WVU looking for answers on banged up defense

November 27, 2018

MORGANTOWN — Much of the buzz surrounding the aftermath of last week’s West Virginia-Oklahoma football game has followed one of two narratives - the Mountaineers and Sooners are two outstanding offensive teams or they are two very bad defensive teams.

Both can be true.

WVU was able to get by for large portions of the regular season despite a bevy of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Yet the final two weeks of Big 12 play proved too much as the list of the injured, especially at linebacker, got pretty long while the Mountaineers were facing a sometimes good, sometimes really good Oklahoma State offense and one of the most explosive teams in the country in Oklahoma.

The result was a blown lead late in Stillwater and one of the most thorough whippings a WVU defense has taken in a long time from the Sooners. The Mountaineers were still close to beating OU for the first time since joining the Big 12, but the numbers allowed by WVU are staggering.

“We just had to go out and make one more stop, and we couldn’t do it,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “That was bad, but I thought we made some good adjustments at the half. We came out and had (OU quarterback Kyler Murray) confused in the third quarter and he threw us a pick.”

The Sooners rolled up 688 total yards while averaging 13.5 yards per play and 18.2 yards per catch against WVU last week.

Of those total yards, 304 came on the ground. Murray ran for 114. Kennedy Brooks, formerly the third option in Oklahoma’s backfield, ran for 182 yards. Murray was also lethal through the air, especially when looking for receiver Marquise Brown.

The cousin of Pittsburgh Steelers’ star receiver Antonio Brown, the OU junior from Hollywood, Florida, hauled in 11 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns, including one where he ran through several poor tackle attempts from the WVU defense on his way to the end zone.

The WVU offense did its part last week by putting 56 points on the scoreboard, but two key turnovers by quarterback Will Grier turned into touchdowns for Oklahoma.

″(Oklahoma) doesn’t need help getting points,” Gibson said. “That was really a 28-point swing. A couple of the calls - it is what it is.”

The Mountaineers did bend a few times on defense early this season, but for the most part the group was one of the better defensive teams in the Big 12 for most of 2018. As the injuries piled up and the calendar crept closed to December, the last six quarters of West Virginia’s regular season turned bleak.

A bad situation somehow got worse for WVU just before kickoff when the staff found out linebacker Shea Campbell would not be available against the Sooners.

“We found out 20 minutes before kickoff that we weren’t going to have Shea Campbell,” Gibson said. “I thought Zach (Sandwisch) stepped in and played as good as he could and played hard, but injuries have just killed us.”

After the game, Gibson came across as more mad than disappointed.

“I know it sucks the last couple of weeks, and there’s no excuses. Everybody is beat up this time of year, but for guys to keep playing consistent and keep playing hard, we just couldn’t make plays at times tonight,” Gibson said. “You just hate to see those guys in that locker room crying and hugging, knowing that that’s their last time on Mountaineer Field. Whether that’s Kenny (Bigelow) and Jabril (Robinson) who have been here for one year or Dravon (Askew-Henry) that’s been here for five. It just sucks. That’s the worst part about this job. That and playing Oklahoma.”

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