Internal Scrimmages Can Be Misleading
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia held its first scrimmage of the fall camp behind closed doors a bit more than a week ago, head coach Neal Brown admitted to being disappointed in the performance of his offense.
But, as they say, there are two sides to every coin and that leads to the great dilemma every coach has to work through.
“When you go against yourself every single day in the spring, every single day in fall camp, you don’t really know,” Brown said. “If you don’t score, does that mean you are really good on defense or really bad on offense? If we score every time, does that mean we’re really good on offense and not very good on defense?”
Heads you win, tails you lose? Vice versa?
Perhaps Brown made his decision, however, not long after that.
His quarterback situation remained unsettled at the time and his offensive line was reshaped.
But, was he right?
Could this defense be better than he knew, better than anyone really expects?
Much has changed on the defense with the biggest tactical change being the allowance of more freedom for the defensive linemen to be more aggressive and to display their athleticism.
Add in the development of such players as Darius and Dante Stills, and the year of experience such players as Josh Norwood, JoVanni Stewart, Keith Washington and Dylan Tonkery gained last season, and WVU could be better than expected.
But, once again, WVU seems to have benefitted most by bringing in some experienced transfers to change the entire complexion of the defense and it begins with Taijh Alston coming from junior college after trying East Carolina and Reuben Jones as a graduate transfer from Michigan as a defensive end.
All of a sudden, the personality of the defense changed from being David Long, Kenny Robinson and company to a group of hungry pass rushers eager to devour quarterbacks.
In that first scrimmage, Alston did exactly what they hoped he would and recorded four sacks, according to Brown.
Last season, WVU had 29 sacks in a pass happy conference while Troy – coached then by Brown – had 36 facing teams far less interested in throwing the ball.
“I love the defense,” Alston said this week. “It’s different than last year. It allows you to make more plays instead of just sitting in the gap like last year. It allow us to show our athleticism.”
So who is Taijh Alston and where has been all these years?
In high school, Bruce Tall recruited him to WVU out of Cameron, North Carolina, but he opted to stay at home and play at East Carolina, which turned out to be a wasted season because he tore the meniscus in his knee while tackling a ball carrier in the backfield a week before the season opener — ironically against the same James Madison team WVU opens with on Aug. 31 this year.
He was down for the year with the injury.
“That was my first year to ever miss football, so it was kind of hard for me,” Alston said. “I went to East Carolina to stay close to home but I felt that wasn’t the best place for me so I went Juco.”
He went to Copiah-Lincoln Community College in Mississippi and it proved to be the best thing he could have done.
“I feel like junior college helped me a lot, too. It humbled me. I feel like I appreciate everything I get here now,” he said.
Upon completing the year, WVU stepped up and offered him a scholarship again.
“When WVU offered me again out of juco I knew it was the right place for me,” Alston said.
When he arrived, he was at 226 pounds but Mike Joseph and the WVU strength and conditioning staff got him to 245 to 250.
“Even though I put on the weight, I haven’t gotten any slower. I’m still as athletic as I was in juco,” he said. “I feel I’m a good speed rusher on third down. I can add that to the team. I can play first and second down, too.”
Put him there with Reuben Jones and there figures to be constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which is crucial for survival in the Big 12.
“Reuben is a good pass rusher, too,” he said.
That, of course, could lead to some good competition between the two pass rushers, although Alston says that’s not what it is about.
“Our coaches tell us don’t compete against each other, compete with each other,” he said. “I feel like Reuben brings the best out of me and I bring the best out of him.”