MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– West Virginia University senior safety Karl Joseph is quickly becoming the face of the Mountaineers’ defense. He led the charge in last weekend’s shutout performance over Georgia Southern with eight tackles and three interceptions while throwing the hard hits he is known for.
WVU’s opponents are well aware that in order to beat the Mountaineers, they have to beat Joseph and the secondary.
“They’re a deep team,” Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said during the Sun Belt coaches teleconference. “It might be the best secondary I’ve ever witnessed up close personally, and we’ve played some pretty darn good teams.”
Liberty plays an offensive style that is much more familiar to the Mountaineers’ defense. The Flames’ senior quarterback is capable of both rushing and passing the ball.
Josh Woodrum threw for 188 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a win over Delaware State last week. A year ago he averaged 245.6 passing yards per game and completed 62 percent of his throws. He also was second on the team in rushing.
Woodrum is the leading active passer in the FCS with 7,682 career yards and will have to come prepared for the tough WVU defense.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge of a Big 12 defense,” he said. “My goal for our team is at the end of the week to have confidence going into the game.”
The battle between Woodrum and Joseph could set up for an interesting afternoon at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Joseph isn’t the biggest player on the field, but the 5-foot-11, 197-pounder plays like it. He understands the game and how to expose opponents’ weakness.
“He’s the inspirational leader with what we are trying to do,” Holgorsen told media after Saturday’s win. “It’s been fun to watch him mature and grow up. He has played over 3,000 snaps in three years, and for him to take the next step to be the inspirational leader on defense and be the guy that I trust to stand in front of the room and talk and motivate everyone is great.”
Liberty head coach Turner Gill believes its Joseph’s experience and knowledge of the game that makes Joseph so successful.
“I think the experience that he has — he reads the quarterback’s eyes, I’m assuming because of the way he breaks on the ball very, very well — he studies the game very well, studies the opponents very, very well and anticipates where they’re going to throw the ball and makes a break on it,” he said. “He’s made plays.”
The preseason All-American has 200 career solo tackles and eight forced fumbles. He sees plays as they unfold and makes the most of it
“I don’t know so much if he’s really a shutdown guy, more of an opportunist. When the ball comes to him, he makes plays on it,” Liberty quarterback Woodrum said. “I wouldn’t put him in the category as an Ed Reed or someone who takes away half the field. I wouldn’t put him in that category. Definitely if the ball gets near him, he’s going to be able to make a play on it. He’s sort of like Jacob Hagan last year. If the ball is in his area, he’s going to be able to make a play.”
Even though Joseph may be the biggest threat, the other members of the Mountaineers’ secondary are no joke.
WVU’s secondary allowed the second-lowest pass completion percentage in the Big 12 last season.
Senior spur safety KJ Dillon is a heavy-hitter and free safety Dravon Askew-Henry started every game as a freshman and has drastically improved as a sophomore.
“I like their safeties. I really like their safeties,” Woodrum said.