Tony Gibson entered the 2015 season with an experienced and senior laden defense, one that was predicted to be the best in the Big Twelve. If WVU was going to make a run at the title, the defense was going to lead the way.
The 3-3-5 stack defense uses controlled chaos to create havoc, pressure and confusion. Having an experienced defense, one who knows their assignments can allow them to break off of their coverages to help over the top on a deep ball or coming down in run support.
The defense was led by All-American safety Karl Joseph. Joseph played in 4 games, was injured in a non-contact drill and still was second on the team in interceptions and made All-American. Beside Joseph was true sophomore Dravon Askew-Henry. Henry was a high profile recruit for the 2013 recruiting class and started all 13 games as a true freshman. Bracketing the safeties were cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut. Worley led the team in interceptions and pass breakups. The back four are helped by hybrid linebacker/safety player KJ Dillon.
The linebacking crew was a 3-headed senior monster of Nick Kwiatkoski, Jared Barber and Shaq Petteway. These three seniors lead the team in tackles. For the third straight year Kwit totaled at least 80 tackles and led the team.
The last part of the stack defense is the down linemen. In an odd front defense, the linemen typically are asked to eat up blocks and clog up run lanes to allow the linebackers and cornerback to make the highlight plays. Kyle Rose and Noble Nwachuku provided multiple highlight plays, with Noble leading the team in sacks and tackles for loss.
|Name||Tackles||Tackles for Loss||Sacks||Interceptions||Passes Defended||Fumbles (FF - FR)||Safeties|
Note: Statistics are gathered from WVUSports.com. Here is the link to the pdf with more players.
Outside of Karl Joseph, every player listed above played in at least 11 games this season. There are an additional 12 other players not listed above who played at least 11 games this season. Many of the players not listed are players who will be returning next season. This highlights an important part of this Mountaineers defense. Depth. The fact that 26 players, or an entire two-deep roster has played in nearly every game this season. This has allowed the first team players valuable rest and given the second team players valuable experience.
A few tidbits to glean from the individual stats:
- The defensive line must be doing their job if the three leading tacklers are the linebackers. Odd-fronts rely on their lineman to occupy offensive lineman allowing the linebackers to make plays.
- Nick Kwiatkoski has to be the most complete linebacker we have had at WVU since Grant Wiley in the early 2000s. Nick needs 1 unassisted tackle to reach 200 for his career, 2 assisted tackles to reach 100 for his career and 3 total tackles to reach 300 for his career.
- Noble needs two sacks to join Jullian Miller as 9th all time in an individual season.
- Daryl Worley needs 1 interception to join 5 different players to total 7 interceptions in a season. The last to do it was Preston Waters in 1989.
- Daryl Worley has an interesting stat line. He leads the team in interceptions but because of the NCAA Rule of a player being down when a knee touches, Worley has 0 return yards.
- Kwiatkoski finished 16th in conference in tackles, Noble finished 9th in tackles for loss, Worley finished tied for 1st in interceptions and first overall in passes defended. Chesnut finished 8th in forced fumbles.
Four years ago, West Virginia entered the Big 12 with one of the worst defenses in the nation. Attempting to make the transition from 3-3-5 under Jeff Casteel to a 3-4 under Joe Deforest proved to be much harder and much more difficult than anyone imagined. Starting multiple true freshman including Karl Joseph, the defense proved to by less restrictive than wet tissue paper. The lone highlight of the 2012 season was when Karl Joseph committed murder down in Austin, Texas. The 2013 season saw Joe DeForest replaced by Keith Patterson as defensive coordinator. The change in coordinator along with having players at least more familiar with Big 12 teams and how they would play proved to the defense was making strides, even if it was still very bad. 2014 once again brought on a defensive coordinator change, this time to WV native Tony Gibson. Gibby quickly re-installed the 3-3-5, a system that many of the players had been recruited to play. His familiarity with the odd-stack defense along with a personality forged during a 41-28 victory over #4 Baylor in Morgantown quickly gave the Mountaineers proof that the struggles in 2012 and 2013 were behind them and that 2014 and 2015 would be different.
"Without a doubt, it should be the best I’ve had since I started coaching 20 years ago. We have guys who have a bunch of experience." -WVU Head Coach Dana Holgorsen
Gibson returned in 2015, along with multiple seniors. The defense gained Jared Barber, who last played a game in 2012. Jared was injured on the last play in an overtime loss to Texas. The defense finished 2014 an up and down unit. the defense finished near the top of the conference in 3rd down conversions (31.3%, 2nd in Big 12) and passing yards per attempt (6.61, 2nd) but finished in the bottom half of the conference in points allowed (27.6, 6th) and yards per game (399.6 6th). Many fans entered 2015 with high expectations of the defense. Here is how the defense finished in both the Big 12 and Nationally.
|Statistic||Total||Conference Rank||National Rank|
Points Per Game
|Yards Per Game||387.5||2||51|
|3rd Down %||32.57||2||15|
|Rush Yards Per Game||170.0||4||61|
|Pass Yards Per Game||217.5||3||49|
|Completion % Allowed||49.86||2||8|
|4th Down %
*Redzone Defense is defined as total scores (touchdowns & fieldgoals) versus opponent possessions inside the 20-yard line. West Virginia allowed a conference low of 19 touchdowns but allowed a conference high of 14 field goals. West Virginia is the only team in the Big 12 to allow less than 10 rushing touchdowns inside the redzone.
Tony Gibson and the entire defensive staff put a major emphasis on turnovers in the spring and it paid off in a big way with the defense gaining 31 turnovers. If WVU is going to take the next step with their defense, scoring defense will need to become a bigger area of focus. The four teams who are in the College Football Playoffs all have scoring defenses in the top 21.