WVU linebacker makes most of opportunity
There's a logjam among West Virginia's inside linebackers, with six players competing for two starting positions.
But playing time is plentiful.
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Bruce capitalized on his opportunity in the Mountaineers' 69-34 win over Marshall.
“I didn't know if he could do it for four quarters,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “But he did, and he has tremendous conditioning.”
Bruce recorded a game-high 16 tackles and had a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
“I envisioned making a play,” said Bruce, who received Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Bruce's touchdown was made possible when outside linebacker Terence Garvin sacked Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and stripped him of the ball.
“What happened — making plays actually happened,” Bruce said. “So I guess everything went according to plan.”
The Mountaineers' new 3-4 defensive alignment features two outside linebackers and two inside linebackers. Bruce plays strongside inside linebacker, or the SAM position.
His performance in the opener caught the attention of defensive coordinator Joe DeForest.
“It was good to see him step up in that role,” DeForest said.
Holgorsen acknowledged his defense missed too many tackles while giving up 545 total yards against Marshall, but Bruce didn't miss on too many of his opportunities.
“If you count the redshirt freshmen and true freshmen, those guys have never tackled in a college football game,” Holgorsen said. “It's one thing that should improve, and if it doesn't, we won't be very good defensively.”
Bruce, the Florida state champion in the 300-meter hurdles, is adapting quickly. He practiced but didn't play in games last season.
“We emphasize running to the ball the most, just get to the ball because it creates turnovers,” Bruce said. “It also helps with the defense that we're running. We can be more patient because the D-line is helping us a lot.”
The change, while an adjustment for everyone, has been embraced by the players.
“For the most part, it is a lot of the same things I have to do,” said Garvin, who had two tackles for a loss after compiling 5 1⁄2 tackles last season. “The main difference is the names of certain things have changed. At the end of the day, it is football.”
Holgorsen was most impressed how Bruce maintained his intensity throughout the game.
“Not everybody looked the same in the fourth quarter as they did in the first quarter,” Holgorsen said, “but he looked like he was doing the same stuff consistently for four quarters.”
John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.