Missed Call One of Few Negatives For WVU Defense
DALLAS — After giving up a big play on Utah’s opening drive, West Virginia’s defense played pretty well against Utah in the Mountaineers’ 30-14 loss in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. An 83-yard drive, highlighted by a missed call and check by the Mountaineer defense, let the Utes have an early 7-0 lead, but after that WVU was very good. It gave up only 279 yards on 76 plays after that four-play opening series, and kept the game in range until the fourth quarter.
“I thought we did a good job of that and giving us a chance. I was proud of the way we kept fighting,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “But we have to fix a lot of things (on defense) We need another defensive lineman and two more corners and then I’ll like where we are at.”
If that appears to be gilding the lilly, it’s not. Gibson, as much as anyone, knows that winning is a team effort, and that it doesn’t matter if one or two player or groups play well in a defeat. It doesn’t mean that it should be ignored, either, because it does provide at least some hope as a building block for the future. That one bad series, too, put West Virginia in a hole from which it could never recover. Had the Mountaineers gotten a stop there early, might the offense have felt a bit less pressure? As it turns out, Utah would probably still have won the game, because WVU was unable to stress the Ute defense much at all, but being down early probably didn’t help the patchwork offense get into any sort of comfort zone.
Gibson, speaking of the positions still to be recruited in this year’s class, is looking ahead — as seeming half of December was spent in the Mountaineer program. There’s a lot of ground to cover before getting there, and two points stand out from this game that still deserve mention. One is that the defense played well, but that will not be remembered in the wake of the awful offensive performance the Mountaineers produced. Kyzir White was all over the field, producing 13 tackles. Al-Rasheed Benton and David Long were again leaders, combining for 14 tackles and three for losses. Xavier Pegues showed up well in his final game, with five stops up front. There were also two fumble recoveries and six sacks. That’s enough defense to win most games, but not this one, where the offense never gave any support.
The second point, and one that will get more scrutiny, is one of team unity. Judging from several things throughout the year, and culminating with some post game comments, there wasn’t exactly a 100% buy-in from everyone on the WVU roster this year. Gibson pulled no punches in that regard.
“Last year we win ten games playing together and feeding off each other. I told the defense in the fourth quarter, ‘I don’t care what the score is. Get your butts up off the bench and cheer the offense on.’ Maybe it’s selfish, but we have to weed it out and get rid of it if that’s what it takes, and build a football team.”