2013 West Virginia Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 19, 2013

CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - West Virginia Mountaineer Defense

West Virginia Mountaineers

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 West Virginia Preview | 2013 West Virginia Offense
- 2013 West Virginia Defense | 2013 West Virginia Depth Chart
What you need to know: The Mountaineers quickly discovered that life in the Big 12 is a wee bit different. The pieces were in place to be excellent, but the secondary didn't find a big pass play it didn't like to give up, while the run defense went bye-bye in an ugly effort in the bowl loss to Syracuse to close out the season. There's lots of room to play around with the personnel with the ability to go with a 3-4 or a 4-3 depending on the situation, but it's going to be a work in progress up front to find consistent pass rushers. There's talent and upside in the secondary, and safeties Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook are fantastic, but the production has to come from the corners.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Karl Joseph, 104
Sacks: Several with 1
Interceptions: Isaiah Bruce, Karl Joseph, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore S Karl Joseph
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore CB Nana Kyeremeh
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Nick Kwiatkoski
Best pro prospect: Joseph
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Joseph, 2) S Darwin Cook, 3) LB Isaiah Bruce
Strength of the defense: Safeties, Versatility
Weakness of the defense: Pass Defense, Sure-Thing Pass Rush
Defensive Line

The pass rush has to be generated from somewhere, but as long as the front three is holding up against the run, all will be fine. Everything will work around 6-4, 305-pound senior Shaq Rowell, a tough former JUCO transfer who stepped in from Iowa Western CC and made 42 tackles with two tackles for loss. He's not going to get into the backfield, and he has to do a better job of holding up at the point of attack, but he's a good veteran who knows what he's doing. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 308-pound sophomore Christian Brown, a good backup last season who came up with 11 tackles. More of a 4-3 tackle than a 3-4 nose, he'll still work on the inside and should be a bigger factor in the rotation.

Senior Will Clarke was supposed to step in and shine as a pass rusher after working behind Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, and he did a decent job making 26 tackles with 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. The 6-7, 273-pounder has great size and a good first step, and while he's not a speed rusher in any way like Irvin was, he's a matchup problem with the right tools and skills to be an ideal 3-4 end, but he has to stay healthy. 6-2, 265-pound sophomore Eric Kinsey has more pure pass rushing skills than Clarke and could be used as a specialist.

Working at defensive end is 6-4, 283-pound sophomore Kyle Rose, who'll serve as more of a tackle to hold up against the run. A spot starter, he got his feet wet making 25 tackles on the season, but he didn't come up with any pressure on the quarterback. The skills are there to hit the passer, but he has to do it on a regular basis. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 271-pound redshirt freshman Noble Nwachukwu, a tackle playing end. He's not going to be a dangerous pass rusher, but he has strong all-around skills and could see time on the nose if absolutely needed.

Senior Dozie Ezemma will get a long look at the Buck position and needs to be a disruptive force. The former walk-on got in a little work making five tackles and a sack, and at 6-2 and 235 pounds he has to be quick behind the line and needs to let everyone else hold up against the run. 6-3, 245-pound sophomore Garret Hope looks the part of a defensive end and plays like an outside linebacker. He's a hybrid who does a little of both making 14 tackles and two tackles for loss.

Watch Out For … Dontrill Hyman, a JUCO transfer out of Hinds CC. The Mountaineers didn't load up for the defensive line in the recruiting process, and that means Hyman needs to be a factor on the end. At 6-4 and 265 pounds he's build like a true end, and with tremendous pass rushing ability he could become a dangerous specialist once he gets his feet wet.
Strength: Size. The Mountaineers basically go with three tackles and an oversized outside linebacker. The outside defenders are large and the men in the middle are bigger. There might not be a massive space-eater to swallow everything up, but the bulk is in place to stuff the run.
Weakness: Pass rush. It usually comes from other areas on the defense, and that's a problem. The front three has to generate some semblance of pressure to take the heat off the linebackers.
Outlook: By design, the run defense was supposed to be better and the pass rush worse, and that's exactly what happened. However, the line has to start hitting the quarterback and come up with more big plays. There's experience, depth and bulk, but after being ripped apart in the bowl loss to Syracuse, it's prove it time.
Unit Rating: 6.5


The pass rush has to be generated from the outside linebackers, and it has to start with Wes Tonkery, a 6-2, 222-pound junior who has to get past a foot injury to shine at the Spur. He came up with ten tackles with a pick, and while he's built like a safety, he can hit. Also fighting for the job is Hodari Christian, a 6-1, 195-pound defensive back-like prospect who could be an immediate disruptive force. Both a linebacker and running back in high school, he can move.

6-1, 231-pound sophomore Isaiah Bruce returns after finishing second on the team with 94 tackles with 6. 5 tackles for loss and two recovered fumbles. A strong presence inside, he's a big hitter with track speed – he's a former Florida state champion hurdler. A guided missile, he has always had the tools, but now that he knows what he's doing he should be a more consistent playmaker. Somewhere in the inside mix will be 6-1, 237-pound senior Doug Rigg, an athletic and aggressive veteran who can backup Bruce on the strongside or see time on the weakside. A good hitter, he came up with 58 tackles and a pick and should be a big producer no matter where he plays.

6-2, 232-pound sophomore Nick Kwiatkoski hit the weights hard over the last year and should be a more physical presence at either inside position. He got in a little work as a key reserve making 28 tackles with three broken up passes, and now he should be more confident and more consistent. Working in a combination – likely on the weakside – will be junior Jared Barber, a 6-0, 233-pound veteran who's built like a middle linebacker and can do a little of everything making 23 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in the rotation.

