WVU’s Donahue Keeping Heads Up During Tough Mountaineer Stretch
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As it became apparent that West Virginia was going to fall short in its upset bid against Iowa State, senior defensive lineman Reese Donahue had a message for his teammates.
Coming off the field after a fourth quarter Cyclone score, Donahue repeatedly tapped his hand under his chin, in an unmistakable ‘keep your head up’ signal. It’s no surprise to see the Ona, West Virginia native exhibiting such leadership abilities. He knows all too well how a bad mental attitude can sink a team. So, as the fourth quarter played out, Donahue delivered his version of ‘Trust the Climb’ to his teammates.
There have been verbal pep talks and lessons, too. He’s talked to defensive backs about competing aggressively, even if a penalty results. And no matter what happens on the field, he notes that it’s on the team, not just an individual.
“We talked on the sidelines after that last touchdown that kind of choked us up a little bit,” he said of one such interlude which followed an Iowa State touchdown pass. “Tae Mayo was in the back on that, and the whole stadium looks at him and says ‘oh, that’s his fault.’ It’s not. The d-line didn’t rush hard enough. The d-line didn’t transition. Linebackers could have bumped off. It’s a collective effort. Ultimately we are a team.”
Of course, the fact that Mayo was in the game at all shows how much injuries have affected this year’s squad. Although listed as a second teamer at corner, the hope was to redshirt Mayo, and play him a bit in the back end of the season in order to get him some experience. Instead of spoon-feeding, though, he got the whole buffet, being forced into a full-time role when Hakeem Bailey was ejected for targeting.
That left West Virginia with a pair of true freshmen at corner, with Nicktroy Fortune replacing the injured Keith Washington. And when Josh Norwood needed a break, it was an all-beanie secondary, with Kerry Martin at free safety.
There’s no question that such a lineup affects what the coaching staff can call, or how WVU plays defense. Donahue, however, won’t go down that path. Again, it’s a matter of sending the right message, and of preventing fractures.
“I don’t feel as if we are playing with one hand tied behind our back,” Donahue said in response to a question. “Of course it would be great to have all of those guys back, and the depth. But Tykee Smith, a true freshman, stepped up and made a big play, and that doesn’t mean anyone else can’t do that.”
It also doesn’t mean it’s going to get any easier. Mayo will have to play this week as Bailey must sit out the first half for his transgression. In addition to the secondary, linebacker VanDarius Cowan and lineman Darius Stills were banged up. Washington’s status is still questionable. Smith, at spear, and fellow freshman Jordan Jefferson on the defensive front may also have bigger roles.
“Last week we had Sam Ehlinger. This week we had Brock Purdy. Next week we have Jalen Hurts. It’s not like it stops,” Donahue said of the quarterback and talent parade on the schedule. “It’s the same thing with the talent in the Big 12 at running back. It’s not just quarterbacks. It doesn’t matter who it is. Every team we face is going to have great talent in the backfield. It’s not something where we need to change our game plan. It’s just where we need to fine tune us and fix us.”