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Second-half adjustments boost West Virginia defense to strong finish

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, in the care-free demeanor he’s shown since he arrived in Morgantown in January after following Neal Brown from Troy, sensed his defense was going to get better after a rough first quarter Saturday against James Madison.

But like any coach, he wasn’t just looking at the end result — he wanted to study the whole picture. What that entailed were missed assignments and blown containments, but also improvements on pressure and in coverage as the game progressed.

“Those guys got a good team, I’d be shocked if they lost another game all season,” Koenning said. “I was not taking anything for granted and it’s good to get out of there with a win. I was hoping we’d played the run a little bit better, but once we fixed some of the issues we were having at halftime, we were able to have a little bit of a better second half.”

The quarterback-read with Ben DiNucci and his running backs, Solomon Vanhorse and Percy Agyei-Obese, gashed the Mountaineers in the first half. JMU had 137 yards on 26 carries heading into the locker room, but were stonewalled in the second half. In the final 30 minutes, the Dukes had 22 carries for 35 yards.

Neal Brown postgame press conference

WVU was able to get in the backfield with regularity, led by 14 tackles from sophomore Josh Chandler.

But Brown credited a change in coverage in the passing game to why JMU’s offense was stymied in the second half.

“We tightened our coverage up,” he said. “We played a lot more man coverage as far as tighter coverage. We used some press in the second half and a lot of our movements hit home.

“It’s a game of inches. We came out early and we were wide, so they kept cutting runs back and the quarterback was moving up in the pocket and scrambled on us a couple times. What we did is we tightened our movements down. We were able to shed blocks better and made a bunch of plays.”

West Virginia natives were scattered throughout the West Virginia defense and made significant plays. Defensive lineman Darius Stills, of Fairmont, made a key special teams play when he blocked a field goal in the first half, but he also had a sack and finished with six tackles.

On a critical three-and-out by WVU’s defense in the third quarter, all three stops were made by West Virginians — Stills and Deamonte Lindsay, of Martinsburg, got the stop on first down, Charleston’s Kerry Martin was in coverage on second down, and Darius’ brother, Dante, got the sack on third down to force a punt.

Defensive line coach Jordan Lesley “needs to get all of the credit for Darius and Dante,” Koenning said. “He’s taken those two guys under his wing and I know he’s been on them, coaching them hard and I think they’re making improvement.”

Koenning said Darius had a great camp from the beginning, but Dante needed an extra boost toward the end, but is starting to put the pieces together to be a force along the defensive front.

“He has the tools, that was never a question,” Koenning said.

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