Koenning Sends Message To WVU Defense; Is Anyone There To Receive It?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – For the second consecutive week, West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning sent a message. The only problem is, is there anyone there to receive it?
Last week, following the Texas loss, the veteran defensive coach noted that with no depth, the coaching staff was hamstrung to some degree in sitting those players down who weren’t fully bought-in to the new Mountaineer staff and system. This week, of course, the depth issue didn’t get any better, and Koenning again took the time to point out that a certain percentage of players still aren’t executing the fundamentals of what they are being taught on a consistent basis. While WVU has played good defense for several stretches against quality opponents, there have been maddening periods where some of the same players have ditched their assignments and keys.
“The margin is being able to consistently do things right,” Koenning said in response to a question about the seemingly small gap between playing well vs. playing poorly. “There’s a lot of analogies I could use, which I tend to [do], but if you do things right few times, you ought to be able to do things right all the time. That’s the frustrating thing right now. We can’t. At all positions.”
True to his nature, Koenning turned to a metaphor to describe what he is seeing when some of his players flip from good execution to bad.
“We’ve got too many guys that either downshift or turn the key. You either turn the key on or turn the key off, and we have too many guys who, when it gets into an uncomfortable zone, say, ‘Well, I’m going …'”
Here, Koenning mimes turning off the key.
“Coach Brown did his level best to find a way to get them to play hard this week, in a challenging way, but in a way to not hurt their feelings or do anything negative to them. We aren’t going to beat our guys down, but we have to find a way to get them to play at the level we are capable of.”
At this juncture, it should be made clear that Keonning isn’t referring to physical mistakes. He’s not talking about a defender getting outrun to the corner, or blocked by a stronger foe, or losing a jump ball downfield. These aren’t situations where the Mountaineers are getting outplayed. He’s talking about players who execute their assignments by getting to the right spot or filling the right gap, but then the next time don’t. Of course, there will be a mental mistakes of that sort now and again, but those occurrences to date have been far too numerous.
Koenning and the staff have tried any number of ways to reinforce the necessity to run what is coached. There’s been the get-tough approach following the Missouri contest, and the more gentle emphasis he described of the previous week. At this point, the frustration in the inconsistent results are evident. If WVU was simply incapable of putting its lessons into practice, that would be one thing. However, the Mountaineers will put it all together for one or more quarters, then fall apart, or vice versa.
“You take two-thirds of the KU game. You take the second half against Missouri. You take the second half against N.C. State and the first quarter against N.C. State. You take the first and the third quarter last week against Texas. You take the first half of this game,” Koenning said of the many good periods of play he has seen from his defense. “We’re capable, plenty capable. But we’re either here (indicating up high) or here (down low). There’s no in-between. Until we can get some depth so we can challenge (some players) we have to figure out this drop-off that we’re having.”
One potential solution that Koenning sees is one of ownership by the players. As he notes, coaches can’t just beat up on players time and again without getting tuned out, but peer pressure and leadership could be more effective.
“I saw one player on our team finally start drawing attention to guys not doing stuff right,” he said, while declining to identify him. “We have to continue to help our players to lead. Until we get the players to lead from within it’s just going to be us (the coaches) fighting them all the time. It’s like any relationship, if you are doing this (pounds his fist) all the time, eventually they are going to turn you off. It can’t always be us. We have got to find to ways to continue to give our guys a chance.”