Injuries, lack of experience hurt WVU defense against Kansas

MORGANTOWN — Four games into the 2017 football season and Mountaineer fans have one question they are asking, “What’s wrong with our defense?”.

Veteran defensive coordinator for No. 23 West Virginia Tony Gibson has a simple explanation.

“It’s frustrating at times,” Gibson explained following Saturday’s 56-34 win over Kansas. “I guess having to replace 7 or 8 guys a year has caught up with us.

“I didn’t like that I had six starters that we can’t play Big 12 football with. Here’s the good news. We won today and we played a lot of guys who played a lot of snaps for the first time in a meaningful football game, the bad news is I have six starters out that played minimally. We won, but if we don’t get healthy we’re going to have some more growing pains.”

Fortunately, Gibson and his assistants will have two weeks before they face their next challenge – No. 9 TCU.

“There were a lot of twos out there but I’m proud of the way they battled,” Gibson noted. “They made a lot of mistakes and missed a lot of tackles but we’re not going to be able to play good defense until we get these guys some more snaps. That’s a frustrating thing to try and deal with.”

Seventh-year head coach Dana Holgorsen said as much during Monday’s Big 12 Teleconference.

“We had a lot of main players out, you saw them all along the sidelines,” Holgorsen added. “That affects a lot of different things. I’m sitting there scribbling all kinds of names out there on special teams.”

Good news is that fans of the Old Gold and Blue should get their first look at sophomore linebacker David Long, who enjoyed his first week of practice since suffering a meniscus injury during the summer.

It also appears that injuries which forced senior Spur Kyzir White, redshirt junior safety Dravon Askew-Henry and senior cornerback Mike Daniels Jr. to the sideline should be healed before WVU’s showdown with the Horned Frogs.

A showdown that has already drawn a lot of attention from Holgorsen.

“They’re really, really, really good,” explained the head coach. “They are doing some real good things. I just got through dissecting the Oklahoma State game. They (TCU) are extremely good on defense. They look like a Top 10 team.”

Holgorsen’s teams have had some success against the Gary Patterson-coached Horns. The Mountaineers’ defense held Kenny Hill and the TCU offense to 300 total yards and forced three turnovers in a 34-10 victory at Milan Puskar Stadium last year and has tasted victory at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas – capturing a 30-27 overtime decision in 2013.

And, the offense appears to be prepared to face the Horned Frogs prevent unit.

Senior running back Justin Crawford, who has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in all four contests in 2017, leads the Big 12 in rushing with an average of 112.8 yards per game while sophomore backup Kennedy McKoy ranks No. 10 in the 10-team league with an average of 68 yards per outing.

University of Florida transfer Will Grier is also making a name for himself in his new conference, ranking No. 3 in passing yards per game (343.5) and fourth in passing efficiency (171.1). The first year starter is also tied with Heisman Trophy hopefuls Baker Mayfield (OU) and Mason Rudolph (OSU) with 13 touchdown passes – seven going to junior David Sills V.

For now, it’s back to the film room for Holgorsen and his staff.

“We’ll learn from this game and use this week to get healthy and correct the things that we can correct,” said Gibson. “I might have to have those meetings in the training room, but we have to get healthy.

“If we don’t get healthy we are going to have some growing pains.”