Statistically, the Mountaineers secondary is living up to the meager expectations placed upon them during the offseason. After replacing three starters from a year ago, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has produced a unit that is only giving up 234-yards through the air per game. In 2016, West Virginia gave up 255-yards passing per game.
As Big XII play opens on Saturday against Kansas, the Mountaineers need one thing if it plans on improving upon that number – a leader.
Not including the return of Dravon Askew-Henry and Kyzir White, the initial depth chart has endured a handful of amendments through the non-conference slate. JUCO transfers Hakeem Bailey and Elijah Battle have seen their names rise and then fall while true freshmen Derek Pitts Jr. and Kenny Robinson have inserted themselves into the starting lineup conversation. With the influx of young and inexperienced defensive backs, the need for a vocal leader on the back end becomes even more urgent.
Allowing 234-yards per game through the air in the Big XII is not alarming, but averaging that number after contests against East Carolina and Deleware State is. That number should be less. It should be less than 200.
The problem isn’t athleticism or playmaking ability. This group has the potential to be one of the best Gibson has coached during his tenure in Morgantown. The true culprit can be found in communication. Or the lack thereof.
Missing an assignment due to a lack of communication can lead to a big play, a touchdown, or it could decide the game. And it did against Virginia Tech to open the season.
With a little over 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter against the Hokies, Askew Henry and Elijah Battle both bit on a pump fake to the flat, leaving receiver Cam Phillips wide open for a 32-yard score to put Virginia Tech up 24-17. The Mountaineers were obviously in man coverage with Hakeem Bailey over top to provide a safety net. The net tore and the game was decided by a single touchdown.
A similar play can be found against Deleware State. Hornets quarterback Jack McDaniels found Nyfease West for an 81-yard score after Marvin Gross Jr. got caught looking in the backfield on a play-action pass.
Giving up big plays have been a nuisance and at times a killer for the Mountaineers defense.
A leader is needed.