Injury-Free Wiley Makes Difference on 'D'

Great players tend to get ignored at times. We expect them to play well. When they do, it's routine. It's only when they make a mistake, or are missing from the field, that we take notice.

No Mountaineer player is a better example of that than Lou linebacker Grant Wiley. After a great freshman season, Wiley suffered through an injury-hampered sophomore year that reduced his effectiveness. After being a stalwart of the defense during his initial season, Wiley, while recording more tackles during his second season, wasn't as dominating as he was during the 2000 campaign.

All of which served as mere prelude to Wiley's return to prominence in the opening game of 2002. Against the Mocs of UTC, he recorded seven tackles, including three behind the line of scrimmage, intercepted a pass, batted down another, and disrupted a number of other plays as he showed his ability when playing at 100%.

Wiley is understandably tired of answering questions about last season, and his performance against the Mocs showed he is ready to again be an intimidating force on the WVU defense.

"To come out and shut them out until the last seconds was very encouraging," Wiley said following the 56-7 blowout. "It was a confidence builder for a lot of young guys to get in there and get some game experience."

Wiley, like many of his teammates, is more comfortable in the 3-3 stack defense, which allows linebackers to see the ball and pursue better.

"Compared to last year, I really understand this defense a lot better. It allows us to make plays.

"One of Coach Graham's philosphies is relentless pursuit to the ball," Wiley recited in the manner of any good pupil. "When we get five or six guys around the ball, if one guy misses a tackle, you still have other people who can make the play."

One of the best measures of Wiley as a player can be seen in a play he didn't quite complete. In the second quarter, Wiley blew into the backfield and seemd ready to dump UTC's Cortez Rankin for a big loss. On this occasion, though, Rankin slipped away from Wiley's tackle attempt. Wiley's penetration disrupted the play, however, and allowed lineman Ernest Hunter to nail Rankin for a five yard loss.

Wiley was visibly upset with himself for missing the tackle, but he didn't let it bother him. On the next play, he perfectly read a screen key and dumped Jason Ball for a two yard loss with a picture perfect tackle. Sequences like that illustrate the difference between good and great players, and there are few observers that would not put Wiley in the latter category.

Wiley knows, however, that success against a Division 1AA squad counts for little in the wars to come. However, he notes that WVU has some tricks up their collective sleeves as well.

"It's going to be different playing against a team that has 300 pound guys across the line and an All-American tailback, but we just have to watch a lot of film and work hard this week.

"I'm sure Wisconsin is going to attck us downfield some more. For the most part, it was pretty basic against UTC. We have a lot more we can do within this defense."

Mountaineer fans will likely see some of those new wrinkles against the Badgers, but it's a safe bet that whatever the scheme, number 6 will be somewhere around the ball.

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