West Virginia's defense is searching for a do-over this season
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The bad news for West Virginia is that only a handful of defensive starters return.
That might turn out to be good news.
The Mountaineers had trouble stopping anyone last season, finishing 99th nationally in points allowed per game (33.3) and 101st in total defense (455 yards per game).
Among many indignities, Baylor, the nation's fifth-most prolific passing team, rushed for 476 yards in a game in which WVU scored 42 points and lost by 31.
Injuries posed a problem but not the only one. Changes were in order.
Defensive coordinator Keith Patterson left to rejoin his old college roommate, Todd Graham, at Arizona State. Defensive line coach Erik Slaughter was fired. Safeties coach Tony Gibson was promoted to replace Patterson, which might have been bigger news if Gibson wasn't the fourth defensive coordinator in four years.
The really big splash was Tom Bradley coming off a two-year coaching hiatus that followed 33 years as a Penn State assistant under Joe Paterno. Bradley, the architect of some first-rate defenses, was named defensive line coach and senior associate head coach.
On the field, the most significant departure was defensive end (and Allderdice grad) Will Clarke, a second-team All-Big 12 selection who was good enough to be drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the third round.
Among those expected to pick up the sack slack and generally bother quarterbacks is Shaquille Riddick, a 6-foot-6, 244-pound defensive end who will play immediately after transferring from FCS Gardner-Webb.
Gibson said after watching several of Riddick's plays on his cell phone: “We've got to get this guy.”
So far, said Gibson, Riddick has done nothing to disappoint.
One of the best returnees is linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, another All-Big 12 second-teamer, who moves from weakside linebacker to the middle. Another linebacker, juco transfer Edward Muldrow, has grabbed attention and might start.
The secondary began camp as a strength, and it still might be. But cornerback Icky Banks, a 12-game starter, has not been practicing because of academic issues, and his status is muddy.
Meanwhile, hard-hitting safety Karl Joseph was a first-team All-Big 12 selection. Cornerback Daryl Worley is considered to be a budding star. Safety-linebacker K.J. Dillon is solid. And Dravon Henry, a freshman from Aliquippa, is making a big push at free safety.
The Mountaineers should be better defensively. They almost would have to be.
Spotlight on ...
6-2, 175 poundsSenior, quarterback
The Mountaineers have a lot of weapons, but the Florida State transfer will have to be better than in injury-marred 2013 season.
6-6, 245 poundsSenior, defensive end
Will Clarke is in the NFL now, and the Mountaineers need a beast to harass the quarterback. The Gardner-Webb transfer might be the guy.
5-11, 212 poundsSophomore, kicker
Lambert led West Virginia in scoring as a freshman, making 17 of 23 field goal attempts, including 10 in a row, 13 of his last 15 and a 50-yarder.
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