WVU football: Mountaineers' defense logs lots of snaps
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia's defensive statistics ballooned during its 73-42 loss to Baylor two weeks ago. The Mountaineers have tried to create as much distance between themselves and that performance as the Bears created between themselves and WVU defenders, but one statistic remains relevant.
Safeties Darwin Cook and Karl Joseph are playing a lot of snaps.
"They've played every snap we've had on defense except the last two plays of the Georgia State game," safeties coach Tony Gibson said. "Those are the only two snaps they haven't played and I think the grind of the first six weeks of the season was getting to them a little bit."
The Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) have played 441 snaps on defense and Saturday they play host to a Texas Tech (6-0, 3-0) that averages 90 snaps per game and has had 100 and 101 the past two games.
The noon game at Mountaineer Field will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
"Early on in the year, I thought we were doing a really good job of open-field tackling and all that, but if you look back at the last three games, it's actually getting worse," Gibson said. "What we really focused on in the open week was trying to get better at that because I think it comes with the wear and tear."
Gibson said K.J. Dillon, a third safety who plays as an extra defensive back, has played every snap since the Maryland game. Gibson hasn't been able to avoid it, though. He has a pair of freshman backups in Jarrod Harper and Jeremy Tyler who aren't yet where they need to be to spell the regulars. Sophomore Ricky Rumph is questionable with a foot injury. Freshman Marvin Gross can play some of the Bandit position, but is playing more at linebacker.
"You'd like to give them a rest, but when you think about it, Darwin and Karl are so valuable to what we do on defense that they're like the quarterback of our defense," Gibson said.
"There are times I'd like to pull them out, but I get scared. As a coach, it goes back to the trust factor and the depth we have. We only have young guys behind them."
So Gibson goes with the ones he knows and trusts and hopes for the best, but what he saw in the Baylor game was far from that.
"I think we missed 10 or 11 tackles in the game, but seven or eight of them were in the first few series, and K.J. had four of them," Gibson said. "We were just out of control, flopping, those kinds of things. What we have to do is settle down and play under control and when people catch the ball, we want to be physical with them."
Cook is second on the team with 40 tackles and 35 have been on his own. Joseph, who led the team in tackles as a freshman in 2012, is eighth with 24, all but three of which are solo stops. He trails defensive linemen Shaq Rowell and Kyle Rose and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who has barely played since early in the loss to Maryland.
Cook could easily be leading the team in tackles and Joseph said he should be much higher if not for their many misses.
"We can definitely improve on that," Joseph said. "With us on the back end, we've missed a lot of tackles that could have been tackles for a loss or avoided big plays and big yardage.
"We've just got to make sure we stay on our feet. I think one thing I've been doing myself with some of the tackle I've missed is I've left my feet too early. The one thing (Gibson) tells us is to stay on our feet until we close the separation."
The open week was good for quarterback Clint Trickett's injured throwing arm, but it also helped enhance his ability to communicate through signals with Coach Dana Holgorsen.
"We worked on it and got a lot of it covered last week," Trickett said. "We changed some things, so I think it'll be better for me now."
Trickett said the process was "simplified" so he'd have a better time understanding things and could then communicate them quicker with his teammates.
"We made it easier for me to see certain things as far as certain types of signals and we changed some others up," he said.
Holgorsen was frustrated not only with the trouble connecting with Trickett, but that Trickett hadn't mastered the signaling by the time he earned the starting job. Holgorsen actually subbed Trickett for Paul Millard at times against Baylor to make sure he got the right call in for the play.
"If I don't get the full signal, sometimes I can piece it all together because I know what we've repped in practice and I figure he probably wants this," Trickett said. "If I have no idea what he's talking about, I go up there and try to make something up to try and put the team in the best position."
Trickett didn't practice during the open week, though that was a precaution Holgorsen created. He returned to practice Monday and took all the reps the coaches would give him Tuesday and Wednesday. He said he had an AC sprain of his right shoulder and that the medicine he took before the Baylor helped, but didn't remove the pain.
He said he wasn't close to 100 percent for the game, but he feels like he's as close as he'll get now.
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142.
His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.