Advancing Aptitude

West Virginia's secondary has been scrutinized much in the six days following an outing at Louisville that could only be called poor. It didn't cover. It didn't get its head around on passes. It didn't tackle exceptionally well. It didn't execute. What's lost in all this is that it's not all the fault of the backfield, which used what it had.

If the rush had gotten there a split second earlier, or simply gotten home on some snaps where it flew past the pocket, it would have helped. If WVU's offense didn't put the defense in holes early – to which it responded well, limiting Louisville to field goals – it would have helped. If the entire defense could have held Louisville to less than an average of 20-plus yards on the first snap of drives, well, that certainly would have helped.

There has been a bit of finger-pointing, or at least fact-finding, by the media. But it reads here that the problem, as much as it is execution, is every bit as much talent. UL had it at wideout. It had it at quarterback in Brian Brohm, a player linebacker Reed Williams says everybody "thinks is going to the league." And when those two combined with a decent running game and a good offensive front, it made it difficult on the West Virginia secondary.

Football is one of the few games in which, if you're outmanned, it's very difficult to recover. Basketball has upsets galore. It's much the same in hockey. In baseball, 162 games have to be played just to see which teams are .500 and which are .600, the latter being good, but winning just one more game in 10. And in European football, an early goal could lead to a lock-down defensive style that signals game over for the favorite.

Not so in the Americanized version. If the talent isn't there, teams will find a way to exploit it. No. 3 Louisville did, and it did it with what it does best, attacking the 3-3-5 odd stack, whose weakness is the pass, with a blitzkrieg of big, rangy wideouts and a wizard under center. The remedy is simple. To truly execute this defense to its maximum ability, No. 10 West Virginia needs very good cover corners and speed all over. It's lacking that somewhat at linebacker, where a change at Louisville from Bobby Hathaway to Williams – who might get his first career start this weekend against Cincinnati – has helped. But that begs the question: What team wouldn't like lock-down corners, fast, agile linebackers that hit and fully grasp the scheme and stout, quick linemen paired with a rush end that can bring power on the bull rush and an outside attack if needed?

Answer: All 119 in Division I-A, plus about any other program. It's not that West Virginia isn't looking for these players. But fans forget that building is a process, that winning usually begets better recruiting, which should assist in making better teams. The positive is that at corner, unlike many other spots (offensive line, quarterback, spur and bandit safety), West Virginia can take a namesake "traditional player." The corner doesn't need to often sacrifice size to be quicker like the Mountaineer offensive line; it need not normally be both a run and pass threat like at quarterback; it should not be a tweener player like WVU's safeties.

What is should be, and what West Virginia is recruiting, is the traditional look: 6-0, 185 pounds. Fast. Quick. Good instincts. A hitter. A player with great coverage skills that can run with a 4.4 receiver, then defend the jump ball to a 6-6 wideout. Problem is, there aren't that many. Those are premium players. There are maybe a handful each year, if that class is good. One doesn't swing by the local ball yard and grab one.

For all the abilities of WVU's current crop, and there are many, there are glaring deficiencies. Rivers can't defend a jump ball. He's 5-9, and simply too small. Yet he is a very solid corner overall, and a good punt returner. He is a high-level Division I-A player. Antonio Lewis seems to struggle with getting his head around on passes. If he can't correct that, he's only ideally a some-snaps-per-game player. Larry Williams has very good cover skills, and seems to be the best all-around corner with experience currently available.

Then there are the wild cards that might get a chance this weekend: Boogie Allen and Guesly Dervil. Allen, at 6-0, has the size to play. Can he execute the defense, tackle, play run support some? Dervil is a smaller DB whose best trait is quickness. Greg Davis is going to be redshirted, so he is out. But, if he can get that 6-3, 205-pound frame into game shape, and he will or wish he had with strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis, he can be major weapon as long as he plays within the system. That's what's in the program right now, what the coaches are utilizing. It's unfair to say they have had a poor season. The defense has been very good. What they had was a poor game against arguably the top passing offense in the nation.

To avoid that, West Virginia might simply need better players. It's certainly trying. It has offers out to Doug Wiggins, a four-star corner out of Miami, to three-start Jones County Junior College corner Ellis Lankster, both of whom are 5-11 and 185-90 pounds. Both run a 4.5 or better. They have offers from programs like Miami, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Michigan. If the staff is making a mistake, so are the coaches from other major programs. They have also offered six three-star safeties, including verbal Phillip Shirdan, a 6-2, 195-pounder out of Drexel Hill, Pa. who runs a 4.5.

So the help is there. It's a matter of signing it and developing it – the same problems every program has. To the victor go the spoils, and among them is an ability to ink the best, and discard the rest. WVU is knocking on the door of a permanent spot in the top 10. Hopefully that leads to more doors opening in the recruiting field as well.

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