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Stopping the run will be the difference this season

This past season West Virginia’s defense was one of the best defenses in the country and one of the better defenses in recent program history.

Although West Virginia finished 6-4 on the season, the defense produced consistently on a weekly basis, except when it came to stopping the run.

During the regular season, West Virginia went 5-4. In those five wins, the defense allowed 12.8 points per game, 227.8 yards per game, while only allowing 160 yards through the air per game and just under 68 yards per game on the ground.

In its losses however, is where West Virginia struggled to stop the run. In four games last season against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, and Iowa State, West Virginia’s defense allowed 30 points per game, on 384 total yards per game, while allowing 199.3 on the ground, and 184.8 through the air.

At first glance these numbers might not mean much, but when you take a deeper dive into how they stack up against other teams, it shows how good West Virginia’s defense was last year, and how it also struggled at times.

If you average out the statistics in West Virginia’s five wins last year and compare it to the rest of the country’s season average, the Mountaineers would have ranked 1st in the country and 1st in the Big 12 in points allowed per game, total yards per game, passing yards per game, and rush yards per game. In their four losses however, West Virginia would have ranked 69th nationally in points allowed per game as well as 7th in the Big 12. As for total yards per game, West Virginia fell to 49th in the country and 5th in the Big 12. They did however finish pretty well in passing yards per game, ranking 11th nationally and 1st in the Big 12 even in their losses. The biggest disparity though comes when you compare rushing yards allowed during West Virginia’s wins compared to during West Virginia’s losses. Last season during its losses the Mountaineers finished 98th out of 128 teams in the country and 9th in the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed per game.

This large of a difference should be alarming to anyone that follows or cares about this team moving in the right direction, but defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley believes that the defense can improve by adding depth across the board.

Lesley spoke at length about his goal to add depth to this West Virginia defense.

“I think the big thing for us is quality depth. That’s what we’ve got to develop,” Lesley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of production off last year’s unit that will be back. We are trying to fine tune some of those guys. We are trying to crosstrain some of those guys, which helps in that process. But our younger guys, we’ve got to have a couple guys where their development comes on.”

In addition to adding depth, Lesley knows injuries should play more of a significant role this year. Last year, West Virginia only played 10 total games, and for the most part was able to avoid any major injuries on the defensive side of the ball. With a full schedule and things back to normal this year, Lesley knows the importance of building depth to overcome injuries during a long season.

“You are going to have 210 more reps per guy in the 2021 season,” Lesley said. “You are going to have that, whether it is little knick knack injuries on the season. You are just trying to get their development caught up where they need to be.”

Trying to figure out how to limit the run on a consistent basis obviously is not an overnight solution, but being able to recognize that this season will be a challenge physically for these players, should put West Virginia on the right path to help repeat much of their success they had last year.

Photo by Dale Sparks, WVU

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