Reserve cornerbacks stand out vs. ‘fastest guys in the nation’

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Last Sunday, when Tony Gibson began feeding the game plan for defending Baylor to his West Virginia’s cornerbacks, they were astounded at how much man coverage it included.

This was Baylor after all, college football’s fastest and most prolific offense. And West Virginia’s corners weren’t exactly reputed as the shutdown types.

“We were like, ‘Is this the game plan? Really? Well then, OK,'” said Icky Banks. “We had to tell our corners, ‘Earn your paycheck. Earn your scholarship.'”

During a 41-27 upset that changed the course of the Big 12 race, the Mountaineers cornerbacks earned every penny of a full-ride, even though they weren’t playing with a full assortment.

Starters Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut were knocked out in the first half, forcing Gibson to scrap his plan for using four cornerbacks in a six-DB alignment.

For a moment, Banks couldn’t fathom how WVU might survive without its top two cornerbacks.

“Guys stepped up and rolled with it … but you don’t ever think you’ll lose two corners,” he said. “I was like, oh man, this is crazy.”

What was crazy was Baylor netting only 90 yards passing and no touchdown tosses in the second half against West Virginia’s short-handed secondary. Gibson dialed up plenty of blitzes, yet stuck primarily to his base and nickel packages with Banks and Ricky Rumph manning up on the outside.

Cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell said all the right things about his unit’s next-man-up mentality, but this performance was unexpectedly solid by the backups.

“This is Division I football,” Rumph said, “so we have to be able to do whatever we have to do. Even if it’s covering the fastest guys in the nation.”

With Spur safety K.J. Dillon also breaking up passes downfield, Bryce Petty completed only 16-of-36 passes for 223 yards, giving WVU’s pass defense a solid six-quarter stretch dating back to the final half of the Texas Tech game.

“I think they didn’t expect us to come out and play man like we did,” Banks said. “I think they thought, kind of like last year, we would sit back in coverage.”

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