Statistically speaking last season’s West Virginia defense was one of the best in the country. But in order for them to repeat what they did a year ago, they will need guys that were not counted on as much last year to step up in a big way this year.
When West Virginia’s defense takes the field on Saturday against Maryland, their defense will look the same in some ways, but also very different.
Last season, West Virginia’s defense ranked 1st in the Big 12 in points allowed, passing yards per game, as well as ranking 3rd in the conference in interceptions, and 3rd down conversions.
West Virginia returns five of the 11 starters from the Liberty Bowl last season. However, when comparing the depth chart from the Liberty Bowl, West Virginia will have many backups from last year be starters this year, as Akheem Mesidor, Jordan Jefferson, Scottie Young, and Daryl Porter Jr, all were backups who will now get the chance to start this Saturday.
This continuity is good for the Mountaineers, who will be able to have players that were in the system last season play this year. The losses of Tykee Smith (transferred to Georgia), Darius Stills (NFL Draft) and Dreshun Miller (transferred to Auburn), could be felt early on in the season. However, having the same guys around from last season should prove to be a difference maker as the season goes on.
Despite losing key pieces of last year’s defense, West Virginia defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley feels that they are not rebuilding on defense, and with these guys that have been here, he feels his defense is in a better place compared to last season.
“Leadership wise, I am really excited about this group,” Lesley said. “I think when you get into year three of a system and the guys that have been in for two, if they have had two springs, which some of these guys have, they really start to feel comfortable. And the more comfortable the more confident you are. And that’s really what I’ve been striving to get this group to be especially over this offseason.”
“They’ve done a phenomenal job. There’s leaders at every level. At least through camp, there were very few days that we didn’t come out and make plays and feed off each other, and it’s good to see and fun to coach,” Lesley said.
Having leaders at every level while also returning several starters from last year’s team should be a good combination. Other teams will not be surprised by West Virginia’s defense this season, and if West Virginia want to have similar success, staying healthy, and continuing to grow as a group will be the key to that success this season.
Photo from Dale Sparks, WVU