Virginia Tech’s QB no stranger to WVU’s Tony Gibson

Mountaineers’ coordinator met player in past

MORGANTOWN — Opening your team’s season against a longtime rival that is being led by a first-year quarterback can be scary for most defensive coordinators.

That will not be the case, however, when No. 22 West Virginia’s veteran defensive leader Tony Gibson lines his 3-3-5 prevent unit up against a No. 21 Virginia Tech offense led by highly-touted freshman signal caller Josh Jackson.

“I’ve known him (Jackson) since I coached with his dad at Michigan,” Gibson explained during Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s the classic coaches kid. He’s grown up around football, but that’s not going to change how we approach what we are going to do on defense.”

What may change is the amount of pressure Gibson’s unit applies upon the former-finalist for the Michigan Player of the Year award, who threw for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 470 yards and eight more scores during his final season in high school.

“You’d see him in the film room,” continued Gibson. “You’d see him talking to our quarterbacks at Michigan. You’d see him talking to our coaches. He loves football and he wants to learn as much as he can about the game and the defenses he will see.”

Jackson will be the first redshirt freshman to start for the Hokies at quarterback since Tyrod Taylor got the call against Ohio University on Sept. 15, 2007, and the first to open a game at that position since Michael Vick did so to open the 1999 campaign against James Madison.

“The question isn’t so much that he is a redshirt freshman as it is ‘how much do they decide to run him,'” echoed defensive line coach Bruce Tall. “We’re prepared for the power run game, but you also have to remember that the kid can throw the football and he has some pretty good receivers out there and a solid running back behind him.”

And, Jackson may not even be the only player to line up at quarterback for the Hokies.

“We’ve prepared for him (Jackson),” added Gibson. “We’ve also prepared for (A.J.) Bush and (Hendon) Hooker. Both of them are very good quarterbacks as well and I’m sure they have packages they can run with either of them at quarterback.”

The good news for Mountaineer fans is that Gibson and his unit are accustomed to playing against teams that utilize the quarterback in their running attack.

“K-State runs their quarterback a lot,” continued the coach. “Oklahoma’s (Baker) Mayfield can hurt you with his legs as much as his arm and then there’s (Mason) Rudolph at OSU. The key is to keep your eyes open and make sure you are reading you keys.”

Making it a little more difficult for the defense to key on Jackson will be the presence of redshirt junior Travon McMillian, who rushed for 671 yards and seven touchdowns on 145 attempts in 2016, in the backfield and senior Cam Phillips (76 catches, 983 yards, 5 TDs) at receiver.

“It puts a lot more pressure on your safeties,” assistant (safeties) coach Matt Caponi said. “We want, and need, them in the run game. But, they have to make sure they react to what they want to do in the passing game.”

Which is why having redshirt junior Dravon Askew-Henry back at free safety is so important to a unit which lost eight starters from a year ago.

“He (Askew-Henry) is our quarterback back there,” said Gibson. “There’s not a lot on the football field that he hasn’t seen since he’s been here. He started 26 games before he got hurt last year.

“We had some guys come in and play well with him out. But, his experience was hard to replace.”

Added to the return of senior Kyzir White at Spur and redshirt junior Toyous Avery at Bandit gives the Old Gold and Blue a solid trio in the secondary that should help corners Hakeem Bailey and Mike Daniels Jr. overcome any mistakes they should make in their first starts of the year.

“Look, we know there are going to be mistakes out there,” quipped Gibson. “Call it first game jitters, or whatever. We are going to be playing a lot of kids. We just want to make sure that our kids understand what we are trying to do as a defense and execute.”

And, that starts with stopping Virginia Tech on the ground.