WVU’s defense has been a pillar of the program for the last several seasons.
In 2020, the Mountaineers were among the best in the country and finished as the top-ranked unit in Power Five football. The 2021 defense wasn’t quite as successful, but still carried the standard of the team as it earned clutch victories and kept it in close games.
Saturday’s performance against Kansas was a vastly different showing than what fans were used to. WVU’s defense allowed 48 points, the most they’ve ever allowed to the Jayhawks, and 6.9 yards per play. That game was even a far cry from the week prior when WVU bothered Pitt’s offense for much of the game and sacked Kedon Slovis five times.
“If you look over…really the three years that we’ve played pretty good defense, really the last two we’ve played defense at a high level, in my opinion, is we’ve been able to stop the run,” Brown said. “So this isn’t an issue that has come up a lot.”
That wasn’t the case against Kansas. The Jayhawks’ triple option-style offense dashed for exactly 200 yards on Saturday, as five different ballcarriers combined to average 5.6 yards per attempt.
Much of the credit belongs to Kansas, which successfully confused an already-depleted WVU defense that lacked some of its top defensive backs.
“The most we got one formation was four times in the game. That’s a credit to them, it’s good offense, but that’s the most we got one single formation out of close to 70 plays, was four times,” said WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. “So you’re trying to adjust that at the same time with guys where you know where you’re weak. That’s on me, I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be a better coach, got to get them in a better position, and that’s the only person that’s on.”
Lesley said that the Jayhawks showed just a fraction of what they ran against WVU in their opener against Tennessee Tech, which made it difficult to prepare and adjust. Still, there were clear issues of execution on defense.
What went wrong on Saturday? Well, Brown said there were a lot of small things that built up to a poor performance.
“The other night, we didn’t do a very good job defensive line-wise keeping guys off our linebackers,” Brown said. “There was a ton of free hitters on our linebackers….Our linebackers did a poor job of getting too close to the line of scrimmage, not being able to get to their responsibility in the option game, and we did an extremely poor job of getting aligned and adjusting to shifts and motions.”
Brown’s focus this week is on fixing those alignment issues and improving 1-on-1 tackling. WVU had worked on that before Kansas, but “it didn’t get improved.”
There will also be some changes to WVU’s defensive rotations. Sean Martin, who recorded two tackles-for-loss, will get more playing time according to the head coach, and might even get a start. Brown also hinted that there might be a change in the linebacker corps, and some young players, like freshman cornerbacks Jacolby Spells and Mumu Bin-Wahad, will see more of the field.
“I think when you have a performance like that, you want to evaluate it in all phases, which we have, and we’ve got a good plan, in my opinion, on how to get better,” Brown said.