In the 2012 season, the West Virginia Mountaineers allowed 131 more points than any other WVU football team in a single season in school history.
The majority of the problems seemed to stem from within the defensive secondary. On three separate occasions during the 2012 season, an opposing team threw for more than 500 yards. The only three times in West Virginia history that has ever happened. Two of those opposing quarterbacks threw six touchdowns each – another Mountaineers’ opponent record.
Collectively, WVU’s opponents threw for 4,078 yards and 38 touchdowns compared to just 10 interceptions in 2012. For a little perspective, Heisman winner Jameis Winston threw for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 picks in the 2013 season.
But since the Mountaineers’ maligned secondary hit absolute rock bottom in 2012 during West Virginia’s debut in the Big 12 Conference, the unit has finally begun to turn things around.
“We’re not anywhere close to where we need to be, but (we) saw our kids make big strides in the spring,” said Tony Gibson, West Virginia’s new defensive coordinator. “From Practice 1 to Practice 15, obviously we’ve gotten better. (We’re) really happy with our defensive staff and the way they’ve taught the kids. We’ve got a lot accomplished.”
Part of the turnaround has likely been a result of a change in the team’s overall recruiting philosophy and personnel in regard to its positions in the secondary. WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and his staff have admittedly been trying to recruit longer, more athletic players to combat the notoriously skilled and talented playmaking receivers of the nation’s most volatile offensive conference.
“Athleticism in the secondary is not even close,” Holgorsen said after Saturday’s annual Gold-Blue Spring Game. “The biggest difference I see is the secondary guys, with K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph. Those guys are extremely disruptive off the edge.”
Holgorsen also pointed to the continued development of one of West Virginia’s most promising young players, true sophomore cornerback Daryl Worley, as one of the key differences among this year’s defensive backfield.
“Daryl Worley has had a phenomenal spring,” Holgorsen said. “Mario’s (Alford) confidence is a little down, because he’s had to go against (Worley) so much. (The) kid makes play after play after play.”
Worley himself said he’s already seen a number of changes within the secondary recently, one of the most noticeable at this point being the overall level of collective effort the Mountaineers’ secondary is bringing to practice every day.
“We’re playing with so much more effort now,” he said. “That’s one thing that we do stress: effort. We’re all flying to the ball. So if one guy does miss a tackle, then the next guy’s right there, so it’s kind of helping us where we’re reducing yards after first contact and everything like that.”