The Mountaineers did exactly what they needed to do on Saturday to kick off Big 12 play in fine fashion. Was the offense great? It was. But so was the Mountaineers defense which refused to let the Wildcats cross the goal line at any point Saturday, a feat that shouldn’t be easily brushed aside. There can and should be more than three helmet stickers to hand out from Saturday’s performance but for now, we’ll focus on the three biggest performers from West Virginia’s handling of the ‘Cats.
- David Long, LB– Long doesn’t have an off switch, does he? After posting another quality stat line of 9 total tackles and two sacks against Kansas State’s run-heavy offense, one has to wonder what Long’s ceiling really is. In three games this season, Long has totaled 28 tackles, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble and has made it look easy. At 5’11”, 221 pounds, the Ohio native will constantly face detractors citing his lack of preferred size as a hurdle for him when projecting his pro prospects. Both West Virginia fans and opposing Big 12 offenses, however, probably don’t care because the fact of the matter is that Long, at full health, is a terrific football player. On any given snap, no. 11 is in full view. Whether he’s blowing a play up before it’s had time to develop or taking the right angle in pursuit, Long seems nearly impossible to stop. As the Mountaineers creep closer to the meat of the Big 12 schedule, his efforts will be key-critical in getting stops against powerhouse offenses like Texas Tech and Oklahoma. The way things are trending, Long could very well be the defensive MVP in every contest in 2018.
- Kenny Bigelow, DL- If you look at Saturday’s box score, no one on the defensive line really stands out. Stops across the defensive front were evenly distributed and, true to the nature of the 3-3-5, most of the flashy stats and stops were recorded by the back eight players. Watch the film, though, and it’s pretty obvious why West Virginia was able to hold Kansas State to a mere 91 yards rushing. Kenny Bigelow, to put it bluntly, has been a godsend for Tony Gibson and this West Virginia defense. The former 5-star recruit is living up to his prior billing and has been practically immovable at the nose guard position. With Bigelow and the rest of the defensive line showing out the way they are, West Virginia’s defense could be on course for a special year. The first real test comes this Saturday against a Texas Tech team that is averaging over 600 yards of offense per game in 2018. If the Delaware native can impose his will up front this Saturday and allow David Long and co. to fly to the ball, it may be time for West Virginia’s defense to start getting some national attention.
- Toyous Avery, S- While there’s a bit of distance between David Long and the rest of the defense in terms of broad statistics, Toyous Avery’s performance on Saturday (and across the first three games) should make Mountaineer nation happy. Let’s not forget- Avery is coming off an injury-shortened 2017 season and is anchoring a secondary that carried a considerable amount on question marks heading into this season. So far, though, so good. The Kansas native has looked very aggressive in run support, solid on passing downs and is a key cog in West Virginia currently sitting at no. 2 nationally in team defense. Although West Virginia is currently giving up fantastic 185.3 YPG through the air, expect that number to change quickly as the air raid gauntlet of the Big 12 looms large on the horizon. Avery, along with fellow secondary leaders Dravon Askew-Henry and Josh Norwood all look the part through three games and should have a lot of confidence in themselves as they make the trip down to Lubbock this Saturday.