"I'm sure they are going to try to bomb us," said safety Eric Wicks, who is the lone returning starter in the backfield. "I feel ok about that. I am sure my teammates will be there. There is no added pressure on me."
But there might be on another Mountaineer. Sophomore Reed Williams will be the lone linebacker in the 4-1-6 SWAT package. He will get the initial snaps in that set over starting linebacker Jay Henry, who will be the other LB in the package. The tandem has widely varying skill sets, with Williams possessing the better speed and Henry having experience and more knowledge of the defense. Williams, at 6-2 and a solid 235 pounds, is the same height but has 15 pounds on Henry and can deliver bigger blows to receivers. His role as the SWAT ‘backer is as much to lessen the snap-count of Henry as anything else.
"I can also play all three linebacker positions, but I am focusing on the sam (strongside) most," Williams said. "I think we are about ready to go play. We are getting tired of hitting each other, and at this point we are coming together. We have everything installed on all our packages."
Including the SWAT, where the coaching staff has moved speedy ‘backer Barry Wright to defensive end in the set, giving it a solid upfield push and great pursuit in getting to quarterback Bernie Morris. Wright, a senior transfer from Florida State, will see the vast majority of his other time on special teams, where his speed is a major asset. At 6-0 and 220 pounds, he'll be an extremely light end, but the scheme is based upon quickness and explosion off the ball in getting to the signal caller as fast as possible with little regard for the run game, a perfect setup for Wright.
A common misnomer cited by pundits is that West Virginia doesn't have much secondary experience when it has five defensive backs, so adding a sixth does nothing but increase speed and perhaps multiple-wideout coverage at the downfall of more veteran play in key situations. That isn't the case, argues defensive backs coach Tony Gibson.
"Hey, last year Antonio Lewis had beat Dee McCann out at corner," Gibson said. "He was our guy going into the Syracuse game. But then he got hurt and missed some time and the job went to McCann. But he has played as many snaps as Dee and Anthony Mims did last season. And from what we have seen of Quinton Andrews, he can make some plays. Her is a fast kid who will come up and put his face on you."
Gibson also added that field corner Larry Williams has added to his game via a tough edge and playing more physically. He has embraced the starting role and given WVU a surefire cover player who can match-up to another team's best wideout. Add in the potential to see the speedy Johnny Holmes in some SWAT sets and reserve-turned-starter Charles Pugh at bandit with Wicks at Holmes' vacated spur slot and the Mountaineers – who allowed just 201 passing yards per game despite a 59.7 percent completion rate – have all the needed traits for a very explosive third-and-long defense. The coverage skills are arguably better this season than last as well, with Andrews' ball-hawking style and the graduation of Jahmile Addae and Mike Lorello, who were great collegiate players but struggled in space.
"I feel all right about where we are," said Gibson, who is looking for a play-action, deep pass on the first series from Marshall to immediately challenge his unit. "But we'll know a lot more on Saturday. We are to the point now where we need to go play a game to tell us exactly how good we are and what we need to improve on."
Note: Foes were 66-of-179 (37 percent) on third downs last season. West Virginia converted 45 percent, at 79-of-174. On fourth down, opponents were 10-of-22 (45 percent) and WVU was nine-of-14 for 64 percent, including its last one, punter Phil Brady's run to move the sticks on a fourth and six versus Georgia to seal the 38-35 Sugar Bowl win.