MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WV News) — Earlier in this season that now is a third over, West Virginia’s defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley was taking a lot of heat over his group’s performance.
They had lost their first two games, given up 38 points to Pitt and 55 points to Kansas in an overtime game.
But Lesley didn’t take a backward step, recalling what he had said back in the spring, when all was right with the world.
“You heard me say in the spring that I love this group,” he said this week as his team was getting ready to travel on the road to Blacksburg. “Well, I don’t feel any different about them now than I did then.
“What’s happened hasn’t changed the fact that I still love them; still think of them in the same light as players.”
Lesley understood his defense wasn’t quite as strong as expected going into the season after a serious injury to their top defensive back, Charles Woods, that required surgery on his leg weakened the pass defense, which was the worst place an injury could come.
But Lesley seemed to sense that big things were just around the corner, that younger kids were starting to figure things out and that the defensive line and linebackers were on the cusp of a breakout game.
This had nothing to do with beating Towson. That was a given. But there were things that were happening that you could only see in slow motion on film and in practice sessions.
And, as good as the offense was against Virginia Tech in Thursday night’s 33-10 victory, it was the defense that won the medal of honor.
Statistics show that Virginia Tech rushed the ball for 35 yards.
Less yards than CJ Donaldson ran for on his first college carry against Pitt.
Tech ran 18 times for those 35 yards, less than 2 yards a carry.
“That’s how we play defense here,” Brown said. “We had an aberration against Kansas a couple of weeks ago, but that’s not how we are going to play defense here.”
But if you want to put a finger on the moment that changed the game, you have to go back to the second quarter, 8:40 left in the half, third-and-1 on the WVU 18, the Mountaineers trailing 7-3. The joint was rocking.
They handed the ball to Keshawn King, their big-play player, to get a foot or two.
Instead, he got a shoulder as middle linebacker Lee Kpobga came blasting through doing his best Grant Wiley impression, stopping him in his tracks.
So, Tech tried again.
This time they gave the ball to quarterback Grant Wells on a keeper up the middle. Well, no up the middle, into the middle where Jordan Jefferson ate him alive like one of those turkey legs they sell at concession stands.
“That was a momentum changer,” Brown said. “We played different after that fourth-down stop.”
All of a sudden there were 62,000 fans gone mute.
Right then the game changed, the mood changed, the season changed.
If you can’t gain a yard on two plays, you know you are not going to win the game ... especially when on every other key snap in the game you were being flagged for penalties.
This was a defense willing the Mountaineers to victory.
Now it took a couple of breaks, for they had two receivers break wide open for sure touchdowns if the connection could be made but the passes were overthrown.
The secondary still has problems, but a lot of them were erased at the end of the game when true freshman cornerback Jacolby Spells not got WVU’s first interception of the year but ran it 26 yards into the end zone.