Frustration, Encouragement Twin Companions For WVU’s Jordan Lesley
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia defensive line coach Jordan Lesley is seeing a lot of good play from a rebuilt defensive front that has weathered personnel losses in addition to learning a new system. Just like overall defensive boss Vic Koenning, though, it’s the few missed assignments and inconsistent play that leaves him grimacing at points on the sideline.
“It’s more frustrating because of who you are playing. You know you are playing quality opponents,” Lesley said. “Take the last two, Texas and Iowa State. You look up at the beginning of the fourth quarter and you say, ‘All right, here we are. We have a chance to win it.’ And then you don’t. That’s the frustrating part. The encouraging part is what we are capable of doing.”
On many snaps, West Virginia has been good – following assignments and playing to the level of which they are capable. It’s when someone does something outside those parameters when things break down.
“It really just comes down to consistency,” said Lesley, who continues to fight the battle to get more players on task a higher percentage of the time. “When we execute what we are doing, we play as good as any group that I’ve ever had play. And when we don’t execute, we don’t. A lot of those plays against Texas and Iowa State come from exactly that. We give ourselves a chance to win the game, and then it’s those four to five or handful of plays that we don’t that have really hurt us in key situations.”
Bolstering the encouragement side of the equation, every player who has logged significant snaps on the defensive front has shown the ability to help the team win. Most recently, that was the play of seniors Reese Donahue and Reuben Jones. Both graded out with their best marks of the season against Iowa State.
“Both guys play with unbelievable effort. That’s where their success comes from,” said Lesley, who is in his 14th year of coaching. “I think last week what they did better than anything was that they played really smart. They rushed the passer really smart, and they gave themselves opportunities. But more than anything else those guys play hard.”
Lesley countered that analysis with a story about another WVU defensive lineman, who has been playing very well but had a technique breakdown that led to an Iowa State positive instead of a negative. Seeing a gap in the offensive line, the defender saw a running play heading to the perimeter, but instead of flattening out to pursue, he took a couple of steps upfield before chasing the play. The running back, with superior speed, won the race to the sideline for a gain instead of being cut off, which a better pursuit angle would have produced. It’s those sorts of mistakes that have to be eliminated to turn what has been a respectable defense into a very good or great one.
Leadership, in both speech and by example, is needed. Veterans such as Donahue and Jones have seen a lot, and should be able to do so.
“The way people protect (against) us is they come into a game a little bit different from how they protect anybody else that we see on film,” Lesley explained in regard to the experience factor. “You have to adjust on that, not that we are going to change, but when you see this, this is what you need to do. Those guys take those adjustments and are able to apply them and make some plays. Their football awareness and savvy kind of took over the other day. They are two older guys; they are going to have some more awareness than the younger guys are going to.”
One underclassman who is going through a major learning curve is true freshman nose tackle Jordan Jefferson, whose size and strength have earned him playing time in his first season. However, as he has been exposed to more technique work, he might have gotten somewhat away from the strengths that got him to this point.
“Jordan is progressing and getting better with some of the basic fundamentals of defensive line – hands, feet,” Lesley detailed. “He needs to get better at smacking the center, because that is what he’s good at. He doesn’t need to try to be any better of a d-lineman right now than that. That’s what he’s good at. I tell him all the time, ‘Be good at what you’re good at. Don’t try to be something you’re not.’