Ferns Likely To Play in Bowl Game
MORGANTOWN — Asked if fans will get one last chance to see a healthy linebacking corps when No. 16 West Virginia takes on No. 20 Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Fla., veteran defensive coordinator Tony Gibson had a very, very simple answer.
Pressed to explain, the former Glenville State College defensive back went on to explain.
“Yeah, we have four (healthy linebackers),” Gibson said. “No, we have seven guys that will make the trip. They’ll all make the trip, but seven can play and give us some good minutes, if need be.
“I think (Brendan) Ferns and (Quondarius) Qualls have taken that next step, and they’re ready. We should be able to get something out of them.”
Ferns, the St. Clairsville native, suffered his second season-ending injury since coming to Morgantown in 2016, during the Mountaineers’ fourth game of the season a year ago. The Big 22 Player of the Year (2015) had just recovered from a knee injury suffered during the preseason of his freshman season.
“The biggest thing is the first hit, the first live thing that they do,” Gibson said. “You can try to simulate that in practice, but when those guys got cleared — Ferns and Qualls — in Week 8 or 9, we’re not going to do live drills in practice.
“For them to be able to take that next step is to go be on a special team, run down on kickoff, test it out and make sure that they know in their mind, ‘I just ran 40 yards, hit somebody, and I feel pretty good.’ At that point, they get more confidence.
“I think Ferns was a little ahead of Qualls. These last couple practices we’ve had, they’ve looked good. They’re not back to where they were, but it takes time.”
Unfortunately, time is the one thing Gibson and his defense doesn’t have as it prepares to take on a Syracuse offense headed by senior quarterback Eric Dungey.
“(Texas quarterback Sam) Ehlinger more than anyone,” Gibson explained when asked to compare the Orange’s starting QB to someone in the Big 12. “He’s big. He’s 6-feet-4, 230 (pounds). He can run, he can throw. He does a really nice job of running the game, and they’re probably going to be the fastest tempo that we’ve faced all year long.
“They’re very similar to Oklahoma State, I would think. It’s going to create some issues. We have to do a great job of trying to win first down, get them behind the sticks and slow them down a little bit. If they do what they want to do and stay ahead of the sticks, it’s going to be tough.”
Right now, Qualls is listed behind starter JoVanni Stewart at the Sam linebacker while Ferns could see action at the Mike, where starter Shea Campbell and backup Zach Sandwisch are listed, or at Will in place of All-American David Long Jr. or backup Josh Chandler.
“We don’t have a lot of depth, but yeah, we’ll have guys playing,” Gibson said. “We’ll do our best.”
Which means playing every player available — even those that have earned a redshirt for the year.
“Yeah, they’ve been getting a lot of reps. Freshman (defensive lineman James) Gmiter, you may see him in there, along with (freshman safety Kwantel) Raines. We’re not at an issue right now that guys that are true freshmen who’ve played. Everybody’s available right now that’s on our roster on defense. We can play every guy.”