WVU Linebackers Living Proof of ‘Next Man Up’ Maxim
The “next man up” phrase has long since become a cliche in sports, but it’s one of the most effective ways in which coaches keep their teams together when faced with absences due to injuries or other forms of attrition. WVU linebackers and special teams coach Mark Scott might be the most entitled to run those three words out this season, as his position group has had more situations falling into that category than just about any other this year.
Even when he began to get some players back for the TCU game, Scott had balancing losses to deal with. Brendan Ferns saw his first limited action in more than a year, but middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery reaggravated a groin injury, and backup Shea Campbell suffered a stinger. Neither of those players returned to action, so Scott went with Zach Sandwisch, a player who hadn’t exactly earned the confidence of the coaching staff up to this point.
“He’s a kid that has probably been yelled at more than any other in the history of Mountaineer football,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said following the win over the Horned Frogs. “I’m proud of him.”
“As a team, the next man up mentality, we live it,” Scott said. “That starts with Dana (Holgorsen) on down. We’ve had to work through it since game one. You are seeing guys do it. Shea Campbell, JoVanni Stewart and Zach Sandwisch stepped in and held down the fort.”
Stewart made the move down from bandit early in the season, and despite his lack of size, has acquitted himself well.
“JoVanni is 200 pounds … some days,” Scott said with a smile. “He’s also pound for pound one of the strongest and most explosive guys on our football team. He’s good in coverage, and is getting better and better against the run game.”
In one vein, Stewart is similar to teammate David Long, who, while a little heavier (220), is also shorter than the average ‘backer. That hasn’t harmed his productivity either.
“I haven’t see all of the linebackers in the country, but I wouldn’t trade David Long for anybody else,” said Scott, echoing earlier comments from Holgorsen, who wondered how his star defender has yet to be named the defensive player of the week by the Big 12 Conference.
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Scott’s special teamers also contributed heavily in the win, and has seen several players progress nicely this year. Veteran Deamonte Lindsay has been a fixture on coverage teams, and Dante Bonamico along with Exree Loe have been following in his footsteps.
WVU saw the opportunity to make some plays in the kicking game against TCU, what with the difficult conditions, and that came true as the Horned Frogs misplayed three kicks. (WVU also had its own gaffe when a short punt hit Keith Washington and the Frogs recovered.)
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy catching the ball with the winds,” Scott said. “We got a bounce our way, but at same time we had 10 guys flying down the field. Osman Kamara and Sandwisch dove in there to keep it alive, then Loe recovered it.”
That pickup of the kickoff after WVU’s first touchdown of the game set up a short four-play, 17-yard scoring drive which put the Mountaineers in control with a 17-3 lead. West Virginia also capitalized on another bobble at the start of the third quarter, which pinned TCU back against its own goal line and led to a safety.
With Ferns expected to play a bit more, Quondarius Qualls slated to return to action, and Campbell termed “fine” by Holgorsen, Scott may have more bodies to work with this week than at any time this season. That won’t change the approach he and Gibson craft for the defense – one that will be even more important against an Oklahoma State offense that is light years better than the group TCU put on the field.
“We have to play downhill and have to be aggressive,” Scott said. “From a communication standpoint, we’ve been good in talking, seeing the backfield sets, and that needs to continue.
“They have a big physical o-line, and both backs are physical but they can run away from people too. They are both three-down backs. Justice Hill is as good as we have seen, and after seeing Chuba Hubbard in a bigger role last week, we were impressed as well. That is definitely the best tandem we have seen this year.”