MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Coming into this season, the West Virginia University football team had lots of questions regarding its secondary. The Mountaineers lost several key contributors from last season’s team and had several new faces, some with limited playing time.
“Obviously at corner we had no idea what we were going to do and that went all the way through camp,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “So I think our kids, they’re playing with a lot of confidence and I think coach Adams is doing a great job with them. And the safeties as well. Coach (Matt) Capone and his crew, I think they are playing well. They’re playing within the system. So I like where we are at.”
Through six games, WVU’s secondary is getting the job done despite injuries and some other obstacles they have encountered.
The Mountaineers held Texas Tech to 280 yards, 38 points below their season average two weeks ago. WVU followed that performance by holding TCU to 231 yards, 30 yards below its average.
“It just shows credit to the guys, how much they work, how much they work at it, how much it means to them in order to be in the position they are right now,” cornerbacks coach Blue Adams said. “I think the guys did pretty good a pretty good job. I think they take coaching. I think they want to be great. And we just keep moving in that direction.”
The Mountaineers’ defense is ranked No. 12 nationally and No. 2 in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
WVU has held its opponent to less than 300 yards passing 22 times in the past 32 games, including 10 of the last 12 games.
Adams is a huge part of the secondary’s success this season.
“I give Blue Adams credit every day for just drilling them day in and day out,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “The reason we hired Blue is because he’s a master technician, so he’s hard on his guys, he’s demanding.”
Adams believes that pushing his corners is what will make them great.
“As my job as a coach is just to continue to push,” he said. “I just push them. And the men just do a great job of responding. Things that we don’t do so well, I bring it to their works and they fix it. I don’t think I’m doing much of anything except exposing them to the areas in which it’s hindering them from being greater.”
So far Adams’ approach seems to be working.
The Mountaineers have three cornerbacks, Rasul Douglas, Antonio Crawford and Maurice Fleming, that are ranked in the top six in the Big 12 in passes defended.
Douglas is 13th in the nation and second in the Big 12 in interceptions. The redshirt senior has three interceptions, including a pick-six against BYU.
“He’s grown a lot,” Adams said of the corner. “One thing I like about him is the fact that he wants to be great. He takes coaching well. It’s nice to see him grow into the player he is right now. And he’s not done by no stretch to the imagination but he’s doing well for himself.”
Fleming and Crawford have also been pleasant surprises for WVU.
“Maurice Fleming has been player of the game at corner,” Holgorsen said. “Antonio Crawford went in after that call that no one wants to talk about, went in and fought his tail off against some pretty good receivers, so I think there’s one explanation for it.”
Those three corners aren’t the only ones fighting to make the backfield stand out. Junior cornerback Elijah Battle and redshirt senior Nana Kyeremeh have stepped up in the wake of injuries.
Kyeremeh made a play against the Cougars that won the game and Battle has held his own as well.
“He got thrown into the fire,” Gibson said about Battle’s performance. “We had some guys hurt. We threw him in in the middle of the Kansas State game. Ever since then he’s held that job and done a good job with it.”
With guys getting healthy, the Mountaineers’ depth at corner is only going to allow for greater success.
“I’m starting to get my guys back so that’s going to be a good thing,” Adams said.
WVU’s safeties are also a force to reckon with this season. When Karl Joseph got injured last season Jarrod Harper stepped in and filled the void.
Now as a senior, Harper is emerging as a leader of the Mountaineer’s secondary.
“Jarrod kind of defines what our program is,” Gibson said. “He’s an overachiever, a hard worker, a kid that never gives up and just keeps working every day. He’s a blue-collar worker, a great kid on and off the field, a great student. He is West Virginia. That’s what we look for. If we had a blueprint on what kind of kid we want to play with it is him.”
Senior safety Jeremy Tyler has been another player to lead by example and get the job done in the backfield. He had a near interception against the Horned Frogs on Saturday.
On the season, Tyler has one interception and five pass breakups.
Kyzir White, Toyous Avery and Marvin Gross have all been key players at the safety position this season.
It’s easy to say that WVU’s 6-0 start can be attributed to excellent play from its secondary, which is striking fear into opponents across the Big 12.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS