WVU’s defense revolves around defensive line play

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia’s woes on defense during last season’s dreadful 7-6 campaign have been as well documented as Johnny Manziel’s offseason miscues.

A Big 12 Conference worst in scoring defense (38.1 ppg), and pass defense efficiency (166.7) combined with a middle-of-the-pack 23 sacks were as much the primary reason for the team’s collapse after a 5-0 start as was an offense that became more and more one-dimensional because of the lack of a solid running attack.

However, what a difference a year of experience and some added pounds could make on this year’s unit as it prepares to open the season at home against William and Mary on Saturday, Aug. 31.

“We all know we took some growing pains, but our guys have grown up, eaten, and they look good,” defensive line assistant coach Erik Slaughter said. “This time last year, four of those guys that were in the rotation just showed up out of high school.

“To throw them in the Big 12 and play upfront, I thought they did okay. We are a long way from being where we want to be, which is the best defensive line in the Big 12. They are getting bigger and getting older, we just have to get them better.”

Two starters and seven letter winners return on the line, including seniors Will Clarke and Shaq Rowell, who will play their final seasons in the old gold and blue at end and nose tackle, respectively.

“Will (Clarke) and Shaq (Rowell) are two seniors that we are going to lean on from a leadership standpoint to do a lot of things for us,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They are having great off-seasons and are working hard, and their attitudes are great.”

But, will that be enough?

Rowell finished the 2012 season with 42 tackles (26 solo) with two tackles for loss and no sacks while Clarke contributed 6.5 tackles for loss and two sacks among his 26 total tackles (13 solo).

Also returning is Kyle Rose, Eric Kinsey, Christian Brown and Noble Nwachukwu while newcomer Dontrill Hyman has already broken into the Mountaineers’ three-deep depth chart prior to next Saturday’s opener against The Tribe.

“If you can help us win, I am going to play you,” added Slaughter. “If you can’t, then I won’t. In the Big 12, because of the tempo, you better have more than three or four guys or you will be in a lot of trouble.

“There were probably some games last year that we only played three or four guys, and we got in trouble. We played well early and were bad late so having more is a lot better, especially in this league.”

And, what could make the lack of overall numbers easier to overcome is a trio of players that are capable of playing mulitple positions – red shirt sophomore Rose, Kinsey and red shirt freshman Nwachukwu.

“Rose can,” continued the defensive line coach. “We really haven’t gotten into our dime stuff yet; that’s where we’ll do more of that.

“We just now got into our nickel stuff. Kyle can definitely do that. Kinsey has the ability to do that. Noble has the ability to do that. We have quite a few guys who can line up across the front.”

Good news for a secondary that was torched for an average of 312.5 yards per game as well as for a fan base hungry to see their beloved Mountaineers become competitive in their new home -the Big 12.