Gibson Won’t Use Injuries As Excuse, But They Are A Factor
WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson never uses injuries as an excuse for less-than-optimal play from his team. The phrase “next man up” might well be tattooed across his chest. That’s admirable, as it shows not only his refusal to blame factors outside his control for poor play, but also develops a positive mentality among his players. If the coach believes that whoever he puts in is going to get the job done, then those players should too, right?
The same mantra can be heard from players whenever the injury factor or shuttle of bodies from sideline to field, and position to position, is mentioned. It’s clear they hear it, and believe it. That’s the result of good coaching, and shows buy-in by the players.
At some point, though, the reality of the situation intrudes. People in any job are going to improve if they do the same task over and over, in the same situation, and with the same team members filling the same roles around them. That’s the importance of practice, of “reps” — the coaching shorthand for repetitions. Those that don’t have the benefit of that time usually aren’t going to be as effective. How many times have we heard a player assessed as having talent, but just needing reps to blossom into productivity? It’s true, and for players without that experience, who are being shuffled around and seeing new faces around them, it is a factor, whether acknowledged or not.
For West Virginia, which has shuffled more people through its defense this summer and fall than the West Virginia Supreme Court, it finally caught up with them against Iowa State. And Gibson, who has seen injuries both catastrophic and nagging throughout his career as WVU’s defensive coordinator, finally admitted, at least a little, that it has an effect.
“When you start losing guys, it’s just kind of the story of our defense over the last few years. We just can’t keep guys healthy,” he said matter-of-factly, while continuing to pepper his post-game comments with the no-excuses phrase. However, he also thought a different mindset might have crept in after an early success.
“We played four snaps and we were rolling, scored, and I don’t know if they thought it was going to be easy,” Gibson said of his team, which got a first-quarter interception from spur Dravon Askew-Henry to set up its only offensive score of the night. “They made some plays, and then I thought we settled in. I thought we hung in there.”
Gibson’s defense, already hampered with the absence of linebacker Dylan Tonkery, who dressed but did not play, was also smacked with in-game losses of lineman Jabril Robinson and bandit Derrek Pitts. Both were injured and did not return — Pitts having to be taken from the field on a cart. That’s one stalwart on each level of the Mountaineer defense, and coupled with other losses that have piled up since the off-season, it was just too much to overcome.
“I thought early on we did a poor job of tackling [David Montgomery] ,” Gibson said of the Cyclones’ feature back, who ran for 189 yards on 29 carries. “He didn’t play last week and he probably had fresh legs. But he’s a great back and makes you miss.”
Head coaching Dana Holgorsen agreed, noting Montgomery “makes them a different team”.
Outmanned, worn down by a minus 30 differential in total plays, West Virginia’s defense continued to battle, but wasn’t anywhere near the efficiency it had shown earlier in the year. It managed just five tackles for loss and zero sacks.
“I thought we fought and didn’t quit. But I am not proud of how we executed,” Gibson analyzed. “We didn’t tackle and didn’t get pressure on the quarterback.”
While acknowledging that there is work to be done to correct errors, Gibson also hit at the heart of the biggest problem facing the Mountaineer defense.
“The first thing is we have to get healthy bodies out there. I am not using that as an excuse, but it is what it is.”