If West Virginia's defense had a noteable problem last year, it was defending the pass, especially during play action and other "non-traditional" throwing situations. Enemy quarterbacks often had lengthy time in the pocket to scour the field for an open receiver, which is a death knell for even the most well devised pass coverage scheme.
To that end, defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel has been modifying WVU's pass rush schemes, and as a result some changes have also trickled back through the defensive secondary. Tony Gibson has been busy installing those changes this spring, but admits that much remains to be done before the Badgers of Wisconsin come calling on August 30.
"We have to get the kids used to it. We know it has been a problem for us, so over the summer we'll watch a lot of [video] cut ups and keep working on it. We have to get some consistency, and I think the scheme changes are going to help a lot."
Although Mountaineer fans might see some different defensive alignments this fall in order to help the pass defense, West Virginia's defensive mantra is going to remain the same. The staff wants to improve against the pass, but not at the expense of crippling the run defense.
"We always say 'stop the run and make them pass', Gibson explained. "As long as you can limit the big play, you are going to win more than you lose, and that's why I think we had such success last year.
"When people were able to throw the ball last year, for the most part, they weren't able to throw it over our heads and get the backbreaker.
"Stop the run, make them throw it, then keep it in front of you and make the tackle. That frustrates people.
"Boston College is the perfect example - we held them to 74 yards rushing, St. Pierre threw it 40 times (actually 50) and nothing was over 30 yards. I think they got one over Brian, and the next play he picks it off.
"It frustrates QBs and coaches, because they want the big ones. We want to stay patient and force them into a mistake."
While many fans moan and groan about the Mountaineers' pass defense last year, the coaching staff, and ultimately, the players, put winning as the number one goal. And shutting down the run, even at the expense of some bigger passing yardage totals, is usually the best way to get there.
Gibson admits that he would like to have a shut down pass defense that doesn't allow opponents to do anything through the air. He sets goals for his players to achieve against the pass, but he never loses sight of the overall objective.
"We do set goals in the secondary. For instance, we say that we don't want to give up pass plays over 15 yards," Gibson explained. "But if they throw for 999 yards and we get the W, that's all I care about. Our number one goal is to win. If they throw it for 220, we have a better chance to win than if they run it for 220."
Gibson is happy with the progress his players made this spring, and with four players (Lance Frazier, Brian King, Anthony Mims and Adam Jones) competing for starting spots, thinks that the back three positions in the secondary will be ably manned.
"We feel good about the secondary coming out of the spring - we feel like we have some kids we can win with."
Gibson is also happy with the way he and new coach Bruce Tall have worked in melding the back five positions into an effective unit, and is looking for even greater contributions from the veteran coach over the summer.
"Bruce is a great football coach and has been good to work with. He has brought in some great ideas - he was a coordinator and has come up with some different things already in terms of our coverages. We worked together during individual periods during practice a lot, and worked with the back five guys on skeleton pass coverage. He'll be even more involved now that spring football is over with. He was learning on the run during spring ball."