Dana Holgorsen wants to see improvement from West Virginia defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia's restructured defense has been porous in the first two weeks of the season, and the coaching staff wants improvements quickly with the Big 12 opener a week away.
Blown pass coverages and long runs allowed have been part of the troubles so far for a unit that is surrendering nearly 470 yards per game and ranks 112th among FBS schools.
Along comes a meeting Saturday between West Virginia (1-1) and FCS Delaware State (0-2) in which the Mountaineers hope to see better results from a defense that replaced eight starters from a year ago, and linebacker David Long is out for at least the first month with a knee injury.
Delaware State has lost 13 straight. Despite West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen's promise to respect the next opponent, West Virginia's focus will be on itself and getting better with the Sept. 23 conference opener looming at Kansas.
Delaware State freshman quarterback Jack McDaniels has completed 47 percent of his passes for 321 yards with no touchdowns and an interception in two games.
“It's the same thing we always face when we play on Saturday: guys being in the right frame of mind to be able to go out there and prove and do their job to the best of their ability,” Holgorsen said. “I don't care who we play.”
In West Virginia's 56-20 win over East Carolina last week, the Pirates got most of their offensive production in the second half, including a 95-yard touchdown pass, after the Mountaineers jumped ahead 49-3 at halftime.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said there are too many players “just flopping around” along the defensive line and not getting in position to make tackles, and the cornerback play has been unsteady and lacks depth. Sophomore Hakeem Bailey and senior Mike Daniels entered the season making their first starts.
“We are not happy right now at corner,” Gibson said. “We need to keep searching to find the guy. I am not down on them. They just need to be able to finish plays a little better and have confidence in what they do.”
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is completing 64 percent of his passes and has eight TD tosses in two games. His 723 passing yards are tops in the Big 12, just ahead of Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield (715). Grier will face a Delaware State defense that starts seven sophomores.
Holgorsen wants to see more out of Marcus Simms, who returned from a one-game suspension last week following his arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. Simms caught a 52-yard TD pass and had a 23-yard punt return against East Carolina.
“He brings speed, which we need,” Holgorsen said. “We need guys out there that can stretch things.”
West Virginia scored just seven points after halftime against East Carolina, partly because Grier sat out much of the second half. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said he would like to see the starters find a rhythm in the third quarter.
“We need to start fast, not just in the first half but in the second half as well,” he said.