The defense has struggled to stop the big play this season and this is starting to become a trend under defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Over the past few seasons, Gibson has relied heavily on an attacking scheme, leaving his corners on an island while trusting his defensive lineman and linebackers to stop the run and pressure the quarterback. Unfortunately, that hasn’t entirely gone to plan.
Most recently, the running game has Mountaineers fans concerned. Getting gashed by an opponent is one thing but by a Kansas Jayhawk team – a program not necessarily known for a stellar running game – is another. The Mountaineers are currently 9th in rushing defense in the Big XII and 114th in the country at 226 yards per game. If West Virginia has hopes of playing for a conference title, these numbers must drastically improve.
The pass defense has seen its struggles this season as well, and that was the main concern after the opening game against Virginia Tech. The secondary looked lost at times in the first few games of the season with missed assignments and blown coverages. West Virginia may not have faced the quarterback talent to this point that they will face in the Big XII, but ranks 3rd in the conference in pass defense and 61st in the country at 225 yards per game.
It’s no secret that the glaring weakness on this Mountaineers football team has been the defense, but this has been a familiar story throughout Tony Gibson’s career to start every football season. You could say the defense usually gets better, which it does. It also could be argued the defense is built for the Big XII offenses, which it is. Obviously, that trend needs to continue.
There shouldn’t be any argument that the Big XII has some of the best offenses in the country. One of the favorite responses from the critics of the Big XII conference is there no defense in this conference. I totally disagree from that stance. Time and time again, Big XII schools have put up stats among some of the top defensive schools in the country.
College football has changed drastically since the turn of the century. The days of dotting the eye and smash-mouth football is all but over. It’s spread the defense out and be physical at the point of attack. Hell, even Alabama had to change their approach on offense because Nick Saban has apparently seen the times changing and knew his defense couldn’t always keep the score down against up-temp offenses.
So what do you do? You try to contain these offenses, limit the big play and it should go without saying, but keep the score manageable.
Tony Gibson has built one of those defenses in Morgantown. Facing some of the best offenses in the Big XII week in and week out, Tony has done a great job of holding his opponents under their season average.
One of the most noticeable attributes that comes with Tony Gibson is his ability to improve his defense as the year goes along.
It all starts with the bye weeks. With the level of competition revving up after a bye week and with some extra time to focus on their scheme, the defense improves.
Here is the opponents averages before the bye week, then after the bye week.
Before the Bye week
After the bye week.
The difference between before the bye week and after the bye week.
In 2015 and 2016 I had to look at it a little differently. There was two bye weeks during the season. The second bye week in 2015 was in the middle of the season and the second bye week in 2016 was after the fourth game. These stats are based off the second bye week.
Before the bye week.
After the bye week.
The difference before and after the bye week.
Before the bye week:
After the bye week.
The difference before and after the bye.
Now, here’s a breakdown of each team in the Big XII’s offense against the Mountaineer defense. This is what each team averages against Tony and the difference from their season average, in alphabetical order.
Rushing: 198.3/-63 Passing: 285.3/-26.8 Total: 483.7/ -89.8 Points/ -7.0
Rushing: 139.3/-16.9 Passing: 279/+34.3 Total: 418.3/ +17.5 Points: 16.3/-8.8
Rushing: 99/ -18.7 Passing: 176.3/-4.8 Total: 275.3/-63 Points: 11.7/ -6.1
Rushing: 73/-101.6 Passing: 257.3/+50.5 Total: 330.3/-52.3 Points:22/-10.6
Rushing: 241.3/+1.3 Passing 232.7/-43.9 Total: 474/-42.6 Points: 48.3/+7.1
Rushing: 137.7/-7.1 Passing: 247.7/-58.6 Total: 385.3/-65.9 Points: 26.7/-8.6
Rushing: 200.7/-5.1 Passing: 234.3/-79.6 Total: 435/-84.7 Points: 27/-12.9
Rushing: 240.7/+40.3 Passing: 201.3/+2.1 Total: 442/+42.2 Points: -2.0
Rushing: 143.3/-5.3 Passing: 297.3/-103.8 Total: 440.7/-108.8 Points: 25.7/-13.8
All but two teams have been kept under their average in total yards and only one team under their average score.
With the emergence of a juggernaut offense this season, they shouldn’t put them in some of the bad situations they were put in in the previous seasons. The offense should help the defense, especially when it comes to scoring by not turning the ball over deep in their own territory.
This is the second straight year Tony has had to replace eight defensive starters and maybe its starting to catch up with him.
Mountaineers fans can only hope history repeats itself on the defensive side of the ball and Tony Continues to make these Big XII offenses underperform. I have faith that Tony and his “DAWGS” can turn this defense around.