Improvement Of West Virginia's Corners Adds Flexibility, Options To Entire Defense As Unit Jells

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The ability of West Virginia cornerbacks coach Blue Adams to not only elevate the play of his position, but to get them to coalesce around one another for the betterment of the team has been exceptional.

Adams entered the season with a largely unproven group consisting of a mix of junior college players, rising upperclassmen and a graduate transfer who would have to find a fit within Tony Gibson's 3-3-5 defense and be able to perform within a scheme that ideally demands significant man coverage without back end help. West Virginia lost former starters Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut, among others, and was searching for a two-deep that would be able to survive the rigors of a pass-happy Big 12 conference along with significant non-conference challenges.

The results have been remarkable. Few could have anticipated the development of the unit, one which struggled against the likes of Missouri and Youngstown State before beginning to settle into their own, spurred by clutch late-game plays versus BYU. Ever since WVU secured the game via Nana Kyeremeh's tip to Maurice Fleming, the corner play has taken off to the tune of limiting a series of solid foes to well below their season averages in passing, while being able to handle top-shelf play from opposing quarterbacks and wideouts. The development was key in the Mountaineers' ability to utilize the majority of schematic play within its scheme and in building a contingent which currently ranks 15th nationally in scoring at just 17.8 points per game.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect is that Adams has done that while assembling a group which has become as tight-knit and bonded as any on the team, and which reflects what head coach Dana Holgorsen calls Adams' ability as a "master technician."

"I give Blue Adams credit every day for just drilling them day in and day out," Holgorsen said. "The reason we hired Blue is because he’s a master technician, so he’s hard on his guys, he’s demanding. Rasul (Douglas) has got better, making plays, is comfortable, understands the scheme and understands the technique. Elijah Battle has come out of nowhere. He wasn’t even in the two-deep the first month of the season and he gets better and better and better. There is one explanation for it is that he’s getting coached. Maurice Fleming has been player of the game at corner. Antonio Crawford went in after (Battle was ejected for targeting) and fought his tail off against some pretty good receivers, so I think there’s one explanation for it. Those guys are getting coached hard, and they’re getting better every day."

Among the growth and maturation has come a corollary benefit that might exceed even the play on the field in the long term. Adams' players have embraced the former NFL assistant as both an on- and off-field mentor, and one instructing not only in the game of football, but in the long-term  ideals of life as well. 

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"You touch each guy differently," Adams said. "As long as they understand you are in it for the best interests of them and the team and that you are going to put them in the positions where they can be successful, I think whether it's pro or college they tend to follow you. I think they take coaching. I think they want to be great. We just keep moving in that direction. My job as a coach is to continue to push them. I just push them and the men do a good job of responding."

Now, West Virginia's corners have been a key piece in limiting opposing passing passing games, which has allowed Gibson the freedom to dial up the blitz schemes and man coverage without fretting about giving up the vertical routes. To a man, it seems each corner has elevated his play to where the Mountaineers rank 12th in pass efficiency defense while holding their last two highly-explosive foes to more than 30 points and 250 yards below their season averages.

"Things that we don't do so well I being it to their awareness and they fix it," Adams said. "I don't think I am doing much of anything aside from exposing them to areas which are hindering them from being great. I show the guys what they bring to the table and how they can use that to be good, be great. Things that they need to work on I bring that to their awareness as well so they can correct it and start moving in that direction to be better. Every man is different. I understand that. There is no cookie cutter way to handle all guys. But we are going to work. That's what we are going to do. If that's the straw that breaks the camel's back, you are not part of the cloth, so to speak."

An example of the bond was when both Fleming and Battle shared the locker room for the latter portions of the second half versus TCU after Fleming, already serving a first half suspension for targeting in the second half against Texas Tech, was accompanied by Battle after the junior was flagged for a targeting penalty that drew the ire of the Mountaineer staff and much of the fan base.

"I said 'Come sit by me, let's watch the game and talk,'" Fleming said of his conversation with Battle. "We talked football, seeing what formations they were running and trying to get a feel for the receivers. Coach Blue is a great coach, a hard coach and whatever he has going is working. It'll continue to work. He has changed my game by staying on me a lot and me losing 15 pounds when I got here. Running me and running the DBs and making us go nonstop and flipping our hips and to not save heartbeats. Go hard all the time.

"The play speaks for itself. Coach Gibby is going to run coach Gibby's game plan. It is on us, the 11 guys on the field, to make the plays and get off the field and win the game."

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