WVU To “Shuffle” Defense, Look For Improvements Along The Line

Holgorsen: Player Returns From Injuries To Aid Defense

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s win at Kansas was two sides to very different stories.

On offense, the Mountaineers rolled to 56 points and 635 yards, with 288 of that coming on the ground. They allowed one sack, and just three yards in negative plays. Defensively, WVU was gashed for 367 yards on the ground on 50 carries while back Khalil Herbert set a record for the most rushing yardage ever gained by a back against a West Virginia defense at 291 yards.

Much of that on both sides was because of line play. Where West Virginia more than held its ground on offense, keeping quarterback Will Grier clean in the pocket and opening solid holes for Justin Crawford, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway, the defensive front struggled to get off blocks, failed to make tackles and at times allowed Herbert to get to the second level unimpeded.

“We need to do a better job getting off blocks and attacking gaps,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “If you don’t get off blocks and make tackles, you guys know in this defense you better occupy some people, free up linebackers to make plays.”

West Virginia defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle (49) celebrates after his fumble recovery

Which didn’t happen. The lone bright spot was back-up nose tackle Lamonte McDougle, who may soon have the reserve tag dropped from his position. The true freshman used his 5-foot-10, 300-plus pound frame to clog the middle while his pad level and agility helped him knife into gaps and slow plays from developing. The son of NFL first-round draft pick Stockar McDougle, Lamonte figures to see increased time as WVU enters the heart of league play.

“We were happy with Lamonte,” Holgorsen said. “He looked different than the rest of them out there, which is why he was the player of the game. I am glad we had one that filled gaps and got off blocks and made plays. He’s disruptive and active. Uses his hands well. He had four tackles and a sack. When you get off blocks and make tackles its a lot better than getting drove back. I think we know how to coach this defense; we have been really good against the run so we will keep coaching it as we have.”

With the exception of some potential shuffling during the open week. With the return of several players from injury, including linebacker David Long and safeties Toyous Avery and Kyzir White, the coaching staff will use the additional time to try various combinations and formulate the best plan moving forward in preparing for a Top 25 match-up at unbeaten and No. 11 TCU on Oct. 7.

“We are going to move things around on defense,” Holgorsen said. “Getting David back, getting Toyous back, getting Kyzir back, we will be able to shuffle some things around to see what the best line-up is. We have to practice in order to figure this out.”

West Virginia continues to utilize the same starting line-up along the offensive front, with center Matt Jones, guard Kyle Bosch and Josh Sills and tackles Colton McKivitz and Yodney Cajuste. That could also be tweaked with the return of Grant Lingafelter and Jocob Buccigrossi. Both have been cleared by the training staff and could play against TCU.

“I thought we ran the ball pretty good,” Holgorsen said. “The best part of Kansas’ team was their D line. They have good players. Our O line was tired of hearing about it and played pretty good. We had one sack. The pressure was limited. That said, we pass protected and run blocked pretty good against a decent front. We still need depth.”

Overall Injury Update

Linebacker Brendan Ferns is out for the season with a shoulder injury. He will have surgery and is expected to return in six months, which would make him available for spring practice. All other WVU players have been cleared to practice this week and are expected to travel and be available for the TCU contest. That includes safeties Kyzir White and Toyous Avery, offensive linemen Grant Lingafelter and Jacob Buccigrossi, linebacker David Long and cornerback Mike Daniels. Are were out for the final handful of possessions versus Kansas.

“Unfortunate for him,” Holgorsen said of Ferns, who missed all of last season after tearing an ACL during fall camp. “Two years in a row. Was our most solid special teams player. He seems to be in good spirits. Like I’ve said 100 times, in football there is short term risk and long term risk. If you are’t willing to accept that risk you don’t play. I really liked what I saw out of him. We want him to hang in there. It’s unfortunate.”

Ferns would qualify for an injury redshirt, and thus a sixth season, after two season-ending injuries. That will not be petitioned for until his eligibility is near expiring as a senior. His loss vacates the reserve spot behind Al-Rasheed Benton at middle linebacker, a spot that will be a focus in practice this week.