West Virginia ready for physical game vs. Big Ten-style BYU

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — When West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson began dissecting BYU video last week, he anticipated a Ty Detmer flashback.

The former Heisman winner, who 26 years ago threw for 41 touchdowns and nearly 5,200 yards in a 12-game season, is fresh into his new gig as the Cougars’ playcaller. The philosophy, at least based on present personnel, has changed.

“They look more Big Ten,” Gibson said, whose run defense allows 182 yards per game, 95th nationally. “They want to hurt you when they run the ball. They finish blocks and their backs are big.”

With 220-pounder Jamaal Williams closing in on the school’s career rushing mark, the Cougars (1-2) have passed on only 54 percent of their plays, a ratio also affected by the running of fifth-year senior Taysom Hill at quarterback. (“If the first look is not here, he’ll take off,” Gibson said.)

Then again, Hill hasn’t typically enjoyed the safest of pockets. An offensive line missing three projected starters has yielded seven sacks, as receivers have struggled getting open.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of separation against man coverage at times, and so in turn, the quarterback holds the ball a little bit,” Detmer said.

Those factors are severely curbing BYU’s downfield passing game. The receivers have only one completion beyond 20 yards (Nick Kurtz caught a 23-yarder vs. UCLA), while running back Jamaal Williams has the other.

“They’re just not taking those shots,” Gibson said. “They’re not throwing the verticals as much as I’d thought.”

Even with BYU ranked 105th in total offense, first-year head coach Kalani Sitake plans to stick with the 26-year-old Hill, who was born two weeks before Detmer authored an upset of top-ranked Miami in 1990.

Switching to sophomore Tanner Magnum “would’ve been a premature decision,” Sitake said. “It would be foolish right now to make (Hill) a scapegoat when it wasn’t all his fault.”

Detmer reminded reporters this week that BYU started 0-3 in his Heisman encore, thanks to an opening-month schedule of Florida State, Penn State and UCLA.

“I hadn’t changed as a player,” Detmer said. “But sometimes you are only as good as the guys that are playing around you.”

West Virginia defensive coaches watched last year’s film of Magnum, a former Rivals four-star prospect ranked as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2012 class. He’s a 6-foot-3 pocket passer who displays an elite arm but lacks Hill’s mobility.

Regardless which quarterback BYU plays Saturday, the West Virginia secondary expects a few deep shots to keep them honest.

“They like to pound the ball out,” said Mountaineers safety Jarrod Harper. “But at times, with different personnel, they like to take shots. You’ve just got to be able to see the information. You’ve got to study film, know the personnel, know what they like to do on different downs.”

BYU might even go hurry-up to jumpstart the offense. The Cougars are 3-for-3 in two-minute situations so far, scoring late-game touchdowns against Utah and UCLA and moving into field-goal range before half against the Bruins.

“They’ve played three pretty good teams,” Gibson said. “You don’t want them to start clicking this week.”

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