Mike Casazza: Secondary situation at WVU is abnormal
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Daron Roberts resisted for as long as the circumstances swirling around West Virginia's defense would allow.
The cornerbacks coach had grown to like his true freshmen during the preseason. He had made the decision that neither Nana Kyeremeh nor Ricky Rumph would redshirt in 2012. He figured they'd be good enough to play and to help a team that was going to need players and help in the secondary.
What Roberts couldn't commit to was putting them on the field and in the crosshairs.
"Normal teams don't have a freshman playing corner," Roberts said.
What's happening at WVU is not normal. This is a team without too many alternatives seven games into the season. Not with the pass defense ranking dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Not with starting corner Brodrick Jenkins nursing a knee injury and not certain to play in Saturday's 3 p.m. home game against TCU (5-3, 2-3 Big 12).
But the 23nd-ranked Mountaineers (5-2, 2-2) aren't playing one freshman cornerback. They're playing two. Kyeremeh and Rumph split Jenkins' snaps against Kansas State. Kyeremeh started, but the two also played together at times against the mighty Wildcats.
It did not go well and Collin Klein, theretofore a Heisman Trophy candidate because of his running and not his passing, managed personal bests for yardage and touchdowns through the air.
"I think they were trying to throw on us to test the secondary and see what we can do," Kyeremeh said. "For a few days after the game, I was thinking that was a running team that threw all over us."
That might happen again, depending on Jenkins, who is not yet three weeks clear of a cartilage tear and corrective surgery. The Horned Frogs are missing the 2011 team's leading rusher. They're working with a dual-threat redshirt freshman quarterback. They've discovered success through the air with 47 pass plays that have covered 20 yards or more.
Basically, one of every four completions is a big gain for TCU. WVU has allowed 41 of those 20-yard pass plays and gives one up about once every four completions. These are habits, not fads, and Kyeremeh or Rumph, or maybe Kyeremeh and Rumph, have no choice but to deal with them.
"It's a difficult position to mature quickly at," Roberts said. "That's absolutely not an excuse, but they are developing. I can't make a prediction and start calling them the next Brandon Hogan and Keith Tandy, but the questions we'll get in two years will be more, 'Wow, aren't you happy you've got two experienced corners? Isn't it great they played their freshman years?'"
Truthfully, Roberts has Hogan and Tandy. They had their share of embarrassing moments as they learned the position. Hogan was schooled the hard way at East Carolina in 2008. Tandy chased USF receivers down the sideline again and again in 2009.
Though it didn't happen right away, or without other bad days, they eventually became reliable starters, skilled technicians, who were drafted into the NFL.
"It's part of a process, a mental process, that you always have to think about," Rumph said. "The Kansas State game started out good for me. It was slow. Then as the game went on, it kind of sped up for me instead of slowing down. I lost track of my technique and of being fundamentally sound and I just played instead of using all the tools I have."
It was by far the most playing time for either of the cornerbacks. Rumph played late in the first two games and then stood on the sideline for the next three, certain he could help and simply waiting for the call. That came against Texas Tech, when he relieved the team's other struggling starter, Pat Miller.
The Red Raiders went right at Rumph and scored a touchdown as Rumph gave up the inside angle to his receiver in the end zone.
Kyeremeh has played every game, though mostly on special teams, but he was the first one Roberts called on to relieve Miller when Miller was having issues dealing with Baylor's Terrance Williams. The Bears threw at Kyeremeh, too, and Williams caught one of his 17 passes and two touchdowns on a fade.
It seemed no wonder Kansas State decided to throw early and often against the Mountaineers, though Roberts tends to disagree.
"It's not the Big Ten," he said. "The Big 12 throws so much you can't tell who's being picked on or when someone is just running their offense. We're not playing Wisconsin, that's for sure. We're playing teams in the Big 12, and from what I've seen, they're throwing the ball on both sides. That doesn't matter. You just have to make a play."
It's that last part that bothered Kyeremeh since the Baylor game. That was his only action that day and he knew he blew it, knew he'd flipped the wrong way and never got back to even put his arms in the air. He hadn't seen the fade pattern until the fourth quarter against Kansas State, when the Wildcats were at the WVU 7-yard line up 52-14.
Roberts told Kyeremeh to watch for the fade or a quick hitch. Kyeremeh bet on the fade and knew he could run up to tackle the hitch on third down. Sure enough, the fade pass went to the corner and Kyeremeh was ready to break up the play and force a field goal.
"I should have had the interception," he said, "but I think that helped me put that other moment behind me and move on."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at email@example.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.