Football, Sports, WVU Sports

West Virginia still looking for better cornerback play

MORGANTOWN — If the game against N.C. State were played Saturday, one of two things would have happened for the West Virginia secondary:
Either the Mountaineers would be thrilled with the added reps against one of the better passing offenses in the country and taken it as a good test headed into Big 12 play.
Or  the cornerbacks would have been exposed as one of the weak links on the defense and concern would grow the size of Texas.
With the game being canceled, neither scenario will come to fruition, and whether the coaching staff takes that as a good or bad thing will remain in their minds. The reason for the unknown, though, is that the cornerbacks have shown flashes of brilliance in the first two games but have also looked like a liability at times.
Against Youngstown State last week, Derrek Pitts and Josh Norwood got the majority of the snaps, and both made plays on the ball. They also got beat bad on a few deep routes, much to the chagrin of defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
“We got beat on a couple of double moves and there’s no excuse for that, especially when  at one point, it  was 42-14,” he said. “I told the guys, ‘Just don’t let anything behind you.’ Then, we ended up getting beat on a 43-yard double move. That was embarrassing, number one. But, number two, it was bad technique all the way around.”
Norwood was the victim of two of those — rather than letting nothing behind him, he broke to break up the immediate pass and allowed the receiver get behind him on a deep route.
Pitts was picked on during  the second quarter with positive and negative results — he was called for pass interference, dropped an interception and broke up a pass on the Penguins’ touchdown drive.
Still, Norwood made plays and showed his ability to tackle unlike the stereotypes against his cornerback brethren.
Pitts’ overall performance, like his scoring drive, was “good and bad.”
“ I though he was active early — he had a nice pass break up,” Gibson said. “He should’ve had an interception, but he ended up having three [pass break ups] for the game. He played physical and tackled pretty well. He tackled the wide-out one time without the ball pretty well. He got a PI  call for that. He just has to get his confidence up and keep going, but he’s going to play a lot for us.”
Keith Washington got a lot of snaps in the second half in relief of Norwood and Pitts and played well enough to earn defensive player of the game.
The junior college transfer ended up playing between 25-30 snaps late.
“He was our defensive player of the game for the fact that he played physical,” Gibson said. “He fit the tight end and run game really well over there — the ‘nub’ side. They were trying to run the ball at him and he came up and made a few big hits, so it was good to see. He was good in coverage and didn’t get to play a lot of man, but he was good in the zone stuff.
“He’s a kid that, obviously, earned more playing time off his second half results on Saturday, and he’s going to play a lot more.”
On the downside, cornerback Hakeem Bailey, who started both halves, was replaced quickly and barely saw the field the rest of the game.
Coach Dana Holgorsen knows Bailey can play but  he needs to get better or else those reps will continue to decrease.
“Hakeem Bailey needs to regroup a little bit and practice,” he said. “I’ve seen that kid make a ton of plays, so there’s good competition going on with those four.”
Twitter @SeanManning_DP.