Rose Blooms For WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Ezekiel Rose has been something of an underappreciated player for West Virginia this year, but he emerged into the spotlight during the Mountaineers’ 20-16 win over Iowa State. He set the tone for the first starting assignment of his career with a first quarter sack of Cyclone quarterback Kyle Kempt, then added to that with a pass deflection on another pass rush that blew up an ISU screen pass attempt. That play nearly resulted in an interception by linemate Lamonte McDougle.
Rose was also solid against the run, chasing down a rush by ISU’s David Montgomery in an area normally patrolled by linebackers. That tackle ended with Rose being hit in a rather tender region, but after a short recovery period on the sidelines he was able to return to action.
The increased productivity is just part of what Rose brings to the team, though. A participant on WVU’s punt and kickoff return teams, he covers more ground than any other defensive lineman. Forty yard sprints downfield in punt coverage, combined with more runs to blocking positions on kickoff returns (he also has a spiffy 23-yard runback to his credit) test his conditioning, especially now that he is getting more playing time on defense. He started in place of the injured Adam Shuler against the Cyclones, but the workload didn’t bother him.
“I don’t feel like I get tired. I might get a little winded, but my drive keeps me going — how much I want to play the game. I don’t want to get out of the game,” he said. “Coach will pull me out of the game and I might be breathing a little hard, but I’ll say ‘I’m good, I’m good.'”
His defensive coaches, Bruce Tall and Tony Gibson, have been complimentary of Rose’s work, but he’s not satisfied. He leads the team in sacks with 3.5 — rare for a backup — but wants to do more.
“I grade myself hard,” he said of his work in the defensive line meeting room with position coach Bruce Tall. “He’ll say I’m doing good, but I will say ‘I could have placed my hands a little better. I could have did this or that or kept my head up.’ He tells me that’s a good trait to have, so I critique myself a lot.”
Rose found out in the middle of last week that he would get the start against Iowa State, and immediately went to Shuler for preparation assistance. That drive to do more, to look as his own play critically and to pick the brains of teammates, had helped him improve steadily over the course of the season, and set him up for the nice game he had on Saturday.
“I found out Wednesday night that I was going to start. I didn’t tell anyone. I just honed in more on what I needed to do,” the always-pleasant Rose said. “I talked to Adam [Shuler] a lot, about what he does as a starter. I took some of his notes. We are two different types of players, so I just added in what he had to say with what I had to do, and it worked out. We answered the call that Coach Holgorsen gave us. We went out and played with a chip on our shoulder.”
WVU needs more of the kind of play the mobile Rose provides. If Shuler returns this week, so much the better, as Rose should be able to be a bit more fresh if he comes in on pass rush situations. However, he played very well against both the run and the pass last week, so it might be hard to keep him off the field as much as he was in preceding weeks.