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West Virginia defense looks to reach higher level of play this year

| Tuesday, July 7, 2015, 10:05 p.m.
West Virginia defensive back Terrell Chestnut recovers a fumble for a 35-yard touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs in the third quarter during the game on Nov. 1, 2014 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va.
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West Virginia defensive back Terrell Chestnut recovers a fumble for a 35-yard touchdown against the TCU Horned Frogs in the third quarter during the game on Nov. 1, 2014 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, W.Va.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va — Not one to break from normal offseason protocol, West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson already has started preparations for the Mountaineers' Sept. 5 opener against Georgia Southern.

“It's different than anything we ever see,” Gibson said regarding Georgia Southern's triple-option offense. “It's a little difficult, just because we don't see it.”

Typically, WVU's coaches and players spend the offseason “100 percent self-absorbed,” according to coach Dana Holgorsen, leaving little time for scouting upcoming opponents.

“Gibbie's been prepping a little bit for Georgia Southern just because that's such a different offense,” Holgorsen said. “He's got to start thinking about what our plan's going to be. He's got to start teaching some different things specifically. Typically, we don't get into actual game prep until about two weeks before the first game.”

Georgia Southern's running game last season featured a pair of 1,000-yard performers, led by junior Matt Breida, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year who rushed for 17 touchdowns and led the nation with 8.68 yards per carry.

The Eagles, who pass sparingly, enjoyed a successful first season in FBS (9-3), losing at N.C. State and Georgia Tech by a combined five points.

“It's more of a Navy, Air Force kind of offense, the way they attack you,” said Gibson, referencing two run-heavy programs. “We haven't done a whole lot with the kids yet. Hopefully over the next few weeks when we're gone, they'll study a little bit of film and get an idea. We've got to get them disciplined and make sure our eyes are in the right spot.”

Senior cornerback Terrell Chestnut said WVU's “goal is stop everything” in 2015.

“We control the points and the yards,” Chestnut said.

Three years ago, Chestnut started three games on a defense that ranked among the worst in college football. Last season, Chestnut started 12 games on a until that finished sixth in the Big 12 in total defense and improved to No. 66 nationally.

“In my mind, we've got the best defense in America. But we've got to go out and show it,” Chestnut said. “We have guys that were on the team a few years ago when we struggled. Our first year in the Big 12, we played Baylor, and it was a 70-63 (win), and it was no defense at all. We've been on the (wrong) end of failure.”

For others, such as senior defensive lineman Kyle Rose, it's a final opportunity for redemption.

“It's my last year,” said Rose, who started all 13 games last season. “This is another year that allows me to come back and (correct) the things that I regretted in the past.”

Holgorsen said WVU's comfort level on defense has never been higher.

“Far and away, we're more advanced and ahead of where we ever have been at this point,” Holgorsen said.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @jharris_trib.

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