Koenning Doesn’t Hold Back In His Analysis Of WVU’s Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia head football coach Neal Brown is a pretty straight shooter with his assessments of his team. He’ll provide both the bad and the good in his analysis.
But compared to WVU’s grizzled veteran defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, Brown is down right Pollyannish.
For instance, during his weekly press conference, Brown discussed some of his defense’s deficiencies during the Mountaineers’ 38-7 loss at Missouri the previous Saturday. But West Virginia’s first-year head coach made sure to sprinkle in some good with the bad.
“The positives defensively were we didn’t allow many big plays,” he said. “I also thought our pass coverage was better, maybe as good as it’s been through fall camp and the first two games. Then we competed better in the second half and gave up no (defensive) points.”
A few minutes later, Koenning followed Brown to the same podium. He wasn’t as rosy with his outlook on WVU’s second-half defensive performance at Mizzou.
“I don’t know if the effort was better,” said Koenning. “I think (the Tigers) didn’t have the edge they had. We may have executed things a little bit better, but a lot of us still don’t know what to do, particularly in the front seven.
“We tried to make some adjustments going into the game to simplify things for some of the guys, and obviously we made a mistake with that,” he continued. “What we thought was simple just froze them up. So, we didn’t play with the aggression we needed to.
“It created paralysis by de-analysis.”
West Virginia is currently last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing an average of 202 yards per game in its first two contests. Missouri gashed WVU for 232 yards on the ground and another 150 through the air.
“We had a meeting (Monday) where we started off with a quote by (New England Patriots’ coach Bill) Belichick, ‘Just do your job,’ which is about the best way I can say it,” said Koenning. “Too many guys were not doing what they are supposed to do, and we did not execute. We had our hands on (Missouri quarterback) Kelly Bryant five times, and it was inexcusable we didn’t get those sacks. They scored on three of those drives. We had a pick-six that we baited them into throwing (but didn’t get). Shoulda, woulda, coulda, we have to make that play.
“The message to the defensive guys is that we are way more capable than what we’ve showed,” said WVU’s first-year defensive coordinator, whose cousin, Les Koenning, is the offensive coordinator at Kansas. “I’ll narrow it down to three things. We have to have more courage. I say that in courage to make plays. You can’t just freeze up. You have to be relentless. When I say relentless, I mean tough. I don’t want to liken it to war, because that’s life and death. This isn’t life and death, but it is a fight. Anyone who has ever played this game, particularly in the front seven, will tell you this is a fight. If you aren’t willing to fight and go to a place that’s a little bit nuts and a little bit crazy, you’re not going to be able to play this game. We had too many guys that didn’t go to that place – nice guys, happy to be there, enjoying the Golden Girls (Missouri’s dance team), whatever. We’ve got to inspire them to get to that place where they can play tough and physical. Within the rules? One hundred percent. We missed 22 tackles, and we practice tackling every day or some phase of tackling. We have to play way more inspired. Then the third thing is, we have to do the things we’re supposed to do. I saw our guys do things in that game that I never saw them do in practice. We have running plays coming right at defensive linemen who are popping up and running twist games like you run against a pass. There was no part of any of that that was a pass. We not only have to coach them better, but we have to inspire them better.
“We have a lot of work to do. We have to find that fine edge to convince these guys that they are capable of being as good as they want to be,” added the 59-year-old who is a native of Owasso, Oklahoma. “If they just do what they’re supposed to do, the plays will come to them. But if we don’t and they do their own stuff, not playing with vigor and courage, than it will be a lot harder year than it ought to be.”
West Virginia’s defense also took a blow this past week with a season-ending knee injury to sophomore defensive end Taijh Alston. The Mountaineers had been using Alston, along with Reuben Jones and Jeffery Pooler, in a rotation at d-end, but now they are down to two there.
“It’s definitely a depth issue. We’re not as deep at any position as we need to be,” explained Koenning. “We’re scrambling to find backup guys at a lot of positions. That’s just the way it is.
“I was listening to Joel Olsteen (the pastor of a 16,800-seat mega-church in Houston, who has radio and TV broadcasts) this morning, and he said, ‘The good Lord has you build a foundation’,” concluded Koenning. “Coach Brown says this to us. We have one year to build a foundation that we are going to build this program on. We are going to build a foundation of toughness and courage and doing things right and with an attention to detail. We’re going to hold our guys accountable. We’re going to have to have some guys step up, and I’m expecting them to do that.”