It’s over-used and somewhat cliche, but it is true that ball games are won in the trenches. And even at the risk of sounding like a broken record, you can bet that defensive line coach Bruce Tall is preaching this same message to his young group of linemen.
Through three games and on the heels of a 2-1 record, the Mountaineers are not to the point of relying on their defensive line to create havoc in their opponent’s backfield. After graduating Christian Brown, Noble Nwachukwu, and Darien Howard, West Virginia was forced to plug in young, inexperienced linemen for the 2017 season led by sophomores Reese Donahue and Adam Shuler.
Shuler started the year with a stellar performance against Virginia Tech with 7 total tackles but has slowed down considerably against weaker competition in East Carolina and Deleware State. In those two games, Shuler only registered 1 tackle and 1 quarterback hurry. Adversely, Donahue has been a poster child for mediocre consistency. Through three games, the Ona, West Virginia native is averaging a lowly 3 tackles per game. Clogging up the middle has been redshirt senior Xavier Pegues. Pegues has also been uninspiring with his 5 total tackles in the two games he’s seen action in.
The real surprise has come in the first year players. Freshman Lamonte McDougle has been trotted out with the second team in the first three games but has taken advantage of every minute he’s given. McDougle is a bowling ball in both stature and temperament. His 5 total tackles won’t support that statement to great lengths, but his film does. Impressively, McDougle is quick off the ball and with his lower center of gravity, he is able to leverage himself much better than some of his taller teammates. JUCO transfer Ezekiel Rose has been a fresh of breath air as well. His state line mirrors that of McDougle, but so does his effort.
While using only three down linemen in coach Gibson’s attacking defense, the pressure is ratcheted up for those three linemen to produce. It starts with effort and penetration. More importantly, it starts with staying on your feet, which has been a documented problem for the Mountaineers’ defensive line to start the season.