Preston, WVU LBs Look To Corral KU Run Game, Upgrade Pass Coverage
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Xavier Preston recorded three tackles and a fumble recovery in West Virginia’s 59-16 blowout win against Delaware State last Saturday. But it’s the next level of challenges that he’s looking toward this weekend as the Mountaineers open Big 12 play
After two consecutive blowout wins at home, West Virginia travels to play Kansas at Memorial Stadium,the first of two straight on the road within the league. Preston and the rest of the coaches and players know how much more of a challenge Big 12 games bring.
“It’s just another opportunity for us to go out and compete and play,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “It’s good, there is motive for guys now. Coming off of the last two games, obviously with lopsided scores and guys were only playing really a half. It is an opportunity to go out and compete against another Big 12 opponent. We are going to have to play four quarters of football.”
With tougher games ahead and three games already in the books, West Virginia has allowed about 22 points per game and Preston has observed the team’s growth on the defensive side throughout the year. The Mountaineers are giving up 413 yards per game, and have been effective on third downs and in the red zone. But they also have just four sacks and haven’t pressured as well as hoped.
“I liked some things; I didn’t like a couple of things,” Preston said. “It’s not my place to call that, honestly. I liked who was out there; I like how we are playing. We can always get better. I’m not going to say that it was completely horrible or anything like that.”
As a senior on the team, Preston has experienced many different situations and developed chemistry with a variety of players on the field, one being fellow senior Al-Rasheed Benton. Like Benton, Preston knows the value of building that repertoire with teammates.
“That just gets better as you go,” Preston said. “As you play you recognize certain guy’s strength. You can see things that they don’t see and help each other out. We have been playing with each other for a long while, we had a long camp. We are three games in and most of the guys out there right now have been playing with each other different times during their career here. It isn’t a big deal with us. We all know each other; we are familiar with each other and we see each other every day. We worked all summer so that it is not a big thing as far as chemistry.”
With a few younger players in the linebacker rotation such as freshman Brendan Ferns, who has 10 tackles recorded on the season, Preston is one that should take a leadership role in helping the rest of the linebackers communicate. That will be a key this weekend against a KU passing offense that has amassed more than 1,000 yards over three games with a gunslinger mentality in quarterback Peyton Bender.
“There is a lot of guys out there that is more vocal than others and we just look to those guys,” Preston said. “Guys just assume their role, whoever wants to talk talks, but we make sure we get things communicated that need to be communicated.”
Despite being heavy favorites, West Virginia shouldn’t take Kansas lightly, as Bender is currently ninth in the nation in passing yards with 1,030. Running back Khalil Herbert rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns in Kansas’s loss against Ohio, and the Jayhawks have a proven play-maker at wideout in Steven Sims, Jr. Sims, averaging more than 20 yards per catch, has 112 receptions, the ninth-most all-time in school history.
Kickoff is set for noon eastern. The game will be televised by ESPNU.