WVU's Isaiah Bruce (31) celebrates with teammates Karl Joseph (8) and Will Clarke (left) after Bruce scored on a 43-yard fumble return against Marshall Saturday.
MORGANTOWN - There weren't a ton of things that Dana Holgorsen could point to as outstanding from his West Virginia team's defensive effort against Marshall.After all, the Herd gained 545 yards and scored 34 points. Marshall converted more than half its first downs and there were missed tackles all over the place.Still, ask him about Isaiah Bruce and there aren't many bad things to say."He's a smart kid,'' Holgorsen said of the 6-foot-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman from Jacksonville, Fla. "When the referees were in here [during preseason camp] going over all of the rules, he raised his hand three or four times and was asking questions.''
Well, whether it was smarts or ability or a combination of the two - and more - Bruce had one of the most statistically splendid debuts ever for a Mountaineer defender. In his first college game, Bruce had 16 tackles - seven solo and nine assists - tackled MU tailback Travon Van for an 8-yard loss (after Will Clarke had knocked him back) and returned a Rakeem Cato fumble 43 yards for a touchdown (after Terence Garvin had sacked him).Not only was Bruce anointed West Virginia's defensive champion, he earned the Big 12 defensive player of the week honor that was announced Tuesday, giving the Mountaineers the league's top player on both sides of the ball (quarterback Gene Smith was the league's offensive player of the week after completing 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns and running for 65 yards and another score).Still, Holgorsen was rather reserved in his praise for Bruce, if for no other reason than he was part of a defense that still has a long way to go.
"He's a smart kid, his conditioning is good and [his performance] was a pleasant surprise,'' Holgorsen said. "But he, along with everybody else, has a whole lot to work on.''True, but Saturday was obviously a good start for Bruce, who wasn't even listed as a starter on the pregame depth chart. He was listed as Doug Rigg's backup at one of the two inside linebacker spots, but he started at the other in place of Jared Barber and made the most of the opportunity.Holgorsen had seen bits of that potential in practice."He practiced well in spurts,'' Holgorsen said. "I didn't know if he could do it for four quarters, but he did. And he has tremendous conditioning.''
On Saturday, that conditioning paid off on a hot, humid day on which substitutions were frequent. But Bruce rarely came off the field, as his numbers would suggest.The reason was conditioning, and Bruce is in top shape."Not everybody looked the same in the fourth quarter as they did in the first quarter, but he looked like he was doing the same stuff consistently for four quarters,'' Holgorsen said. "[Freshman starting safety] Karl Joseph looked the same way. But we need to get some older guys to do that consistently.''Briefly
The hit that everyone remembers from WVU's 69-34 win over Marshall Saturday is running back Andrew Buie's block on a Marshall defender during a Smith scramble. The one Holgorsen recalls, though, was one by K.J. Dillon.
"Buie's was slightly better than K.J. Dillon's,'' Holgorsen said after watching the game tapes. "But K.J. Dillon's happened right in front of me, which I got really, really excited when I saw that. I even showed emotion. It was awesome.''The hits themselves, though, were not nearly as odd as the victim of the hits. That's victim, not victims, because both times it was Marshall sophomore linebacker Cortez Carter."The ironic thing about it was that it was the same defender,'' Holgorsen said. "That sucks, man. Poor kid. Geez.''How unusual is it for West Virginia to have the league's offensive and defensive players of the week? Well, it was the Mountaineers' first week in the Big 12, so who knows? But in the Big East in 2011, WVU had only three offensive awards and two on defense over 14 weeks.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.