Defense Back To Full Health Against Tech

MORGANTOWN — When veteran defensive coordinator Tony Gibson walked from the artificial surface following the annual Gold/Blue Spring game, the longtime West Virginia assistant was confident that his defense had overcome the loss of eight starters from last year’s 10-3 squad.

That feeling quickly changed over the summer, however, as the news that starting linebacker David Long Jr. had suffered a torn meniscus and would miss all of summer camp and as many as four games.

As if that was not enough redshirt junior Toyous Avery, who had locked down the starting job as the team’s Bandit, went down in WVU’s season-opening game against Virginia Tech while other starters — Kyzir White, Dravon Askew-Henry and Mike Daniels Jr. — began dropping like flies as the Mountaineers captured victories over East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas.

The injury bug was so bad that as many as seven starters were sidelined during the second half of West Virginia’s 56-34 win over the Jayhawks.

“It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting to see after the spring,” Gibson said. “It’s not that the guys we had in there weren’t playing hard, it’s just that they did not have the experience those other guys had and it showed at times.”

Finally, Gibson, as well as Mountaineers fans, got a chance to witness what the prevent unit could look like during the remainder of the 2017 campaign when West Virginia traveled to Fort Worth, Texas, to take on then-No. 8 TCU.

“That was definitely the best half of football (the defense) had played this year,” the former-Glenville State College defensive back said. “That’s the first time we’ve had that defense out there since spring ball.”

And, it showed as the defense held the high-powered Horned Frogs offense to only seven points — that came following a muffed punt by the Mountaineers’ Marcus Simms — in the first half and reminded many of the great defenses of the past.

TCU offense would right itself in the second half thanks mainly to a pair of trick plays and would help the Frogs post a 31-24 victory, but Gibson and his staff were able to breathe a little sign of relief as the Mountaineers prepare to play host to No. 24 Texas Tech at noon on Saturday.

“Every week we go through a set of trick plays that a team has used. The two times they got us into trick plays, they worked. You’ve got to give all the credit to them. We had a guy or two get out of position on one of them and we missed tackles on both of them.

“But, we had the right people on the field to stop them. We just didn’t make the play.”

Now, Gibson and his players face a Texas Tech squad (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) that has found a running attack to go along with an always good passing attack.

“They will do some different things we haven’t seen,” Gibson said. “They’ll run the quarterback if they have too and they have four really good running backs and they do a good job of rotating them around to keep them fresh.”

Gibson and his staff will look to counter with a rotation system of their own. A rotation that will include former Fairmont Senior standout Darius Stills.

“He is going to play,” Gibson said. “He’ll be in the rotation. We busted the redshirt so now he’ll play. Right now, we need to use him because he’s active. He made some things happen (against TCU). I thought he handled himself well.”

Stills will join fellow freshman Lamonte McDougle in WVU’s three-man front. Sophomores Adam Shuler II and Reese Donahue will continue to start at the ends while McDougle and Stills split time with senior Xavier Pegues at the nose tackle.

“With the number of plays offenses in the Big 12 like to run it’s important that we have enough depth up front to keep us fresh,” defensive line coach Bruce Tall explained. “We ask a lot from our front three so it is important that we rotate them as much as we can.”

And, when you are facing an offense ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring (46.8 ppg) and No. 7 in total offense (549.8 ypg) you can’t have too much depth.