Meeting the Challenge

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- While two players who receive plenty of playing time on defense will be watching the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl from Morgantown, nose tackle Chris Neild said the Mountaineers have had enough experience using interchangeable parts this season to keep it from becoming a factor.

The announcement that safety Nate Sowers and defensive lineman Scooter Berry would not be traveling with their WVU teammates due to academic ineligibility may have left some wondering what the team's defense would do to account for the losses.

But Neild, a junior, was not one of them.

"When everybody was healthy, we really started clicking on all cylinders," the Stroudsburg, Pa., native said. "But all season, we've been used to missing guys -- having guys out due to injury or whatever else. We're used to that kind of thing, so going into this game, I think we'll be prepared real good."

While Berry is typically a stalwart at the tackle spot on Neild's defensive front, he had been forced to sit out several games already this season for both injury and disciplinary reasons.

That means that Josh Taylor, the former walk-on who will move into the starting lineup in the Gator Bowl, already has several games' worth of experience under his belt.

"I definitely think so," said Neild, when asked if Taylor's work during the regular season will help him (and the rest of the West Virginia defense) in the bowl game.

"Josh rotating in there and starting five games this year, he did a real good job holding down his ground in there. We all have the utmost confidence he's going to get the job done in there, whether or not Scoot's playing."

The bigger issue that could arise from Berry's absence may be the effect it has on the depth of the Mountaineer defensive line.

Already anything but the most well-stocked unit on the team's roster, the front three will have to play even more snaps than usual due to a further lack of quality reserves with Taylor forced into the starting job.

That may mean a lack of fresh bodies in practice, but Neild said there hasn't been a noticeable drop-off in the team's workouts thus far.

"We always try to get a good rotation around," he said. "When Josh is in there, he holds his ground down real good. We've been used to it, so the practices we've been having haven't really been that different than what we had been doing during the season."

The focus of those practices has been on containing the Seminoles' speed and limiting the big play, which has been the bane of the Mountaineer defense this season.

"They've got a lot of speed, and when they hand that ball off, we've got to watch out," said Neild. "They have threats at all positions -- wide receiver, running back and quarterback. It's got to be something we keep our eye on. We can't take anything for granted with what they're going to do."

"Obviously, we're not going to have everybody in for this game, and we're going to let up a couple of plays every once in a while. But the big play has been what has hurt us the past couple of games. We've really got to work on trying to not let that happen this game."

Key to both of those objectives will be the play of Neild and his teammates on the defensive line, as they will try to make life difficult for Florida State's freshman quarterback E.J. Manuel, an athlete who was also recruited by WVU coach Bill Stewart.

Many have drawn the comparison between Manuel, who is replacing the injured Christian Ponder, and South Florida signal-caller B.J. Daniels, who torched the Mountaineer defense in the Bulls' 30-19 win on Oct. 30.

"First thing is to try to dominate up front and get as much pressure as we can on the quarterback," said Neild. "If we do that, then that will mess up the receivers' routes a little bit and give the DBs a chance to make a play. If we get pressure up front and we get that QB to scramble a little bit, we'll be alright."

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