Reducing Confusion Goal For WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning made some adjustments to his defense in preparation for Missouri, but those weren’t necessarily aimed directly at the Tiger offense. Instead, they were designed to make things simpler for his defense, to cut down on their thinking at the snap and to allow it to play more freely.
Unfortunately, not all plans play out as hoped, and that was the case in Columbia. Koenning saw a defense that was hesitant at times – a death knell for good play.
“That can be the difference between a one-yard gain and a nine- or 10-yard gain,” WVU spear JoVanni Stewart said.
Although he didn’t feel he was pinned down with doubt, Stewart noted one attribute of his position helped him react without thinking.
“That really wasn’t me; my job kind of stays the same,” the senior said of his hybrid spot, which mixes elements of linebacker and safety play. “For the front, I see where [Koenning] tried to make things a little narrower. I don’t know. I guess our guys are just used to how it used to be.”
That remains a challenge for the entire team, which is still learning while transitioning to a different system that has different keys, reads and coverages than the one employed in 2018. The moves made last week, while intended to simplify, instead made things more confusing.
That didn’t make it a bad move, though. When problems are evident, doing nothing, or the same thing, can fall into that classic definition of insanity, one that was mentioned by coaches this week as impetus for more changes – this time of the personnel nature. However, Stewart doesn’t think he and his defensive mates are in a downward spiral.
“You can tell a lot of guys are thinking, but I am seeing progress,” said Stewart, who has eight tackles and a pass breakup in the first two games. “I think guys are starting to pick it up and understand what is going on. I think especially after this experience guys are going to be playing a whole lot faster. Sometimes you need a hard awakening for guys to wake up.”
That, of course is the hope, but now it must be followed with performance. More physical play, which should come when hesitation is lessened, is a first step. However, with the Mountaineers having yielded 202 rushing yards per contest this year, proficiency still seems a long way off.
“We are kind of plaing behind ourselves, thinking too much,” defensive end Jeffery Pooler added with a deft turn of phrase, following up on Stewart’s thoughts. He agrees that stopping the run is a Mountaineer priority.
“A lot of people are going to come after us with the run, especially after seeing last week’s game,” he admitted. “The thing is stopping the run, then you can get after the passer after that.”
Pooler and his linemates will have to do that without Taijh Alston, who was felled with a torn patellar tendon in the game and underwent surgery on Monday. In the first two games, Pooler, Alston and Reuben Jones had split time at end, but now the workload of the first two will likely increase.
“Taijh was a very productive player. He is a good pass rusher. We just have to take on an extra role,” said Pooler. “We’ll see how it goes this weekend. Splitting it three ways kept us fresh, but a couple more snaps won’t be a problem at all.”