Longtime Struggle Against The Position Again On Display Versus Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Oklahoma used one of West Virginia’s old nemesis against it.
The Sooners hit WVU with tight end Mark Andrews on a consistent basis, targeting the defending first-team All-Big 12 selection five times with four receptions. At 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, Andrews was a nightmare match-up for a Mountaineer defensive style that has long struggled defending tight end passes down the seam and to the middle of the field.
It’s a position WVU seldom faces in its own practices, though that could be changing as the program has added Trevon Wesco and Jovani Haskins, the latter a 6-4, 245-pound Miami transfer who sat out this season to satisfy NCAA eligibility rules .
“We go against it sometimes in practice on our own,” linebacker David Long said of defending the position. “We need to play better defense. It was a little different for us, but not something that should have done that much damage.”
Andrews finished with the four catches for 61 yards and one touchdown with an average of 15.3 yards per catch. A safety blanket of sorts for quarterback Baker Mayfield, Andrews was a mid-season All-American selection who finished the regular season with 51 receptions for 848 yards with six scores. A surefire NFL pick in the coming draft, Andrews is the latest in a line of high-caliber TEs who have haunted West Virginia.
It was among the issues for a struggling defense, which failed to contain any aspect of Oklahoma’s attack. The Sooners struck for 66 yards on the game’s first play, when Kyler Murray carried off the right side to the four-yard line. A play later OU led 7-0, and it rolled from there, mixing in Andrews and Mayfield with a slew of underclassmen in running backs Rodney Anderson, Abdul Adams and Tre Sermon and receivers CeeDee Lamb and Marquis Brown.
It showed the depth and young talent of Oklahoma, and what West Virginia’s defense will be facing in coming seasons. Though coordinator Tony Gibson blamed himself afterward, the truth is WVU was facing a rebuild for a second straight season and didn’t have the level of corner ability to truly operate the defense as Gibson wanted. It was a season-long struggle, and it continued until the bitter end of the 12-game slate with a bowl to follow.
“They jumped out fast, got us on our heels and that’s that,” Long said. “Busts. We didn’t do our job. Big plays hurt us. All the Big 12 offenses run fast, high tempo. They were a great team but we did make some mistakes that hurt us. Players have to be players and make plays. We gotta get back to work.”
The Mountaineers (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) finished the regular season allowing an average of 31.6 points per game, 93rd nationally and up more than a touchdown off the 24 points per game allowed last year. The 31-plus points, in fact, are the most ever allowed in Gibson’s four seasons as coordinator; WVU gave up 24.6 ppg in 2015 and 27.6 in 2014, his initial season at the position. The marks are still better than in Keith Patterson’s last season, when the program ran a 3-4 set and allowed 33.3 points per game.
Gibson, clearly upset after the Oklahoma loss, said that his unit was poor at every position, and that it was, essentially, as his fault though that’s not the case. There was a clear talent and depth issue between the teams, and the lack of backfield play combined with injuries, awful tackling in stretches and some unsettled line play hurt the Mountaineers for most of the year. Before one attacks Gibson for the depth issue, he’s among the best recruiters the program has as well. His postgame comments of deserving to be fired were simply passion on parade.
“Most coaches do that to protect their players,” Long said. “But at the end of the day, we were the ones playing ball and we have to make the plays on the field. We didn’t do that. Like any other loss – nobody likes losing – (the locker room) was quiet.”