Long, West Virginia Look To Snap Skid, Use Utah As Springboard Into 2018
FRISCO, Texas – David Long understands Tony Gibson’s frustration.
Among the lines tagged on the Heart of Dallas bowl against Utah was that Gibson was hard on his defense during the run-up after the Mountaineers gave up 59 points and 12 yards per play in the final regular season game at Oklahoma. Sure, the Sooners rank somewhere among the top offenses in the history of the game, won the Big 12 handily and have set themselves up for another College Football Playoff appearance.
But there were segments of that game where West Virginia appeared to give up and in and simply stop playing with the tenacity Gibson requires. That didn’t set any better with Long than it did with the coordinator, and the sophomore has vowed to make amends in the postseason.
“Learn from our mistakes and work on what we need to work on,” Long said. “Gibby has been tuning us in to that, letting us know that can’t happen again. He’s already an aggressive coach. He’s just been more aggressive, honestly, making sure we are disciplined and getting done what we need to get done.”
At this point, the game plan is in. All that’s left is a touch of fine-tuning, which will take place over the next two days as WVU finalizes it’s approach and polish. For Long, the game will be a culmination of a slightly frustrating season. The linebacker missed the first four games while recovering from a meniscus injury suffering during strength and conditioning in the summer. When he returned, the Mountaineers were 3-1, the one loss looming more in his mind than the three defeats.
His goals, upon regaining his weakside linebacker slot – the one with the most freedom to use instinct and make plays within the odd stack set – were to lead West Virginia in tackles for loss. That’s after losing one-third of the season, or playing just 66.6 percent of the games that some of his teammates did. The final stats? Long tallied 13.5 TFLs, besting by half a tackle his fellow ‘backer in Al-Rasheed Benton. Now the two will team – and tangle – against the Utes to see which one can finish top the chart.
“We’ve honed in on our assignments and got pretty familiar with what we are going to come to the game and do and getting familiar with Utah,” said Long, who earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention honors from the league’s coaches. “They are a physical team. Skill-wise they are a fast team. Both (quarterbacks are) athletes and we will bring the same game plan to both of them.”
Which plays right into the hands of Long. The Cincinnati native, who Gibson calls among the finest players he has ever coached, has thrived against marquee teams who like to operate with athletes in space. His speed, ability to track from the backside and knack for knifing through and finding the ball will loom large for West Virginia. And those tackles for loss? Long is getting credited for just 1.1 per game. The real number, because he has 13.5 over eight games available and played, is 1.68 per outing. Even rounded down to 1.6 would rank Long eighth nationally.
That’s remarkable, even for a player with one second-team All-American honor by ProFootballFocus, along with ESPN’s second-team all-conference mention and WVU’s Defensive Player of the Year award. Named by Benton as the leader for next season’s team already, Long’s Mountaineers can establish major momentum going into the offseason with a bowl win, which would help the program reach eight wins, sustain the mojo generated by the return of Will Grier and David Sills and avoid a three-game losing streak entering 2018.
“We were all pretty disappointed in our play, but we knew we couldn’t hold our heads down and let that be the defining point of our season,” Long said of the Oklahoma game. “Tuesday, we have to leave all right.”