MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Facing Alabama’s speed and power in his first college game certainly steepened the learning curve for West Virginia safety Dravon Henry.
Yet despite being slow to react in a few coverages, the true freshman performed well enough for Dana Holgorsen to toss out comparisons to Alabama safety Landon Collins.
“What I’m looking at is No. 26 for Alabama, who is an All-American,” Holgorsen said. “Watching him, he’s quicker reaction-wise. He’s got a little bit more pop. Dravon had a good game and he played well. He was a little out of position at times, didn’t have as much pop.
“But the good news is what I look at from Alabama’s No. 26 is probably what we’re going to see out of our No. 6 here the near future.”
Credited with six tackles, Henry’s biggest was a knock-down of Tide receiver DeAndrew White, who sustained a separated shoulder on a 19-yard completion in the third quarter.
That hit came two plays after Henry drew an iffy pass-interference penalty while running alongside Amari Cooper on a deep sideline route.
“I’m not allowed to comment,” joked West Virginia safeties coach Joe DeForest. “I thought Dravon was in great position on that play.”
Video revealed no glaring errors for Henry, just some moments of hesitation that DeForest attributed to growing pains.
“The speed of the game was like ‘Wow!’ Now he understands it and now he can react a step quicker,” said DeForest, who left Henry on the field for 81 of Alabama’s 82 snaps.
“I told him, ‘You’re no longer a freshman, because you got two games under your belt in one.”
Preston, presto!: True freshman linebacker Xavier Preston made a surprising debut against Alabama, albeit for one play late in the first half. (The play that Henry missed.)
Against Alabama’s goal-line offense on second-and-inches, Preston shed a block from 248-pound fullback Jalston Fowler and wrapped up T.J. Yeldon as the Heisman hopeful surged in for a score.
“He took one snap and he had one hell of a tackle—it was just in the end zone, so they counted it as a touchdown,” Holgorsen said. “It looked like he had good pop, butted the guy up. He will continue to get more reps.”
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder from Jensen Beach, Fla., showed he was capable of contributing from “the first day in full gear,” though Holgorsen previously said he anticipated redshirting the entire freshman class except for Henry and William Crest.
Now Preston has earned a spot on the short-yardage unit when West Virginia removes a defensive back.
“When we go big he’s going in,” Gibson said.
“But he’s going to start playing a lot more in the base package too. You’re going to start seeing him more. He’s a hitter, he’s smart and he plays downhill. He’s going to be a good one.”
Bruce in backup role: A starter the past two seasons, Isaiah Bruce was beaten out by Wes Tonkery during preseason camp and only played on special-teams against Alabama. That’s rather surprising for a player who made 94 tackles in 2012 and earned freshman All-American honors.
“We thought that (Brandon) Golson, (Nick) Kwiatkoski and Tonkery had phenomenal camps,” Holgorsen said. “So they played a bunch of snaps and they played pretty good.”
With Bruce healthy, Holgorsen said there’s a simple formula for the junior to regain playing time:
“We’ve talked with Isaiah and if he wants to see the field more then he needs to show us that he’s ready to see the field more.”