in that regard — but it may be the buy-in, the approach and the confidence level that is the key during November’s remaining games.

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  • #35018

    Continuity Missing For WVU Defense MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — Just how difficult has building continuity been for the West Virginia defense? Consider this:
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    #35042

    It’s been like this for years. We just don’t have the bodies to fill out 2 deep at most positions. This is a very young D overall. Good to see that we are FINALLY bringing in a number of true DL in this class. This hasn’t been the case in most past recruiting classes.

    #35116

    IF not for McDougal i would hate to think how the d-line would look now. He may not make a ton of plays but he disrupts a lot of plays.

    It’s disheartening that we have so little depth in the secondary. A guy like Robinson has to fill in wherever necessary. Don’t like DAH dropping down to one of the “run stop” safety spots though he made some plays last week, just doesn’t bring the physicality we are used to at those positions.

    Corner is a mess, we have one decent guy and he is hurt every other play. I just don’t get Battle and Bailey. They seem to have the skills and speed but gracious they just can’t play the position.

    We may hate watching but Gibby is actually doing some great work given the tools. Without 3 and 11 we could be giving up 60 a game.

    #35133

    Good points here!

    I think Gibby is doing one of the best jobs of his career.

    The biggest thing that’s pointed out by both of your comments is also the lack of improvements by some players. We knew youth and inexperience was an issue, but a number of guys haven’t gotten much better as the season has progressed. Injuries are a factor for sure, but WVU expected more out of guys like Shuler, Battle, Bailey, Pegues, etc. Also, the injury to Ferns was just a crusher.

    Robinson and McDougle have been good, and Pitts has helped in spots too, and on special teams (big hit on kickoff return vs. ISU). Need for those guys to keep progressing — not get to a level and then stall.

    #35185

    Next year we will be in a little better shape in the DL. Sills will contribute immediately. Williams could be a beast at a now 6’7″ 250
    The two DT are fire plugs at 6’3″ around 300. They could give some relief in the middle if they continue to progress.

    Those 4 along with only losing 2 SR’s looks to be a better year.

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