Column: Now WVU defense must build on fantastic first impression

West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber celebrates a third-and-1 stop during the Mountaineers’ 44-0 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va.

 

COMMENTARY

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — All that extended preparation for Georgia Southern, and the incessant worrying that adjoined it, made Tony Gibson a consumed mess throughout the preseason.

So West Virginia’s defensive coordinator emerged from Saturday night’s 44-0 victory feeling relief beyond belief.

After months of scheming for the triple-option Eagles, and 60 minutes of creaming them, Gibson told his graduate assistants to  ‘Clean the boards and throw it all away. I’m tired of looking at it.’”

Not since 1775 had someone proclaimed “Give me Liberty” with such conviction.

In Week 2, the Mountaineers’ 3-3-5 stack returns to its hyper-aggressive, blitz-a-minute nature. But that scaled-back, vanilla facade it adopted for Week 1 certainly handled its business in the interim.

“I think we maybe called four different calls, that’s it,” Gibson said. “The kids allowed me to do it because of the execution.”

Georgia Southern had not been shut out since 1995—the year Gibson began his coaching career at Gilmer County High—and the Eagles had scored at least one touchdown in 75 consecutive games. Their deepest penetration Saturday was the West Virginia 28-yard line.

From the first series, when quarterback Favian Upshaw made his option pitch a nano-second before being blasted by linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, the game plan was revealed: Hit Upshaw so often that he didn’t have time to take the ball on the perimeter.

“Kwit got him pretty good the second play of the game, and I don’t think that kid was right again,” Gibson said.

“We wanted him know if he was going to pull it (from the dive play) he was going to get hit. We didn’t want him to get outside and have the chance to make a move on us. We wanted to make him pitch it and turn it into a toss sweep.”

With WVU committing six or seven defenders to the dive, Georgia Southern ran for only 195 yards, roughly half its 2014 average. That left West Virginia’s cornerbacks in single coverage all night, but so what?

“If they were going to beat us throwing it, they had their chance,” Gibson said. “Obviously, they’re not a throwing team.”

Obviously.

Georgia Southern tried 13 passes and completed two. Recall the 2001 Rutgers team that lost 80-7? It completed four.

And if we’re to oblige the ludicrously premature Heisman conversation, good luck finding a contender who enjoyed a more striking debut than Karl Joseph’s three interceptions, one fumble recovery and eight tackles.

Of course, with all this opening-night dominance giving West Virginia’s defense serious credibility, it also gives Gibby his next mission.

“I want our kids confident, but I don’t want them thinking we’ve accomplished something. Anybody can get up to play under the lights in Morgantown for Game 1, but what about next week when we get here at noon against Liberty?”

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