However, there are a handful of players who have been consistent from the start of the season, and have helped West Virginia to its respectable 4-2 record. One of those is sophomore linebacker JT Thomas.
The defense has suffered some devastating losses with Reed Williams and Pat Liebig missing the bulk of the season. This has caused a rotation of players to see time on the defensive side of the ball, and the position switching would seem to have a great effect on continuity and performance. Despite the ever-changing lineup, however, Thomas doesn't seem to be affected.
"I really don't change too much. I just try to bring the same game to the table every time that we go out no matter who is in [the game]," he analyzed. "Of course, you feel more comfortable in the game with some of the guys that you have been playing with but when guys get changed around you can't make a big deal."
Thomas has been able to work well no matter the players surrounding him, and his performance, along with that of fellow linebacker Mortty Ivy, has allowed WVU to weather the storm of the early season. After a slow start, the defense seemed to take a turn for the better when Williams returned to the lineup. However, when he announced he was taking a medical redshirt for the 2008 season, it wasn't clear whether the Mountaineers could overcome that loss. However, despite losing what many people would call the heart of the defense, WVU has continued to improve weekly.
"Everyone is getting a little more experience under their belt and it's making them better players, myself included," Thomas observed "We're working on just trying to be more consistent on some of the basic stuff like being in the right place at the right time. I think the defense as a whole (felt effects from the loss of Williams). We miss his leadership out there. He's a coach on the sidelines and we're moving right along."
That fact shouldn't be underrated, as Williams is a visible presence along the WVU sidelines during games. He coaches and cajoles his teammates, is in every sideline huddle, and is doing all he can to help he teammates on the field. However, the steadying presence of Thomas, who executes his assignments well and has been a solid performer all year, is just as important. While he hasn't gained the notoriety of Ivy, his play has allowed WVU to weather the loss of Williams and provided a solid backbone for the Mountaineers to fall back upon.
WVU's task against Auburn might appear to be a bit easier given the Tigers' firing of offensive coordinator Tony Franklin in mid-season. However, that's a sword that can cut two different ways, as Thomas believes it could provide more of a challenge.
"It kind of makes it a little harder because you don't know what to expect. You don't know if they will continue what they have been doing or if they will come out with a whole new scheme. We just have to be ready for anything and know that they have a lot of great athletes," Thomas said.
Auburn is expected to feature a mix of spread and pro-style schemes in the game, but no matter what the offensive sets, Thomas is looking forward to taking on the SEC powerhouse at Mountaineer Field on Thursday night.
"This is what everyone comes to West Virginia for; to play in Thursday night games. There's something special in the stadium. I can't wait to play them."
If West Virginia is to cap a four-game home stand with a fourth victory, it will certainly be counting on the steady play of Thomas and his defensive mates to help key the victory. And although he offers no predictions on continued improvement by the defense, there's little doubt that if it does happen, he will be one of the pillars on which it is built.