Watch Out For … Marvin Gross and Brandon Golson, options for the present and the future. Gross, a true freshman, could end up as a Buck or a defensive end with 6-4, 225-pound size and the room to get a bit bigger. A devastating high school pass rusher with an amazing first step, he's going to fit in nicely in a year or so. Golson's a 6-3, 220-pound JUCO transfer who ripped up 18 sacks in six games as a high school senior before going to Georgia Military College. He has to prove he can stay healthy, but there's a world of upside.
Strength: Upside. There's a nice blend of talents and options among the WVU linebackers, and while this year's group should be fine, the future is brightest with Bruce and Kwiatkoski two stars in the making to build around.
Weakness: The right combination. It might take a little while to play around with the lineup to find the right three or four guys to fit the system. Getting behind the line won't be a problem, but holding up against the power running teams could become an issue after getting pushed around by Kansas State, Iowa State and Syracuse.
Outlook: This should be a positive with a little bit of time. Everyone can run and it should be an aggressive group that swarms around the ball. These guys are the playmakers on the defensive front seven, at least that's the goal.
Unit Rating: 7


On the down side, the secondary is coming off a miserable season. However, sophomore Karl Joseph is back after living up to his prep billing and more leading the team with 104 tackles with a sack, seven tackles for loss and two picks with three forced fumbles. The 5-10, 200-pound free safety was peerless as an open field tackler and great in run support, but he has to do even more for the pass defense. Wanted by a slew of SEC and Big Ten teams, now he's one of the Big 12's best defensive backs. He'll be backed up by K.J. Dillon, a nice sophomore who came up with 20 tackles as a true freshman showing nice pop. The 6-1, 200-pounder can play either safety spot.

Also back is 5-11, 203-pound senior Darwin Cook as the starting boundary safety. A former receiver, he has grown into his own following up an 85-tackle sophomore season with 75 tackles with a pick and five broken up passes with three forced fumbles. Great against the run, he came up with some decent plays against the pass here and there, but not enough of them. Adding more size as the heir apparent to the position is redshirt freshman Jarrod Harper, a 6-1, 212-pound thumper who'll someday be one of the team's leading tacklers.

The cornerback play has to be far better, and it starts with needing more out of senior Brodrick Jenkins, a 5-10, 183-pound veteran who came up with 33 tackles but just one pick and two broken up passes. He needs to become a shutdown playmaker, and while he has the speed and the experience on the boundary side, he needs to make more plays.

Being tried out on the other side is sophomore Nana Kyeremeh, a 5-10, 180-pounder who saw a little time in every game with 16 tackles and two broken up passes. Fast, he has the speed on the field side, but he needs the experience. He'll be pushed by 5-11, 178-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Napoleon, a promising athlete who'll quickly be a big part of the corner rotation and could see time in nickel and dime packages.

Watch Out For … Daryl Worley, a great all-around high school playmaker who dominated as a receiver as well as a defensive back, and now he'll be a safety at the next level. At 6-2 and 190 pounds he has great size and should eventually take over one of the jobs over the next few years. He's a ball-hawker with an uncanny knack of being around the play.
Strength: Safeties. Joseph and Cook are two excellent veterans who can come up big against the run and don't shy away from contact. If there's going to be a big improvement, it's going to start with these two.
Weakness: Playing college football. The Mountaineers finished second-to-last in the nation in pass efficiency defense and third-to-last in pass defense allowing 312.5 yards per game and 38 scores. The offense cranked out huge passing numbers, and the secondary gave them right back.
Outlook: Things can't be any worse – maybe. The WVU secondary finished 35th in the nation in pass defense and 11th in pass efficiency defense two years ago. Welcome to the Big 12. New cornerback coach Brian Mitchell has work to do with a young group to mold, and it could be a slight step back to take a giant leap forward. The good safeties have to pick up the slack.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

Tyler Bitancurt is gone after a mediocre year hitting 11-of-19 field goals, but he had a big leg and three of the misses came on blocks. Now it's up to redshirt freshman Josh Lambert, a big kicker who can take over at punter if needed, too. He has 50-yard range on field goals, but he has to prove he can be consistent in the clutch from midrange.

While Lambert will get every chance to take over Bitancurt's punting job, junior Michael Molinari will also get a long look. Also the holder, he shouldn't have too many problems coming up with more blast on his punts than Bitancurt did. The former punter averaged just 38.2 yards per try with just six kicks put inside the 20.

Watch Out For … Nick O'Toole. The punting game was absolutely miserable, and while Molinari and Lambert will get the longest looks, O'Toole, a JUCO transfer, should be an instant remedy. The 6-5, 220-pounder from Fullerton College averaged 41.8 yards per try and should be able to blast away far better than Bitancurt did.
Strength: Lambert's leg. Bitancurt had range, but he had a problem getting kicks blocked and wasn't consistent enough. Lambert should be able to extend the opportunities and should hit more deep shots.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. There might be plenty of concerns, but kickoff coverage is the biggest area that needs improving after allowing a whopping 23.6 yards per try. While that normally wouldn't be a big deal, with the offense scoring so much there were 66 kickoffs.
Outlook: Uh oh. Things will be fine eventually, but kickoff and punt returners have to be found to replace Tavon Austin and the kicking game needs to find two new options. If that wasn't enough, the coverage teams need to be stronger. This is a big area of concern.
Unit Rating: 5
- 2013 West Virginia Preview | 2013 West Virginia Offense
- 2013 West Virginia Defense | 2013 West Virginia Depth Chart