The West Virginia University football team’s defensive secondary has been hit by players leaving the program and battered by injuries in 2019, but with one game remaining this season the Mountaineer defensive backs have been putting on some of their best performances.
In last week’s loss to Oklahoma State, West Virginia limited the usually high-powered Cowboy offense to just 285 total yards. OSU threw for 196 yards in the game, but its leading receiver was sophomore running back Chuba Hubbard. The Cowboys’ run game was one of the best in the country coming into the game, but WVU — with its defensive backs coming up to help make plenty of tackles — held Oklahoma State in check on the ground.
West Virginia’s secondary is currently made up of senior cornerbacks Keith Washington and Hakeem Bailey along with redshirt junior Sean Mahone playing the “cat” safety position and true freshmen Kerry Martin Jr. and Tykee Smith at free safety and “spear.” That group played nearly every snap last week against Oklahoma State and drew a positive performance review from first-year WVU coach Neal Brown.
“K.J. Martin played his best game as a Mountaineer on Saturday,” Brown said. “[Martin] played every snap and really flew around. You can see his improvement and I’m excited about him. Sean Mahone played his fourth consecutive game at a high level. It probably hasn’t been talked about enough, but he’s played really well and he’s played probably every snap. Hakeem Bailey played really well, maybe his best game I’ve seen him play over the last two years.”
Brown said Bailey and Washington, as seniors, have been especially key for this group this season. Washington did miss some time with an injury, but has played nearly every snap against some of the Big 12’s best receivers since his return as West Virginia’s defense has shown itself to be the team’s unquestioned strong point to close the 2019 season.
“Those guys, I think, have played the best football of their careers without question,” Brown said. “Hakeem Bailey played extremely well on Saturday and Keith has played well throughout the year as well. I’m proud of both those guys. They’ve competed against some of the top wideouts in college football and they gave us a chance week in and week out when we’ve put them in some tough situations.
Brown seemed pleased with the way his defense played last week, for the most part, but he certainly saw some areas where he would like to see improvement at to close the season. West Virginia did not force any fumbles or intercept any passes by Oklahoma State quarterback Dru Brown on Saturday. That is a problem, the West Virginia coach said.
“[I] felt like for us to win the game, we needed to get some takeaways,” Brown said. “We had several missed tackles, and that’s going to happen when you play a player of Chuba Hubbard’s caliber. And really we got fatigued in the fourth quarter, and some of that is because we don’t have a whole lot of depth. The defensive line and the secondary and thsoe guys, it’s kind of a culmination and it’s week 11 and you’re playing a lot of snaps. They got fatigued int eh fourth quarter.
OLD BUDS AND SUDS
When West Virginia plays at TCU on Friday (4:15 p.m. on ESPN), WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning will see an old friend on the opposite sideline at the Horned Frogs’ Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Longtime TCU coach Gary Patterson, like Koenning, was a player at Kansas State once upon a time. Patterson and Koenning’s time with the Wildcats overlapped and began a friendship that lasts to this day.
Just don’t ask Koenning for too many specifics from their first meeting in Manhattan.
“I took him on his recruiting visit,” Koenning said of Patterson. “Took him to a fraternity party. We may have absconded with half a keg. I don’t remember all the details.”