Position watch: WVU Nose Tackle and Safeties

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – While there are multiple keys to West Virginia’s success against Georgia Southern on Saturday, no two positions are as imperative as those of nose tackle Kyle Rose and spur safety K.J. Dillon.

Among other defensive ideals – more on that in our upcoming game preview and in-depth opponent analysis – the Mountaineers would like to clog the middle and force the Eagles to run horizontally rather than vertically. That gives the linebackers and safeties time to control their individual assignments, be it gaps or taking the quarterback or pitch man, and eliminates the quick hitters off dives, keepers and base off tackle runs, that can get into the second and third levels of a defense to create major gains.

What that means for Rose is simple. He cannot be blocked by a single player, be it the center or guard in Georgia Southern’s zone scheme. Rose must demand a double team, thereby effectively taking two gaps out of GSU’s options, literally and systematically, and allowing ends Christian Brown and Noble Nwachukwu to run fit into two other gaps, leaving the linebackers both free to scrape and run down the play and to fit up into their own gap assignments to eliminate the vertical threat. Keep an eye on Rose early to see if the 6-4, 295 pound redshirt senior can create controlled havoc in the middle against center Andy Kwon (6-2, 295 lbs., Jr.) and guards Darien Foreman (6-2, 310 lbs., Sr.) and Roscoe Byrd (6-3, 320 lbs., Sr.).

Byrd is a transfer from Alabama-Birmingham who got out of the program just before the peak of the cancellations issues hit. And while the Blazers have reinstated football, Byrd seems in a far better place, bringing his 20 career starts to Statesboro to blend with Foreman, who has a dozen consecutive starts, and 16 overall in his collegiate career. Both players have solid size, and compare well physically against the teammates Rose faces daily in practice in Adam Pankey (6-5, 312 lbs.) and Kyle Bosch (6-5, 310 lbs.). The first two to three series will give line coach Bruce Tall an indication of how Rose will perform, as well as giving coordinator Tony Gibson an idea as to how to structure his play calls based on the nose.

“With them having so many options of where they could go – they could pitch the ball, they could keep it, hand it off – they have a lot of outlets they can go to if they see something they don’t like,” Rose said. “We are going to stop the dive. That’s my job, to make sure the ball doesn’t come up our middle, Make sure it bounces to the outside and allow guys like Karl (Joseph) and KJ to come up and make plays. I think we are pretty fast on the outside, so the outside runs aren’t something that I’m too worried about. It’s all about gap integrity and staying sound in what we need to do and not letting any creases.”

Rose said that anytime he cannot occupy two blockers, it’s a problem, both against the triple option pistol and more traditional offenses. He said that reading and understanding the blocking calls within the zone scheme, be it a double team, a pull or the rare chopping on the initial snap, are key, as well as not overplaying a position and simply occupying the proper spot and assignment on the field. In that aspect, there might be none more aggressive than Dillon and Joseph. The West Virginia safeties, who have a combined 54 career starts (Joseph is a perfect 38 of 38 in his career), are known as solid run defenders who like to deliver a hit.

But that’s far less imperative in this match-up than simply being able to wrap tackle. If Rose and the line can control the interior and force quick run plays to stretch to the outside, that should free the safeties and an exceptionally deep and experienced linebacking crew to not only fit up properly, but do so with extra numbers at the adjusted point of attack. Dillon said his responsibilities aren’t much different from those against a typical offense; the adjustment will be the psychological battle not to become impatient and force upfield too quickly, thereby leaving openings and potential cut back lanes.

“It’s the same thing, but it’s playing the option, so everybody has a assigned job,” Dillon said. “It’s whether I am taking dive, taking pitch or taking quarterback. Or, if I’m in man, if I’m blitzing. It’s option, so it’s different from a spread team, but what they are asking me to do is not that hard, not that different from what I’m used to doing.”

The defensive coaches have said Dillon “likes to do his own thing sometimes,” and that’s a worry in this contest. Dillon, with 43 unassisted tackles and a team best tying three picks and seven pass break-ups, has a penchant for big plays, like his pick six against Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. He often operates on instinct, and for a player at the spur with his ability and experience, at times that is an asset. However, those are also the traits that Georgia Southern uses against opponents. Check the play of Dillon throughout the game to see if he’s settling in, and taking the correct angles to the ball.

One won’t be able to truly know of his total effectiveness without knowing the per-play assignments, i.e. whether Dillon had pitch, quarterback, etc. There are plenty of cases where a defender has looked at fault as he was attempting to cover for a teammate who made the actual error. So don’t read as much into that as to if Dillon is pushing too far upfield too quickly, or if he is staying at home, keeping backside and cutback containment and making sure, solid tackles when given the opportunity.

“If I go in and take the quarterback, he can still pitch it and if the pitch guy was my guy, we’re screwed,” Dillon said quite honestly. “I’m really focused on just doing my job.”

West Virginia also needs to make solid tackles in the open field. Dillon noted the Mountaineers went live for just a couple periods last week in trying to keep the team fresh. But a physical camp that routinely worked tackling drills, combined with some live sessions this week to hone basic clean-up, has the senior thinking WVU is ready – as it seems to have been for several days now.

“Be patient. I know guys are really excited to play and we are going to try and make as many plays as possible,” Rose said. “But playing within the confines of our defense is something that we need to do. Otherwise, there will be consequences. Getting the call, communication progression and making sure we do everything we need to do to run the defense that Gibby has called. We trust that he will put us in the right place to be successful.”

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