Rushing Game, Rash Of Injuries Plague West Virginia Defense
LAWRENCE, Kan. – West Virginia’s defense resembled a M.A.S.H. unit by the end of the 56-34 marathon win over Kansas.
Spur safety Kyzir White exited midway through the game and never returned. The heart and soul of the defense, his absence was felt the most. His counterpart at bandit, Toyous Avery, never dressed and was held out because of injury. Marvin Gross, who replaced Avery in the early stages of the game, ended the contest watching from the sideline with his pads off.
Corner Mike Daniels injured a knee, was reinserted, promptly gave up a long pass, and was removed again. Back-up middle linebacker Brendan Ferns finished the game from the bench with his right arm in a sling. Weakside ‘backer David Long continued his season-long shutout streak, again being held out while recovering from a meniscus tear. It amounted to coordinator Tony Gibson piecing together a walking wounded as WVU tried to survive a scare in the Big 12 opener.
“We’ll probably have to have our meetings in the training room,” Gibson said afterward. “Hopefully they have set a film room station up in there for us.”
That was a joke. What wasn’t was the Mountaineers allowing a mundane Kansas offense to score 34 points and total 564 yards of offense. Included in that were 367 yards rushing, a record 291 of that coming from Khalil Herbert as the sophomore gashed WVU for the most rushing yardage ever surrendered to a single opponent in one game in school history. Herbert’s late 15-yarder pushed him past Pitt’s Kevan Barlow, who racked up 272 yards on the ground in a 2000 win over the Mountaineers.
It was the most rushing yardage for a Kansas player since 1991, and was the third-best mark in school history. That Herbert also set a new benchmark for any NCAA FBS tailback this season says enough, as does his two touchdowns and 8.1-yard average per carry.
Kansas, now 1-3 on the season, entered having scored no more than 30 points against any FBS foe this season, and that came against a non-Power Five team in Central Michigan. And midway through the fourth quarter, it was threatening West Virginia with a major upset, trailing just 42-34 after scoring 24 of the game’s initial 31 second half points. It signals an issue on many fronts, not the least of which are line play and injuries.
“I don’t like that we have six starters that I can’t play Big 12 football with,” Gibson said. “That’s what I don’t like. Guess what? Here’s the good news: We won, and we played a lot of guys who played a lot of snaps for the first time in a meaningful football game. The bad news is I have six starters out that played minimally, and then were put on the shelf. If we don’t get healthy we are going to have some growing pains.”
And the line, which failed to control scrimmage or stem the rushing avalanche?
“Not good, not good,” Gibson said. “We have to put everybody up (to help the run) and then we guess wrong and get hit for big plays and it’s frustrating at times. I guess replacing eight, nine guys every year as caught up to us. Off week can’t come at a better time. We need to get guys healthy and those guys need to get off blocks. We gotta get off blocks. We made a few adjustments that really helped us and we started shutting down the power. But still we gave up too many big plays.
“They ran the ball more than what I thought they would do. I thought they’d try to throw it all over the place. Other than the one deep ball we gave up to the (Steven) Sims kid, I thought we played the pass game pretty well. We had a pick, had a pick six.”
That’s true. West Virginia recorded two interceptions, including one for a touchdown by Daniels before his injury. They largely stymied pocket passer Peyton Bender, who completed 17-of-32 passes for two interceptions against a lone score. The Jayhawks, who threw all over its first three foes, didn’t against the Mountaineers.
The other positives is that it simply won’t get any worse. WVU has no little experience, less depth and is working on a rebuild for a third straight season. The Mountaineers have the bye week to get ready, and they won’t have as many misfits on the run, or be as poor with leverage, as they were against the Jayhawks. The bad news is that even an open week might not be enough for what ails when West Virginia travels to TCU.
“I look and it’s an eight-point game early in the fourth quarter and – not taking anything away from our guys – but it’s all twos out there,” Gibson said. “I’m proud they battled. They made a lot of mistakes, missed a lot of tackles. But we won’t be able to play good defense until we get these guys more snaps. You don’t want to go wholesale and put them in for that many plays; that’s what’s frustrating trying to deal with this.”