This will be an ongoing series with WVSN’s Cody Nespor and Tom Bragg grading the performance of each position group during the 2020 West Virginia University football season.
Tony Fields and Josh Chandler-Semedo were absolute thumpers in the middle of WVU’s defense this season. Fields led the team with 88 total tackles without even playing the bowl game and Chandler-Semedo finished third with 64. They each also had four tackles for loss and an interception. In a league full of elite linebackers, I thought Fields and Chandler-Semedo made up one of the best duos in the Big 12 in 2020.
Behind them, their backups were not too shabby either. Dylan Tonkery capped off his Mountaineer career with a phenomenal Liberty Bowl and Exree Loe had 46 total tackles, sixth-most on the team and easily the most among non-starters.
WVU’s bandit linebacker also had a productive, although quieter, season. Jared Bartlett and VanDarius Cowan combined for 10 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks, but I think they were overshadowed a bit by WVU’s other pass rushers along the defensive line. Bartlett particularly stood out in the middle of the season when Cowan missed a few games due to injury. If Cowan can stay healthy for a full season, I still believe he can be a star for West Virginia. In six games with WVU he has 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks and a forced fumble.
As we mentioned yesterday, the WVU defensive line did a lot to make life easier for the rest of the team and the linebackers certainly benefited from their play. That’s not a knock on the linebackers, just a statement of fact. The line was very good at occupying the offensive line and not allowing them to get through to the linebackers’ level, which allowed West Virginia’s linebackers to fly around and make plays.
Tony Fields was fantastic in his one season with WVU as a graduate transfer from Arizona, and Josh Chandler-Semedo appeared much more comfortable in 2020 compared to 2019. To echo Cody from above, they were among the Big 12’s best duo at the position.
I liked what I saw of VanDarius Cowan in the small amount of time he made it on the field in 2020. Jared Bartlett was pretty good too — nothing incredible but he never appeared to be out of his league out there.
My forever memory of Dylan Tonkery’s football career will be the night he demolished Frankfort in the Class AA state championship game at Wheeling Island Stadium for Bridgeport, but it was pretty cool to see him put a bow on his collegiate career with a solid season and standout performance in the Liberty Bowl.
No real complaints about the linebackers here. They were helped by a great defensive line in front of them but they still had to go out and make plays, which they did. Very good showing by the WVU linebackers in 2020.