CHARLOTTE, N.C. — West Virginia linebacker Charlie Benton made the initial hit on Tennessee running back Tim Jordan in the hole early in the second quarter, but it was a side swipe by a teammate that ended Benton’s day early.
Safety Kenny Robinson came in to help, but knocked into Benton’s side, which made Benton’s left knee twist awkwardly and he fell to the ground immediately grabbing it.
After just 18 plays into his WVU debut, Benton’s day was done. Coach Dana Holgorsen announced during the Big 12 coaches conference call that Benton was out for the season.
The Butler Community College transfer was elevated to starter at Sam due to another injury to Quondarius Qualls in the spring, so depth was a major concern going into Saturday’s opener against the Vols.
Now, it’s even more of a concern.
The first man up to replace Benton was junior Shea Campbell, who trotted onto the field two plays after Benton’s injury to make his Mountaineers debut.
Campbell, a former walk-on safety from Morgantown High, took the bulk of the snaps at Sam the rest of the way. He made his first tackle against Madre London on his fifth play, though it resulted in a first down. His second tackle and final tackle of the day came two plays later, leveling London on the perimeter to stop him for no gain.
Caught in a mismatch the next play, Campbell was unable to cover wide receiver Josh Palmer in the slot and the Vols converted the first down on an easy pitch and catch.
Campbell’s strengths and weaknesses were on display during what ended up being a 17-play scoring drive for Tennessee – a solid downhill tackler but can be a liability in pass coverage.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said he didn’t want to throw Campbell out for every snap the rest of the way, so he improvised by using four-down linemen and two linebackers – David Long at Will and Dylan Tonkery and Mike.
Total, Campbell played 36 snaps before relieved late in the fourth quarter in the Mountaineers’ 40-14 win.
“Shea missed a few things and that’s to be expected,” Gibson said. “That kid was a walk-on who only traveled half the time last year. He had a really good spring but he had some big eyes out there and it all needed to slow down for him.
“He made a couple plays and he missed a couple plays, but you’ve gotta expect that.”
Campbell, along with Exree Loe and Josh Chandler, are the expected replacements for Benton. Otherwise, with depth at defensive line, Gibson could use more of a 4-2 front.