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WVU DC Jordan Lesley Liked Effort Against PSU, But Knows Defense Must be Better



WVU Football DC Jordan Lesley
WVSN photo/Kelsie LeRose

For WVU, competing in the daunting Big 12 conference is a task within itself, but the Mountaineers facing the toughest opponent on its 2023 schedule in the season opener clearly added to the challenge.

No. 7 ranked Penn State handled the Mountaineers 38-15 in front of a packed Beaver Stadium crowd this past Saturday night. West Virginia’s defense, which had mightily struggled last season, carried multiple high and low points throughout the contest, as the Mountaineers trailed by just seven points at halftime.

Defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley and his entourage came in with the goal of stopping the mighty Penn State rushing attack, headlined by a tandem of Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen behind an experienced offensive line and driven by a consistent no-huddle spread offense that can go to the air or ground at any given time.

The Mountaineers held the Nittany Lions to 146 rushing yards, 25 coming on the game’s final drive, after Penn State boasted 181.1 per game last season, but were burned via the pass. Drew Allar and Beau Pribula combined to go 22-for-30 with 332 yards and three touchdowns.

“Situationally, we have to be smarter,” Lesley said. “We have to be a little more aggressive, especially in coverage.”

One of West Virginia’s biggest defensive flaws from last season was giving up big plays, which is something the Mountaineers focused on attempting to fix during spring practice.

This was coming off a campaign where West Virginia was ranked among the bottom in the FBS for its defense. Out of 131 teams, the Mountaineers were ranked 67th in rushing yards allowed per game (149.6), 111th in passing yards per game (262.7), 116th in points per game (32.9) and were tied for 119th with a minus-8 turnover margin.

Even with West Virginia’s focus, Penn State was able to ignite its crowd right off the bat.

The Nittany Lions hit a 72-yard deep cross on its initial possession of the game to grab an early 7-0 lead. West Virginia safety Aubrey Burks made a diving attempt to knock down Allar’s throw, but instead of a break-up for the Mountaineers safety, Penn State’s Keandre Lambert-Smith hauled in the football and jogged to the end zone untouched.

Lesley noted he would’ve rather had Burks, who was beat on the play, attempt to make the tackle on Lambert-Smith instead, as there was still nearly 35 yards of field between Burks and the endzone.

“The first drive, Aubrey has seen that route a ton,” Lesley said. “Our offense runs that route. He overplayed it by about a yard and got into his speed turn late. If you pause the film at the point of the catch, he’s probably about six inches from the ball. He lays out to make a play. He probably shouldn’t have, should have just finished the play and got it down. But, instead he lays out, and it gets away from him for a touchdown.”

Lesley also made a nod to other defensive miscues that helped the Nittany Lions gain offensive momentum in the second half, including long plays on second down and allowing receivers to get open behind the second level of defenders.

Penn State averaged 11.1 yards per completion in the game, as the Mountaineers also dropped two open interceptions.

“I was happy with the front seven overall on the night,” Lesley said. “I hope this was a confidence builder for them, but there are no moral victories here. We’re not doing that. I was also happy with the way our kids fought. They were put in some tough situations in the first half, and they were able to get out of them, forcing two missed field goals.

“I liked our effort and aggression, but we just have to play better. That’s as simple as I can make it.”

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