MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Jared Barber’s right ACL was torn as Texas scored Saturday’s game-winning touchdown. K.J. Dillon turned in his best performance as a Mountaineer only to spend the next two days in ICU suffering dehydration issues.
Add two more West Virginia defensive players to the gone-for-good heap.
The defense has become so mangled by injuries that nose tackle Shaq Rowell suggested, “We’re fixing to go to Rent-a-Center and start renting players.”
Barber and Dillon make eight injured players from the August defensive two-deep who were unable to play at all this season or unable to complete it. That extensive wounded list—linebackers Dozie Ezemma, Shaq Petteway, Doug Rigg and Wes Tonkery, nose guard Christian Brown and cornerback Nana Kyeremeh—partially explains why a unit that at times showed distinct signs of toughness now ranks 100th out of 123 FBS teams in total defense.
“But you can’t use that as an excuse,” said coordinator Keith Patterson. “Nobody cares, really.”
In Barber, the Mountaineers lost their Will linebacker and team co-leader in tackles with 71. During the 47-40 overtime loss to Texas, the 6-foot, 233-pound junior made a career-high 14 stops and forced a fumble by stripping Daje Johnson on a first-quarter screen pass.
In overtime, however, as Texas fullback Alex DeLa Torre slipped out of the backfield for the decisive touchdown catch, Longhorns running back Malcolm Brown delivered a diving cut block to Barber’s right knee. He’ll be sidelined for six months, head coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday—a timetable that would have Barber missing spring practice.
“It’s disappointing—he was playing at an extremely high level,” said Holgorsen. “His effort was great. His attitude was tremendous.”
The medical condition alarming Dillon requires close scrutiny, considering the sophomore’s diabetes puts him at increased risk of dehydration.
Losing Dillon for the final two games of the regular season—and a potential bowl game—robs the defense of a versatile safety/linebacker who had become more dynamic in recent weeks.
“He was able to play man, he was an explosive blitzer, he could make plays out in space,” Patterson said. “He could play deep safety or we could kick him down (toward the line of scrimmage).”
Against Texas, Dillon jarred loose a ball that Nick Kwiatkoski intercepted. He also rattled Case McCoy on two blitzes, leading to a deflected pass and an incompletion.
In replacing Dillon, Patterson could revert to a larger, more conventional Spur linebacker in Isaiah Bruce or the lanky Marvin Gross who’s currently the backup at Buck. In nickel situations, Dillon’s spot could be filled by Ricky Rumph or Brandon Napoleon.
In Barber’s absence, expect senior Tyler Anderson (46 career games with two starts) to split reps with rejuvenated junior Jewone Snow. A seven-game starter in 2011, Snow recently returned from a shoulder injury to join the special-teams units and blocked a Texas punt Saturday leading to a safety.
“A lot of people being thrown into the mix are going to have to step up—we really don’t have a choice,” said Kwiatkoski, Barber’s roommate.
WVU (4-6, 2-5) visits Kansas (2-7, 0-6) on Saturday at noon.
“We’re going to have to start calling teams and borrowing players or something. We’re looking kind of skinny over there on defense,” joked Rowell. “But seriously, we love (Barber and Dillon) to death, but this game is not going to stop just because they’re hurt.”