‘Meaningless’ not in vocabulary for Gibson and West Virginia defense

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Fans can say what they will about West Virginia’s defense — and they certainly have in recent weeks — but they best not call the Camping World Bowl “meaningless” to any Mountaineers on that side of the ball.

“It’s important to our guys,” defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “They’re all playing. They want to win.”

The unspoken and thinly veiled message from Gibson: You can’t say that about all the guys on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Will Grier and left tackle Yodny Cajuste are sitting out to avoid injury, and wide receiver Gary Jennings is sitting out due to injury.

“Dravon [Askew-Henry], Toyous [Avery], [Kenny] Bigelow and Jabril [Robinson], those guys have been doing the right things and have been preparing to go play in a game,” said Gibson, not-so-coincidentally listing multiple seniors by name. “They want to try to go out the right way and try to get a win. I’d say they wouldn’t like it if somebody told them that it’s not important.”

Gibson was defiant throughout his first press conference since the end of the regular season, and understandably so. Without an immediate opportunity for redemption, his defense has come under heavy criticism since WVU’s 59-56 loss to Oklahoma in the regular-season finale.

“There were a lot of different reasons [for that outcome]. They’re all going to sound like excuses, but Oklahoma was pretty good. They’ve done that to just about everybody,” Gibson said. “The one thing that we have looked back to is we’ve held eight out of 11 opponents under their scoring average this year. That was a good thing.

“We were top 20 in the country in tackles for loss. I can go on and on with good and bad, but we didn’t get it done. There’s nothing we can do now. We just have to try and get better.”

Syracuse presents yet another challenge for a defense that is used to it by now. The Orange are 10th nationally with an average of 40.8 points per game, despite having a 36-3 loss to No. 3 Notre Dame factored in.

But the Mountaineers see that opportunity as a challenge they’re more than willing to tackle.

“Just coming off two losses that were really close games, we’re hungry,” said safety Dravon Askew-Henry. “We have to finish this season with a win. So, we’re going to give it our all.”

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