Last season, West Virginia broke in its third defense in as many years, and the results were quite solid considering. The Mountaineers allowed 399 yards and 27.3 points per game, numbers that were an actual improvement from the previous two seasons. The odd front set was also able to bail the offense out of several short-field situations, like those against Maryland and Baylor, to get to the seven-victory mark and back to a bowl.
But, as showcased earlier in the season against teams like Texas Tech and those same Terps, the tackling was poor at times, and was perhaps at its poorest in the Liberty Bowl loss to Texas A&M. Gibson lamented the effort and the execution after the 45-37 defeat. The Mountaineers gave up 28 first downs and more than 500 yards of total offense, and watched as Aggies’ quarterback Kyle Allen turned the latter portions of the contest into a highlight reel via his scrambling and ability to extend plays.
That, combined with the minus-15 turnover margin, set-up the two key objectives for the offseason. And thus far, West Virginia has honed in on the turnovers in the early portions of practices via a series of drills. Now, on the first day of full pads, the tackling portion gets back under way after a spring spent with an emphasis on fundamentals and base execution of proper techniques.
“In the spring, they did a lot of physicality things because they wanted to work on it,” corner Daryl Worley said. “We knew our yards after first contact (were poor) last year. We had a lot of missed tackles. We are putting the pants on today, so we are about to take it to another level.”
Safeties coach Joe DeForest details the differences in the first and second seasons in the odd stack
Dravon Askew-Henry agreed, noting that the tackling was rivaled only a lack of finishing turnovers as the most prominent issue for the Mountaineer defense. WVU ranked 119th of 125 FBS schools at -1.15 per game last season. With those numbers, it’s typically a near miracle to reach bowl eligibility. And while no stats are kept by the NCAA for missed tackles, Gibson assures any who will listen that the numerics were not great for portions of last season.
“We are flying around and guys are having fun,” Gibson said. “But I can’t really tell without pads. In shorts and t-shirts and a helmet, a lot of guys look good. We will know a lot more then.”
Which starts this afternoon. Worley, like Gibson, said having a second season in the same odd stack defense gave the unit a huge boost in spring. That, combined with 10 returning starters, has provided a sense of confidence, and led to faster overall play sans the over thinking that plagued the defense in 2012 and ’13.
“I wanted to play faster, to be able to read things faster so that every aspect of my game is getting faster,” Worley said. “Just being around and knowing what we need to do, knowing that nothing has changed that much and that it’s the same things over and over, repetition, you get faster. … And we get tested (by the offense). We have size guys, we also have speed guys. And we have guys that are just fundamentally sound. That prepares you for everything you might face in the Big 12. Going into games, there is really nothing you haven’t seen.
“Me and Daikiel (Shorts) go against it all the time. We go back and forth, and I’ll tell him to switch it up because it’s becoming easy for me, and vice versa. He will tell me if I’m being repetitive. He’ll tell me to switch it up and make me work.”