WVU Defensive Problems Not Easily Fixed
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — West Virginia’s defensive issues have been varied through the 2017 season, and Oklahoma State was able to expose the Mountaineers’ run-stopping problem with its signature tempo. Running 90 plays, the Cowboys gashed the Mountaineer defensive front for 246 yards and kept WVU from seizing the initiative.
“They get to a different formation but they don’t sub, so you just have to play the numbers,” WVU defensive line coach Bruce Tall said. “It gets hard when they play so many plays. There were some positive teaching moments [that came out of the game], but you can’t give up that many points and feel good about the job you did.”
“It’s tough when they tempo you,” WVU safeties coach Matt Caponi echoed. “OSU did a good job dictating the tempo, and in certain situations we’re in the spot where we need to be and if we execute we have a chance of getting off the field. We didn’t do that.”
West Virginia actually performed pretty well against the OSU passing game, It held the Cowboys to only 217 yards through the air, and yielded a long pass play of only 27. However, the argument can be made that with its ground game, Okie State didn’t need to test WVU deep. On many occasions, West Virginia rushed only three or four players and dropped well into coverage, but was unable to slow the consistent ground attack that produced 4.4 yards per carry. Even with steallar performances from a pair of WVU linebackers, Oklahoma State dominated the action up front.
“David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton played out of their minds, bu [OSU] has a lot of talent,” Tall said. “I thought our guys battled. ”
Perhaps so, but at this point in the season trying hard isn’t enough. To be fair, WVU was again injury-hampered, with Toyous Avery out and Xavier Preston being replaced by undersized Dylan Tonkery at sam linebacker. But OSU, with a patchwork offensive line, was still able to rule the roost up front.
In addition to being out-toughed, WVU also continued a trend of seeing ten players executing correctly on any given play, but having one go off on a tangent. Sometimes that isn’t exposed because an opposing play call doesn’t take advantage of it, but when it comes on an incorrect run fit and the opposing offense is pounding the rock, it’s going to hurt. Oklahoma State had eight rushing plays of ten yards or more, including runs of 39.23. 22 and 2o. Even worse, it gained 51 yards on eight third down rushes, an average of more than six yards per carry.
“We’ve been preaching that for the last 6-7 weeks,” Caponi said of the emphasis on consistency. “When we play as 11 on defense and everyone does their job we are pretty good. But if a guy is out of his gap or we’re not taking the right pass drop in the back end … we have to be more consistent with that.”
Emphasis and talk are one thing. Execution is another. Is WVU simply too battered at this point in the year to improve? Is the lack of continuity caused by starters and key backups missing multiple games and large chunks of others simply too much to to overcome? The coaching staff isn’t giving up, and perhaps is looking at more of a back-to-basics approach as the season heads into November.
“It’s getting the guys in the film room and correcting it, then paying attention to detail throughout the week,” said Caponi, acknowledging the fact that when mistakes are spread across the board, personnel changes might not be the answer. “Sometimes we may be more concerned about what the offense is going to do than with the things we need to do from a technique standpoint to get the guys in position to make plays.”