One of the biggest concerns heading into 2013 for the West Virginia Mountaineers football team is the secondary. Following a season with all-time lows in nearly every statistical category, the Mountaineers have made changes, but will the problems be solved?
Quickly rewind to 2012 for a second. The Mountaineers start their first season in the Big 12 with a 5-0 record and are ranked fifth in the country. A game with Texas Tech seems like it will be a breeze after upsetting Texas the previous Saturday.
A breeze is exactly what the Mountaineers received in Lubbock against the Red Raiders. At kickoff, winds were gusting at 18 mph, and reached above 30 mph before the contest finished. It led to an entirely one-sided victory for TTU as fans rushed the field.
Seth Doege, an almost unheard of quarterback at the time, finished his day with a career-high 504 passing yards, complimented by six touchdown passes. West Virginia had hit a breaking point and a downward spiral began that lasted much of the season.
Immediately, the blame began to fall on the defense, and particularly the secondary. It's not like it didn't happen without reason. By the end of the year, only two teams in all of college football had a worse passing defense than WVU.
West Virginia finished last in scoring defense in the Big 12, intercepted just 10 passes and gave up 22 plays of more than 50 yards, according to cfbstats.com. While the conference will always be filled with big plays and fast action, the Mountaineers must improve on last season to stand a chance in 2013.
Changes surfaced immediately thanks to head coach Dana Holgorsen. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts left in early December prior to the season-ending bowl game. Tony Gibson (coached cornerbacks from 2001-2007) was brought back and Brian Mitchell joined the club to add some new flair.
The change in player personnel is what could speak the loudest. Senior Pat Miller is gone, leaving a spot open for several competing athletes. Senior Brodrick Jenkins will hold down one side, but the other is left wide open.
Bell was raised a safety, but the recruiting class this year was overloaded in that market, making him reconsider another position. Banks started the last four games he appeared in before his season concluded with a knee injury against Iowa State.
Kyeremeh is a corner with lightning fast speed who can lack sometimes lack instinct and physicality. Chestnut can play up to most opposing receivers, but will lack consistency and give up the big play occasionally.
Cornerback isn't the only position involved in stopping an air raid. Safeties can potentially play the biggest role in ensuring no receivers get behind them.
As of now, it seems two returning players will be back as a duo for the second season in a row. Darwin Cook is entering his senior season while Karl Joseph goes into his sophomore campaign. Second year experience communicating with one another could make a world of a difference.
Joseph can be the best player on this defense, and almost easily. His tackling is superb on a team that is sub par in that field. He led the team with 102 total tackles last season, 12 ahead of stud freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce.
Bruce has taken a leadership role with the defense this year. As WVUSports.com reports, the linebacker preaches a movement the entire team has grasped:
Everybody has a set goal, and no one wants to be ranked that low ever again. We’re all competitors and no one wants to be that low in the rankings. We have a high standard of getting better and shocking the world.
The area these two need to improve on is forcing turnovers. They had three combined in 2012, a rather disappointing number considering how many passes they faced.
A couple newcomers could help change the scenery back there if Darwin Cook goes back to his struggles from early last season. Malik Greaves is a four-star recruit from Florida with good size at 6'2'', 205 pounds. K.J. Dillon saw some time last year as well, so he could be worked into the mix.
It's hard to imagine a defensive backfield being any worse than what college football witnessed last year. The look will be different, but results are not guaranteed. The path to redemption begins on August 31.