MORGANTOWN — When West Virginia lines up against all of the talented players Alabama has to offer on offense Saturday at the Georgia Dome, the Mountaineers are going to need some special kinds of players on defense.
They’re going to need rare defenders who can match up athletically, play both the run and pass and deliver the kind of hits that will make ball carriers and pass-catchers think twice about coming into that area again.
In other words, they’re going to need Karl Joseph.
Arguably West Virginia’s best defender — he was the only one named to the Big 12’s official preseason all-star team — the junior safety seems tailor-made for what Alabama is likely to throw at the Mountaineers. Although that style remains a bit of a mystery given that the Tide will have a new quarterback and offensive coordinator, Alabama in general is usually a pretty straight-forward offense that uses talent to attack, rather than schemes.
If nothing else, Joseph has proven that he can match up talent-wise with pretty much anyone.
And heading into that season opener in Atlanta and into his third season as a starter, Joseph also might be as comfortable as he’s ever been. That has as much to do with being familiar with rules as with anything else.
“I think I know what I can do and what I can’t,’’ Joseph said. “That was kind of a question last year.’’
Indeed, it has been a year since Joseph had to make an adjustment in the way he plays the game. Last year’s crackdown on hits to the head and to defenseless players — and the accompanying suspensions that went along with targeting fouls — was a huge topic for Joseph. As a freshman in 2012, he’d made his name with bone-jarring hits while starting at free safety and there was considerable concern that if any of WVU’s defenders were apt to be penalized as such, it would be Joseph.
As it turned out, the concerns were overblown. Joseph adjusted. Oddly enough, the only Mountaineer who was ejected for targeting last season was offensive lineman Adam Pankey for a hit in the Baylor game.
But it wasn’t always easy for Joseph.
“I don’t think it really changed how I played,’’ Joseph said. “But I do think I always had that doubt in the back of my mind, like if a receiver’s going up I might not be able to hit him like I want to. I might have to slow down a little bit.
“It just kind of put a little bit of doubt in my mind.’’
Joseph insists that the doubt he had didn’t affect the way he played. That seems a bit contradictory, of course, because any defender who plays with doubts about what he can and cannot legally do tends to play on the side of caution.
Regardless, Joseph made it through last season and should be more comfortable with it all this season.
“No, not really,’’ Joseph said when asked if those lingering questions of what was legal still exist. “Going into year two of the rule now I feel a little more comfortable knowing what’s allowed and what is not. I think I have a better understanding of where to attack receivers when they have the ball.’’
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow @dphickman1 on Twitter.