Tactical Changes, Motivational Speech Fuel Stewart And WVU Defense

Tactical Changes, Motivational Speech Fuel Stewart And WVU Defense


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Schematics or emotions?

One, the other, or both were responsible for West Virginia’s defensive turnaround against N.C. State. In the first half, WVU yielded 272 yards and 21 points, but in the second half those numbers dropped to 97 and six, respectively, as the Mountaineers rolled to to 44-27 win.

“It was just a quick adjustment for the linebackers. We saw what they were doing and fixed it,” West Virginia spear JoVanni Stewart said of the changes that helped turn the tide.

West Virginia safety JoVanni Stewart wraps up NC State running back Ricky Person
West Virginia safety JoVanni Stewart wraps up NC State running back Ricky Person

Sounds simple, but there’s a little more to it than that. Stewart describes a two-way process, where players share what they are seeing on the field, communicate it to their coaches, who then devise a counter. It might be a change for a player who is being blocked or sealed away from a particular play, or it could be an adjustment for another position to change his assignment and backstop the set. Tactics to combat new plays and formations are also quickly formulated and taught on the fly.

This  all sounds pretty simple, but it actually demands excellent two-way communication. Players on the field have to relate what they are doing and seeing quickly and efficiently, while the coaching staff has to take that information and use it to base their adjustments on. In the heat of the game, between defensive series, that can occur, but halftime, with its 20-minute break, provides at least a bit more time to work on changes.

Even, then, it’s a hurried pace. It takes at least 2-3 minutes to get to the locker room, and then there’s the need for quick bio breaks. Coaches confer for several minutes, then get their players together to chart out the changes. All that has to happen in about 12 minutes before the team heads back to the field for second half warmups.

The most efficient coaches manage that process well, and West Virginia has done so this year. The Mountaineers have played significantly better defensively in each of its second halves this season, and although head coach Neal Brown notes that he’d like to see his team play better in the first half, the fact that WVU has been able to adapt to opposing offenses has been critical in its two wins.

While that’s important, raw emotion can’t be discounted, either. Following an N.C. State score in the second quarter, Stewart came to the sideline and let loose. Not on any particular player, but rather in frustration that his team wasn’t getting the job done. What he said isn’t shareable here, but rest assured it was an epic mini-rant, delivered at high decibel levels. The words, though, weren’t the focal point. What was important was a message being delivered by a senior leader.

“I just knew we were better than that,” Stewart said with a laugh. “I was just trying to get the guys to wake up a little bit. I know if we were playing our best, they weren’t getting down there. I felt like soon after that, we were pretty good.”

That was the case for the defense as a whole, and Stewart in particular. He had his best game of the season to date, recording seven tackles, including one for a loss, and breaking up a pass. A week prior, he battled NFL-bound Missouri tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to a standstill, holding him to no catches when matched up on him man-to-man.Playing the spear, one of the linchpins in Vic Koenning’s defense,  Stewart has become more comfortable each week, and whether he was fueled by tactical changes or mortivational outbursts, it’s clear that his play has helped the Mountaineers lay down better performances as the season has progressed.

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