Entering Saturday's contest with Texas Tech, West Virginia's defense knew it had its hands full with a Tech offense that was averaging 650 yards and 55 points per game on the season. Even more impressive is what the Red Raiders had done at home, scoring over 50 points in its last nine performances. Tony Gibson, the man tasked with slowing down the high-powered offense, said that the defense played even better than he anticipated and praised the overall effort of his group.
"I didn't (think the Mountaineers defense could do that)," Gibson said with a smile on his face. "You guys just made me nervous every time I had to read about (Texas Tech). I said a lot of prayers in the morning on the way here and they were answered. The kids played extremely hard and they were ready. I challenged them all week long. I said 'were getting ready to go into a place where nine straight games (TTU had scored over 50 points), what are we going to do about it?' That was the last thing I told them in the walk through and they were ready to go. We had great practices leading up to it and I think our kids were healthy and fresh."
Gibson alluded that the defense was so successful because they were able to keep Patrick Mahomes, the nation's leader in total offense, uncomfortable. The game plan wasn't initially to bring a ton of pressure, but after Mahomes started having success against a three man rush Gibson knew it was time to ratchet up the pressure.
"We had to start pressuring," Gibson said. "We couldn't hold up with a three man rush. (Mahomes) is too good back there and he made things happen. He was never too comfortable in the pocket and our game plan was effective."
Gibson also praised the individual effort of Sean Walters, who came up with an interception that shifted the trajectory of the game and the momentum in the second quarter.
"(The TTU receiver) bobbled it and went to pin it on his leg and Sean made a heck of a play," Gibson said in reference to the interception. "He made two really big plays in this game. He's a kid who could of pouted and went in the tank and he didn't. At any point I feel comfortable putting him in."
Gibson was of course referring to the recent lineup change in which David Long took over the will linebacker spot after Walter had started at the position for the first three games.
Although Gibson was pleased with his defense for the most part, he did state that he was somewhat disappointed with tackling at times and implied the Mountaineers gave Tech several extra yards.
"We tackled well early but I was disappointed with our tackling in the fourth quarter," Gibson said. "We gave away some cheap yards. We probably gave them 70 or 80 yards from missed tackles on short throws."
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Senior defensive end Noble Nwachukwu echoed many of Gibson's comments, specifically about applying pressure to Mahomes and making the junior quarterback uncomfortable.
"We didn't really go into the game trying to contain him," Nwachukwu said. "We were just trying to heat him up."
It's safe to say the Mountaineers were able to apply heat to Mahomes, as he struggled to lead the Red Raiders on several drives all afternoon, throwing for his lowest completion percentage and number of touchdowns in any game this season. Nwachukwu didn't register any sacks on the day, but was able to hurry Mahomes and get involved in the backfield on a number of plays. Nwachukwu stated that even when the Mountaineers weren't able to sack Mahomes, they did a good job of keeping outside containment and didn't allow the quarterback to break any long runs.
"The ultimate goal is to pinch him in," Nwachukwu said. "He was getting out and we just had o chase him down from the backside and make plays and we did that for the most part. Looking at the film we knew what he wanted to do. He gets a lot of fakes out so we knew coming into the game to expect that."
Nwachukwu also discussed the challenge that West Virginia defenders faced in trying to take a big quarterback like Mahomes to the turf once they got a hold of him.
"We play a lot of big quarterbacks," Nwachukwu said. "We didn't really have trouble with that though. He's a big guy but he didn't want to get hit."