In the first half of Saturday afternoon's contest West Virginia lost the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball. It may have been more evident on offense, where the line struggled to get a consistent push on early downs until the second half, but the defense struggled to consistently stop Youngstown State's running game as well, often giving up anywhere from four to six yards on first down rushes and allowing the Penguins to average 4.5 yards per carry on the afternoon. That number is too high, especially going forward, and when you consider the level of opponent the Mountaineers were playing it is no wonder Tony Gibson was visibly frustrated after Saturday's week two match-up.
Even with Gibson's disgust with the overall lack of effort and play of the defense, Christian Brown had a little more of an optimistic look after the Mountaineers wore down Youngstown State in Saturday's game.
"I think we played pretty good," Brown said about the defensive performance. "I feel like there were mistakes that were made but we have a bye week so we have a lot of time to correct the mistakes we made."
Brown's opinion is likely to change after the unit studies film with Tony Gibson and Bruce Tall, but he did acknowledge the need to fix the mistakes in the coming weeks. One thing the Mountaineer defensive linemen will need to do better going forward is stopping quarterback runs. The Mountaineers allowed Youngstown State quarterbacks to rush for 102 yards on 17 carries, which is good for six yards a pop. Although the YSU QBs did some nice things, they won't pose the threat that Seth Russell, Tyrone Swoopes and even Patrick Mahomes will present later in the season. Brown discussed the defense's efforts in trying to slow down YSU's quarterbacks in the running game.
"As you can see (Yougstown State quarterback RIcky Davis) can run," Brown admitted. "But we just tried to keep him contained and keep him from getting a whole bunch of yards."
Davis was able to pick up 62 yards on 13 carries, so the Mountaineers were able to keep the quarterback from busting any long touchdown runs, but 4.8 yards per carry just isn't satisfactory against an FCS team, no matter how successful the program. West Virginia fans, and especially coaches won't want to hear it, but the heat may have played somewhat of a role in Saturday's lackluster performance. To account for heat and fatigue, there were noticeably more substitutions against Youngstown State then there were against Missouri, as ends Adam Shuler and Jon Lewis played a number of meaningful snaps with Brown sliding to nose to give Darrien Howard a rest.
"We have a rotation," Brown said about the movement. "If Darrien gets tired I sub in at nose and we'll have Adam Shuler come in at right end."
It looks like going forward the Mountaineers are comfortable playing five defensive linemen, with Brown acting as the de facto second string nose guard. Moving forward it will be interesting to see if Alec Shriner is able to work his way into that rotation or if true Chase Behrndt, who won scout team defensive champion in the team's opening week, can challenge for playing time moving forward.