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Lesley: ‘D’ Must Play Cleaner

Long Island wide receiver Steven Chambers, right, is defended by West Virginia cornerback Charles Woods (9) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Sept., 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

Through two weeks, the West Virginia defense has presented a mixed bag.

Week 1 brought a season-opening loss to Maryland. The Mountaineers struggled to contain a dual-threat quarterback and a top corps of wide receivers, allowing nearly 500 total yards of total offense en route to a Terrapin win.

The next week, hosting Football Championship Subdivision opponent Long Island, West Virginia’s defense allowed only nine first downs and 95 total yards of offense. The Sharks were shutout, with WVU emerging with a 66-0 win.

If there’s one consistency between the two showings as far as co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley is concerned, it’s that his defense is still grappling with the basics.

“We gotta play better, we gotta play cleaner,” Lesley said. “We gotta play better fundamental football. I think we’re doing some good things, but we’ve got to be better fundamentally.”

Led by linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo with a team-high 15 tackles, the Mountaineers currently sit at No. 6 among Big 12 teams in total defense — a ways away from the top-ranked defense the team had a season ago.

Personnel losses are partially to blame, with Dreshun Miller and former All-American Tykee Smith transferring out of WVU. Others, like Darius Stills and Tony Fields, left for the NFL, leaving the Mountaineers with holes to fill across the defense.

While new faces are thrown onto the field, there are still big shoes to fill.

“A lot of what you see, through two games, is how teams are attacking us,” Lesley said.

“We’re not giving our guys a chance a lot of times to be successful, honestly. Quick game, screens, short throws, so we’ve got to do a better job changing lanes and affecting the quarterback in different ways other than sacks. I tell guys all the time in front a sack is not the only successful pass rush. We’ve got to do a better job of that.”

Lesley is at least pleased with the unit’s drive, saying the group has looked strong in that area.

“We really haven’t had any effort issues,” Lesley said.

“I think our guys have played hard (in) both games. We’ve got to clean some things up fundamentally, got to clean some things up (with) communication, but overall I think our guys have flown to the ball for the most part.”

O’Laughlin on the mend

West Virginia may soon see one of it’s top offensive players return to the lineup.

Starting tight end Mike O’Laughlin, who has missed a majority of fall practice and has not yet played in a game, was scheduled to practice on Tuesday.

“He did some things yesterday, he’s gonna practice today,” head coach Neal Brown said Tuesday. “We’ll see where that goes.”

In nine games last season, O’Laughlin hauled in 15 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown.

Same face, different place

This weekend, West Virginia starting left guard Doug Nester will be looking across the line of scrimmage at some familiar faces.

Nester transferred to West Virginia this offseason following two seasons with Virginia Tech. He saw playing time in both seasons, seeing starting reps at both of the guard spots.

“He knows the program far better than any of us, right?” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said. “I’m sure there’s things that he can mention about the program and those things, but otherwise we’re gonna let him line up with us and go play ball.”

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