WVU football: Defense seeks solutions
MORGANTOWN -- The numbers remain disappointing and continue to define West Virginia's defense, but the latest frightening figure doesn't deal with the yards allowed or where the Mountaineers rank.
According to its game participation report, No. 25 WVU played 26 defenders in Saturday's 55-14 loss to No. 4 Kansas State - and was without three regulars who would have played in a normal game.
Injuries and indignity have forced the Mountaineers to go deep onto the sideline to find solutions.
"I do know this: We played everyone," defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said. "We played every freshman. We played every sophomore. We played everyone. Everyone's job was on the line (Saturday). Some guys responded. Some guys didn't."
Of the 26, six were true freshmen and three were redshirt freshmen - and true freshman Eric Kinsey, who started the week before against Texas Tech, didn't play. WVU started true freshmen Nana Kyeremeh at cornerback and Karl Joseph at safety and had Rick Rumph and K.J. Dillon serving as their backups.
As the game progressed and the deficit expanded, there were downs with seven true or redshirt freshman on the field.
"We were just trying to find guys that can play," DeForest said. "We had six true freshmen playing together - and that's not an excuse by any stretch."
It's the reality right now for the demeaned defenders who rank No. 113 out of 120 teams in total defense, No. 115 in scoring defense, No. 40 in run defense, No. 120 in pass defense and No. 118 in pass efficiency defense.
The Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2 Big 12) are off this week and play host to TCU (5-2, 2-2) on Nov. 3. The time and television station will be announced next week.
"We have to reevaluate everything - who's on the field, the scheme, how much we can do and not do - and in the end we've got to do something and try to get better quick," co-defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. "We've got to try to get someone out there who can make a play and challenge receivers."
Senior defensive end Will Clarke didn't start and played sparingly Saturday after missing the Texas Tech game. Redshirt freshman Kyle Rose started in his spot. WVU's rotation of defensive ends combined for four tackles - all by Rose.
Junior cornerback Brodrick Jenkins sat out with a knee injury. Kyeremeh started, but it wasn't long before he was out in favor of Rumph. Those two eventually played together as senior Pat Miller was again pulled from a game.
With Jenkins and junior safety Travis Bell both out of the game, DeForest had to move sophomore Ickey Banks from safety, where he was Joseph's backup, to cornerback. That moved Dillon up the depth chart behind Joseph. Sophomore linebacker Jewone Snow also missed the game after playing plenty against Texas Tech. He was replaced by redshirt freshman Nick Kwiatkoski, who had been a special teamer.
After eight weeks and seven games this season, which follow a month of summer practices and 15 practices in the spring, DeForest is running out of options while the problems accumulate.
"It's hard because you want someone to step up and grab the team and say, 'Come on, follow me,'" he said. "We don't have that on defense. Until we do, we'll struggle. It's up to us as coaches to try and find leaders. It's up to the kids to be leaders. You can't always lead as a coach. You've got to have someone from within to pull with you."
WVU is instead sliding in the defensive rankings and has allowed 105 points the past two weeks. In 21 possessions, it's allowed 14 touchdowns and two field goals and forced two punts and two turnovers - with which the offense has done nothing. Kansas State had a field goal to start Saturday's game and then scored touchdowns on the next seven possessions.
The Mountaineers point to their problems getting off of blocks or getting in the way or pass plays. They say they haven't tackled and they haven't covered receivers. They're making life very easy for the opposition. Texas Tech had 72 plays and 30 first downs because it averaged 9.5 yards per play. Kansas State had 62 plays and 24 first downs because it averaged 7.7 yards per play.
On the 14 touchdown drives, only half featured a third down. The Mountaineers faced just 10 third downs against the Red Raiders and nine against the Wildcats. They got five stops in the first and three in the second.
Kansas State's success came against a game plan DeForest said was "as simple as it could be" because so much of the Wildcats offense revolves around running the ball, especially with quarterback Collin Klein. They entered the game running 69 percent of the time, but had 23 runs and 16 passes at halftime.
Klein, the leading Heisman Trophy contender, and more for his legs than for his arm, was 14-for-16 for 226 yards and a touchdown. His two incomplete passed could have been completed. He missed an open receiver deep along the right sideline in the first quarter and then had a receiver stumble coming out of a double move in the second quarter.
On the next play, Kansas State ran the same pattern and Klein hit Miguel Lockett for a 44-yard gain.
Lockett added had 38-, 35-, 28- and 20-yard receptions on his way to 194 yards and two touchdowns. Kansas State had six pass plays cover 20 yards or more a week after Texas Tech had 10 plays of 20 or more yards.
"I'm not going to blame the kids," DeForest said. "It's our job as coaches to find a way to get them to understand it and do it. If that means going out in one front and one coverage, well, then you take your stinger away because you don't have anything to go to. But we're going to play this front and this coverage until we get it right and then we'll move on to the next one."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.