West Virginia D Rises Again, Anchors Victory At K-State

West Virginia D Rises Again, Anchors Victory At K-State

MANHATTAN, Kan. – There wasn’t anything West Virginia’s defense didn’t do against Kansas State.

It created turnovers. Picked off a pass late in a huge situation. It limited Kansas State to just two touchdowns. And what it did best was force field goals even when pressed by poor field position.

“We scripted that; we needed red zone work,” coordinator Tony Gibson said. “That was the key to the whole game. Our kids got so much momentum.”

Kansas State’s solid red zone offense, one based around hard-nosed physicality and running the football, lost the battle to a defense that stiffened mightily near their own end zone. After Will Grier’s second interception put the ball  inside the WVU five, the defense stuffed three straight runs and a field goal to maintain the lead. Late, when the Mountaineer offense was badly struggling and the defense was called upon to win a game for the second straight week, freshman free safety Kenny Robinson jumped a rout and intercepted KSU quarterback Skylar Thompson.

The interception and resulting return put the ball near midfield, and it as a good thing, as the offense again went three and out. That put the defense on the field again, and it rose up one final time, stopping the Wildcats, this time near the shadow of Kansas State’s goal line, and getting the ball back in their own territory after just three plays.

It was a second straight dominating effort in stretches, mirroring portions of what Gibson’s unit did against Iowa State in a 20-16 win a week ago. The most glaring similarity? With an offense that was shutout after the opening two quarters, the defense held on. And this week it was even better than last, ISU scoring 16 points to get close while Kansas State had just three over the final 30 minutes.

“I said it last week: I haven’t been prouder of a group of kids in 23 years of coaching as I was,” Gibson said. “They turn around and do it again. Hat’s off to those kids. Kansas State creates issues and problems with scheme and our guys handled it well.

“We had some guys make some plays. No. 3, No. 11, No.2. And not just those guys. They make the plays every body sees. Up front we played phenomenal. It was good to get (Adam) Shuler back. (Ezekiel Rose) the pick before the half. Pleased with our effort. We still made mistakes. But proud of these guys.”

Those numbers are Al-Rasheed Benton, Kyzir White and Robinson. The three are becoming the heart of a defense that’s getting stronger up the middle as the season progresses. That’s providing help to the edge players, and it’s making the No. 23 Mountaineers more formidable as the Big 12 slate enters its final two weeks against Texas and Oklahoma.

Where once those match-ups might have seemed more daunting, they are now nothing more than the next challenge. And with WVU getting plays from younger talents like Lamonte McDougle at nose tackle, Robinson at free safety and ends Shuler and Reese Donahue – sophomores both – the bright future might just be the present.

“They had three good backs,” GIbson said. “Their quarterback was in control of the game. He made throws and handled the offense well, but we made a couple plays that mattered. Right now we are as confident as we have been. This was the first game coaching as a defensive coordinator I never drew on the board (on the sideline). I wanted to stay away from them. What they were doing was working.

“Drew some stuff at halftime and it worked to shut down that lead zone. Now our kids have juice.”

With Texas coming in – yet another power team that will challenge West Virginia in similar ways. But hit these Mountaineers now, and they have the fortitude to hit back.

“I know Morgantown will have juice next weekend,” Gibson said. “Hopefully it’s a night game.”