WVU Defense Gets Head Start on Virginia Tech Opener
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson admits that his unit has been cheating. Not in any illegal way, but just in getting a bit ahead in preparing for one of the bigger Mountaineer football openers in recent years. While head coach Dana Holgorsen noted previously that he didn’t want to begin first game prep too soon, for fear of going stale, Gibson admitted that he has sneaked in a few things for his players to look at, especially in terms of the way the Hokies incorporate the quarterback into the running game.
Although Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente has announce that redshirt freshman Josh Jackson will be the starter on Sept. 3, Gibson doesn’t think that will be the only quarterback the Mountaineers will see behind center.
“This year, they’re going to play two or three quarterbacks. I anticipate that,” Gibson said as he provided some details on West Virginia’s activities on the field over the past week. “Are they going to try to make a living running Jackson? I don’t know. We’ll be prepared for it. Are they going to run [A.J.] Bush? We’ll be prepared for it. I think that’s a big part of their offense even going back and studying them at Memphis, so we’re going to have to be prepared for that. That’s going to be something a little different for us. Not a lot of people in the Big 12 are running quarterbacks. So, we have a lot of work to do and we’ve been cheating here the last couple of weeks of doing walk-throughs and just getting ready for some quarterback run stuff.”
The balancing act between covering all potential bases and burning a team out with too much preparation is a challenge that usually comes up at the beginning and end of the season. Preparations for openers, as Holgorsen notes, can get monotonous, as can the same for bowl games, which are often three or four weeks removed from the end of the regular season. WVU has fallen victim to that a couple of times, most notably against Florida State in the 1982 and 2005 Gator Bowls.
Still, there’s value in giving the defense an extra look or two at something it doesn’t see very often — in this case quarterbacks that are part of the run game. The Mountaineers do see similar looks and concepts from Kansas State, but that’s the exception in the Big 12. There’s also the fact that the Mountaineers will be depending on a number of defenders who will be filling bigger roles than in previous years, especially on the defensive front, where as many as eight or nine linemen might see action, including four at the nose position.
“We don’t have one guy right now that’s going to be able to be consistent for 70 or 80 snaps and that’s just a hard position to play with all the double teams and different things,” Gibson said of the contact-laden position in the center of the defensive line. “I like where those guys are at. I think that [Lamonte] McDougle is doing a great job. [Xavier] Pegues, Jaleel [Fields] , and [Jalen] Harvey; all four of those guys are going to have to play. Is it going to be 15 snaps apiece? I don’t know.”
At end, Reese Donahue, Adam Shuler, Jon Lewis and Ezekiel Rose all figure to play, with true freshman Darius Stills also slated to avoid the scout team and be prepared to see the field. (Along with McDougle, Stills and safeties Derrek Pitts and Kenny Robinson are the true freshmen with a decent chance to avoid a redshirt at this juncture.) The line will have to employ techniques to help keep runs and scrambles contained, and that’s an additional challenge for players that will have a number of things running through their minds. Of all those players, only Lewis, Donahue and Shuler have any appreciable college experience, so just getting the others into the game will be a challenge in itself.
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While Gibson doesn’t analyze the Virginia Tech defense in terms of game preparation, he does see some similarities between his group and that of Bud Foster, the long-time Hokie defensive boss. One of the intriguing subplots in this game will be the moves each of the masterful defensive coordinators make, and while they don’t match-up directly, the one that wins the majority of the defensive battles will give his team the much better chance to win.
“They play with four down [linemen] , but the mentality and the pressures, I think there are some similarities there,” Gibson observed, pointing out that the attitude and program pride in defense are items that both schools prize highly. “Coverage wise they probably do some things I don’t do, but they get after it.”