Who says the Big 12 doesn’t play defense?
Through four games this season, the West Virginia defense is allowing just 240.3 yards, the top mark in all of college football. Head coach Neal Brown credited the success to the team’s best players playing well.
“Guys that are our best players are playing at a high level,” Brown said after defeating Kansas 38-17 Saturday. “Darius Stills, Tony Fields, Tykee Smith, those guys are playing at a high level.”
Leading the Mountaineers with nine tackles against the Jayhawks was junior linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo. He said WVU’s defense is able to play with a high level of confidence this season, in part because of his partner in the linebacking corps, Tony Fields.
“Since he’s come in he’s been a great leader for us, a great attribute to the linebacker corps,” Chandler-Semedo said Saturday. “You know you’ve got two dogs out there. Run away from me, you run into him. Run away from him, run into me. It builds the confidence in the group. We both feel we’re the best out there so it’s basically just carry on accordingly.”
The Mountaineers lost a lot of talent from the defensive side of the ball after last season, so success in 2020 was anything but certain. WVU graduated seven full or part-time players, two more transferred away and sophomore safety Kerry Martin Jr. opted out of the 2020 season due to health concerns. On top of that, defensive coordinator Vic Koenning mutually parted ways with the university following an investigation into his conduct in July.
Fields has stepped right in and is leading the Mountaineers through four games with 35. He also has two tackles for loss and an interception this season. Chandler-Semedo is right behind him with 26 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Fields, a graduate transfer from Arizona, was not the only defensive reinforcement the Mountaineers got this season. Bandit linebacker VanDarius Cowan and cornerback Dreshun Miller both returned from injuries that cost them large portions of the 2019 season and free safety Alonzo Addae is eligible after sitting out last season due to transfer requirements.
Under co-defensive coordinators Jordan Lesley and Jahmile Addae the Mountaineers are holding opponents to just 148.5 passing yards and 91.8 rushing yards per game. WVU is also holding opponents to 18.8 points per game.
The caveat with WVU’s success thus far is that the Mountaineers have yet to play either Texas or Oklahoma, the two best offensive teams in the conference. WVU has played Oklahoma State and Baylor, but the Bears have only been able to play two games this season due to COVID-related cancelations and the Cowboys have been without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders for much of the year.
WVU’s next game will be against Texas Tech in Lubbock on Oct. 24. The Mountaineers will have another shot to keep up their good defensive start as the Red Raiders have announced they will be making a quarterback change for this game.