Injuries, Youth Challenge WVU's Defense - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Injuries, Youth Challenge WVU's Defense

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WVU sophomore safety JoVanni Stewart celebrates a tackle for a loss in a 56-34 victory over Kansas. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle) WVU sophomore safety JoVanni Stewart celebrates a tackle for a loss in a 56-34 victory over Kansas. (PHOTO: Geoff Coyle)
MORGANTOWN -

The Big 12 dwindled down its allotment of bye weeks this season to make way for the return of its conference championship game. The one afforded to West Virginia could not have come at a more perfect time.

Saturday’s defensive performance made it quite clear that shy of full health, coordinator Tony Gibson has an even more presser issue of inexperience than he had already been aware of when he watched eight of last year’s starters move on in the offseason.

“I guess replacing eight or nine guys every year is starting to catch up to us,” Gibson said after a 56-34 win over Kansas. “We need to get guys healthy. Probably have to have our meetings [Sunday] in the training room on defense and [athletic trainer] Dave [Kerns] is hopefully setting film stations up down there for us.”

Gibson laughed. After all, it was supposed to be a joke about the state of his unit and how a room equipped with ankle tape and stretching bands may be the best place to watch film. The truth in his words was not near as amusing as he looks ahead to the teams left on the schedule, each of which was picked ahead of Kansas in the preseason Big 12 rankings.

“The good news is we won. The bad news is if we don’t get healthy, we’re going to have some growing pains,” Gibson said.

The win came despite the fact that the Mountaineers were continuing to rest starting weak side linebacker David Long and starting bandit safety Toyous Avery and throughout the game, those two got company on the bench.

Kyzir White was rattled in the first half and didn’t return. His normal back-up, senior Marvin Gross, was already filling in for Avery, so sophomore JoVanni Stewart took the field instead. Gross went down, which made room for true freshman Derrek Pitts. Mike Daniels left the game in the third quarter after giving up a long reception as the Jayhawks mounted a comeback.

That’s to say nothing of the fact that freshmen like Dylan Tonkery, Lamonte McDougle and Kenny Robinson are already in the lineup.

Gibson guesses he used just about every player he had dressed for the trip, and the combinations of personnel he put on the field may never have been replicated in practice.

“I also understood with those guys going out, it’s on me to make sure I’m doing a better job of communicating and not assuming that guys know what’s going on,” senior middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “That’s something we’ll get in. I’ll get that chemistry with those guys and we’ll be ready.”

The hope, of course, is that they won’t have to be ready for such an experience in two weeks. A trip to Fort Worth to play TCU, now a Top 10 team, will require all hands on deck.

“It’s all our twos out there and what I’m proud of is they battled,” Gibson said. “They made a lot of mistakes, missed a lot of tackles, but we’re not going to be able to play good defense until we get these guys more snaps. You don’t want to have to go wholesale and put them all in for that many plays, so that’s a frustrating thing to try to deal with.”

Frustrating to the tune of 291 yards and two touchdowns from KU sophomore running back Khalil Herbert, who, prior to Saturday, had fewer than half of that total in three games to start the season. The Jayhawks staff found a weakness in WVU’s defense and exploited it in a game that was too close for comfort as far as the Mountaineers were concerned.

“Being gap sound. Understanding where everybody’s supposed to be, making sure you don’t get out of your gap,” Benton said of fixing the run defense. “There’s a big play where even I got out of my gap. Something I’m still working on, something we’re still working on as a defense. You gotta put those good things on film. Put those good habits on film and that’ll keep guys from trying to attack you like that.”

The film Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs will be watching for the next two weeks is devoid of many of those good habits. The good news for Gibson and his Mountaineers is that it will also be devoid of many of the players he hopes to see back with a clean bill of health for a road game against a Top 10 opponent.

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