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Despite a Successful Debut, WVU’s Four-Man Front May Be Short Lived



MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – With the multitude of injuries that have plagued West Virginia’s defense this season, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and his staff have had to get creative with their schemes and personnel groupings.

Against Kansas State last Saturday, WVU debuted a new-look defensive front. Before Saturday, West Virginia had used a 3-3-5 defensive scheme, with three down-lineman, three linebackers and five defensive backs. On Saturday, WVU used a 4-2-5 scheme with one less linebacker and one more lineman.

The scheme changed both excited WVU’s defenders and stifled the Wildcats’ offense. K-State’s 122 rushing yards was the lowest total the Mountaineers have allowed to a single opponent this season and was more than 60 yeards less than the Wildcats has been averaging.

Junior lineman Darius Stills said that the four-man front limits the other team’s ability to run by presenting less gaps.

“We can get after it a lot more and we can stop the run a lot better,” Stills explained. “Playing in a three-man defense, there’s a lot of gaps you can run the ball in but if you play that four-front defense, the way we move, there’s really nowhere you can go.”

Senior defensive tackle Reese Donahue said that, beyond the new scheme being effective, it was also just fun to play.

“I thought it was fun, it was really enjoyable to be out there with everybody,” Donahue said. “To have almost everybody out there at one time, that was really enjoyable. I feel like everybody got a piece of the action, I feel like everybody got to join in instead of a couple guys are in, a couple guys are out. It was hard though because depth is an issue when you do four guys, but it was really fun.”

West Virginia has relied primarily on only five defensive linemen this season: tackels Donahue and Darius and Dante Stills and ends Reuben Jones and Jeffrey Pooler Jr.

Taijh Alston would have factored into the rotation at defensive end this season but suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s second game at Missouri. With so little depth along the line, there was less possibility for rotation and all five linemen had to play upwards of 60 or 70 snaps Saturday.

“We can’t do this all the time, we played that four-down front basically with only five guys that played in the game,” head coach Neal Brown said. “All five of those guys played a bunch of those snaps.”

Koenning said whatever the scheme, each week the coaching staff is trying to put their players into positions to succeed.

“At least they know we’re trying to put them into positions to be successful,” Koenning said. “It’s not comfortable and it’s not easy on the coaches to go and reinvent the wheel every week…Because of lack of availability of guys, sometimes you’ve got to try and mix and match. I think part of it is you don’t want to put somebody in a position where they’re not going to be able to be successful.”

Pooler played his best game of the season against the Wildcats, getting into the backfield several times, recording a sack and two tackles for loss.

“It played well. It set us up for a lot of one-on-ones, that’s what helped me get into the backfield,” Pooler said of the new scheme.” They couldn’t double-team certain ways, to try and open up hole certain ways so it set up real well for us.

“I give credit to coach Vic and the defensive staff a lot because each week they have a good scheme for the offense we’re preparing for and try to get us in the best position to make plays. We have a versatile defense, guys that can do a lot and move a lot.”

“Jeff’s been a great contributor all year, he’s been one of those guys that’s been a really good leader,” Donahue said. “He’s stepped up in a lot of good ways, I just knew it was a matter of time before he had a game like that.”

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