WVU 3rd-down defense decimated by injuries
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - It certainly isn't obvious from a glance at the final score, but Dana Holgorsen said that he watched his West Virginia defense play pretty well Saturday in a 35-12 loss at Kansas State.
Well, for the most part at least.
"Defensively we played well,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. "On about seven third downs we played poor.''
Those seven third downs, of course, wiped out almost all the good things the defense did on the other 57 plays because they allowed Kansas State to keep drives going. Five of those third-down conversions came during the Wildcats' three straight scoring drives that turned the game around, and all were on down-and-distance plays that favored the defense - third-and-6 or longer.
Changing that dynamic and doing a better job Saturday when West Virginia and TCU match 3-5 records (and 1-4 Big 12 marks) in Fort Worth, Texas, will be a key for the Mountaineers against what appears to be another offensively challenged opponent.
But doing so also could be just as difficult this week as last because the Mountaineers' third-down defense isn't very healthy.
Although injuries can't be used as an excuse, especially at a time of the season when almost every team is banged up, there is no denying that West Virginia is short-handed when it comes to the defensive alignment needed to defend third-and-long situations.
That doesn't even count the season-ending injuries earlier to cornerback Nana Kyeremeh and linebackers Shaq Petteway and Dozie Ezemma.
Holgorsen admits that all of that has combined to put the defense in a bit of a bind, but he won't use it as an excuse.
"Yeah, but what are you going to do about it?'' Holgorsen asked. "You've got to put people in there, the next-guy-up thing. You want your best guys out there, but injuries affect everybody.
"Look at TCU. I'd imagine TCU would like to have its best pass-rushing defensive end available for them as well. I'm not going to use that as an excuse not to be successful. We were in position to make plays and we've got to make plays.''
TCU, by the way, has played all season without last year's Big 12 defensive player of the year, end Devonte Fields. He missed the beginning of the season while suspended by coach Gary Patterson and then was ruled out for the rest of the season because of a foot injury.
But as far as West Virginia is concerned, the Mountaineers just keep trying to plug in new parts. One that was plugged in last week was true freshman Darrien Howard. Howard, recruited and still listed as a linebacker, arrived late for camp and was ticketed for a redshirt. But he was inserted into the Kansas State game at nose guard and was rather impressive in spot duty.
"It's been a weekly conversation for us for about a month - do we play him?'' Holgorsen said. "Dontrill was out and we needed to move Kyle Rose exclusively to end, and it left us a nose [guard] short.''
Howard, listed at 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, played "about 15 snaps,'' Holgorsen said, and will likely play more this week.
"Regardless of who the bodies are, they need to know what to do, they need to get in and they need to do it to the best of their abilities,'' Holgorsen said. "And it's our job to coach them up to do so.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.