Dee-Fense! Dee-Fense! The Call For WVU
MORGANOTWN, W.Va. — There is something happening here that makes this season seem different than others for West Virginia, a certain something that offers a reason to believe that this may not just be a fast start for a Mountaineer team but instead something that it can ride through the easy early sledding into the avalanche of tough games that are stacked up at the end.
That something is D-E-F-E-N-S-E.
It is a disruptive, destructive defense, a defense that, yes, has some holes that must be patched, but that covers it by emphasizing its strengths.
In a game where the offense scored 35 points, where Will Grier threw five touchdowns, three 1-yard scores to Saturday’s TD hero, David Sills, and two cross country scores of 82 and 62 yards to Marcus Simms and Tevin Bush, respectively, it was that defense that made the difference.
“If we hold opponents to six points, we are going to win a lot of ball games,” Grier said after the game.
The game, as it turned out, swung on one defensive series, with WVU clinging to a 7-0 lead midway through the second quarter and not playing particularly well up to that point on offense. Kansas State gained nine yards on first down to give it a second and 1 on its 43.
The Wildcats had three downs to make one yard when they started. When they finished they were back at their 39, giving up the ball on downs as WVU stuffed everything they tried, including a fourth-down option.
That play, which lost four yards, was made by middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery, who is a story in himself for in his last game, against Youngstown State, he made zero tackles.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a Mike linebacker go an entire game without making a tackle,” Gibson said last week.
He also admitted that he spent much of this week reminding Tonkery of that fact, getting the point across with all the gentleness of hitting him with a sledgehammer.
“Gibby was mentioning it all week,” Tonkery said. “And I was hearing it from the other guys, too. David [Long] was on me pretty good.”
That, he swore, would not be repeated and in this one he had a big game with five tackles, including that one that changed the complexion of everything.
“It changed the momentum,” Grier noted.
The offense scored the next two times it had the ball.
The question is, what makes this defense tick? Why is it so disruptive, so destructive? Why does it have 30 tackles for a loss in three games?
“I’m not going to tell you that,” Holgorsen said, but he thought about it for a moment and realized that some generalities fit the question.
“This is a fun group to coach,” he said. “Gibby has them playing hard and they are fast and that makes them disruptive.”
He noted that Kenny Bigelow in the middle has been reborn, that Ezekiel Rose is a leader, that the defense is mature and, of course, it goes without saying that linebacker David Long is just a special player.
Long had nine more tackles and two sacks, one of them a magical bit of defensive work as he split two players and rushed to the quarterback in time to put him down.
“It was a mistake,” Long said. “Honestly, he over-read me. I went inside and I wasn’t supposed to.”
And that sprung him free.
A wrong move? Gibson didn’t care.
“I let him do a lot of stuff that I don’t let a lot of the other guys do,” Gibson said. “He has that kind of ability.”
But if there is one thing that makes this defense really special it is its speed.
“Over the last five years, this is the fastest defense I’ve had,” Gibson said.
It shows itself over and over. The Kansas State receivers could not work free for most of the game. The running backs couldn’t get where they were going.
But there was one play in particular that emphasized the speed of the defense, and it wasn’t even a play where there was a tackle made.
Kansas State’s quarterback was scrambling toward the sideline and losing ground with each step, getting out of bounds just before he would he have been caught … by nose guard Darius Stills.
“He came to the sideline, huffing and puffing, and said to me, ‘I really thought I had him.”
Stills weighs 293 pounds.
“The thing is, I told them they had to go 100 percent all the time,” Gibson said. “This is college football. You will blow assignments. You will miss coverages. You will miss tackles. But the one thing you will not do is loaf.
“This year, I have depth. If a guy loafs and I can sit him on the sideline or a quarter or two and get through to him.”