Part of being a dominant defense is having impact players at all three levels, according to West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown.
Brown said the reason WVU’s defense is entering this weekend leading the nation in total defense is that the Mountaineers have impact players at all three levels.
“[Tykee Smith], Tony Fields and Darius [Stills], that’s one guy at each level of your defense playing at a really high level right now,” Brown said on this week’s Big 12 coaches teleconference.
Stills was the known commodity coming into this season. After breaking out in 2019, Stills was named the Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and has not disappointed, with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks through four games.
Fields is a graduate transfer linebacker from Arizona who had put together three highly productive seasons with the Wildcats prior to this season. He currently leads the Mountaineers with 35 total tackles to go along with two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception.
With those two manning the front seven, all Brown was missing was someone in the secondary to step up. WVU’s secondary has a new look heading into this season, needing to replace four starters from last season – graduates Hakeem Bailey, Keith Washington and Josh Norwood and sophomore Kerry Martin, who opted out of the 2020 season.
One of the players returning, however, was sophomore spear Tykee Smith — a 2019 freshman All-America selection by the Football Writers Association of America.
“I think Tykee is playing as good as anybody in the country at his position from what I’ve seen,” Brown said. “Coming off a freshman year where he was a freshman All-American and he’s following that up with an even improved second season.”
Smith does a little bit of everything in WVU’s secondary. Through just four games, he’s on pace to handily surpass his numbers in 12 games last season. He has 26 tackles this season compared to 53 in 2019. He already has more tackles for loss with three and has one interception after collecting two picks last season.
That interception, by the way, set the Mountaineers up to defeat Baylor in double-overtime three weeks ago.
“You like to think that’s going to happen when a freshman comes in and plays,” WVU defensive backs coach Jahmile Addae said of Smith’s improvement. “Usually, the biggest jump is between the first and second year, I think he’s played and upped his game in every aspect. The more he does that, the more we put on his plate and he continues to carry the weight easily.”
Brown said Smith’s greatest contribution to WVU’s defense does not even show up on the stat sheet.
“I think the thing that’s he’s done that’s maybe a little underrated is communication and leadership,” Brown said. “He’s making a lot of the calls in the secondary.”
West Virginia is on the road to play Texas Tech this weekend. WVU and TTU will kick off at 5:30 p.m. EST Saturday in Lubbock, TX. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.