MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Perhaps more than any other position, WVU coaches knew they had to rework the defensive back room following its performance last season.
The Mountaineers recorded the fewest interceptions (four) in the Big 12 last year while surrendering the second-most passing yards per game (262.7) in the conference. As a result, head coach Neal Brown emphasized finding veteran experience and production in the transfer portal this offseason.
Still, the secondary is the WVU defense’s clear chink in the armor through a pair of games.
“There’s going to be some demotions and some promotions and some decreased snaps for some people,” Brown said.
“They’re not getting fired,” he added. Some snaps are just going to get decreased, but our numbers are not as good as you would like. We’ve had some evaluation mistakes at that area, but also, I really feel like our personnel, while it’s not perfect, our personnel is better than what we performed.”
WVU has allowed the third-most (563) passing yards out of all Big 12 teams, and the fourth-most points (55) in the conference through two weeks of the season.
The big plays hurt. Against Penn State, WVU allowed touchdown passes of 25 yards and 72 yards. In the first quarter of the Duquesne game, the Dukes took a 7-0 lead on a 38-yard touchdown pass with redshirt sophomore Andrew Wilson-Lamp in coverage.
“We can talk about corrections all we want to, or cleanups, but we got just a couple guys that got to play better, and that’s it,” defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said.
Following the early Duquesne score, the pregame buzz at Milan Puskar Stadium fell flat. As a coach, defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley could have lit up his players on the sideline. By the time they were back on the sideline, the linebackers and defensive line were already gravitating towards the defensive backs to offer support and encouragement.
“I didn’t say a word,” Lesley said. “They walked down there amongst the players. Whether that’s a sign of being great or being better, I don’t know, but I haven’t seen any group before this group do that.”
One of the bright spots in the secondary has been redshirt senior cornerback Beanie Bishop. After two dropped interceptions in Week 1 against Penn State, Bishop snagged a highlight-reel interception against Duquesne. He is also tied for second on the team in total tackles.
Redshirt junior cornerback Malachi Ruffin – the former no-star walk-on – received the bulk of his early-season snaps against Duquesne, and he impressed with a tackle, a pass breakup and overall solid coverage of his side of the field.
“He [came] in, did a really nice job and [he] will be the guy we look to moving forward,” Lesley said.
Injuries are a factor too. Cat safety Marcis Floyd – who is listed just below starter Anthony Wilson on the depth chart – is yet to make his 2023 debut. Kent State transfer cornerback Montre Miller also missed the Duquesne game.
As for who makes the cut, that is to be determined. But Brown and company are going to weigh game performance above a variety of other factors.
“Some of these guys that have been playing have practiced well but it isn’t carrying over to the games,” Brown said. “So we got to give some other guy some opportunities.”