Tonkery bounces back vs. K-State after no tackles in game 2

MORGANTOWN — Following West Virginia’s 52-17 Week 2 win over Youngstown State, Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson pleaded for something more out of middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery. The task would not be difficult for the redshirt sophomore to come by after he didn’t record a tackle against the Penguins.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a middle linebacker not have a tackle,” Gibson pointed out after that game.

Tonkery heard the message, loud and clear. He was all over the field against Kansas State on Saturday afternoon, recording five tackles — four of which were solos and 2.5 of which were for loss.

Among those tackles for loss was the undisputed game-changing moment. Tonkery snuffed out a K-State audible on fourth-and-inches, blasting Wildcats running back Alex Barnes 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage for a turnover on downs. The Mountaineers rode the wave after Tonkery’s stop, scoring on their next four possessions to turn a 7-0 lead into a blowout 35-6 win.

Tonkery was also in on West Virginia’s first forced fumble of the season, helping get the ball free from Kansas State’s Justin Silmon in the third quarter.

Much of Tonkery’s success against K-State derived from his disappointment in how he played against Youngstown.

“After that game, (the next day) Coach Gibby got on me a little bit,” Tonkery said. “I didn’t really notice it until after the game. I was like ‘Dang. I didn’t have any tackles.’ I didn’t know what was going on. I missed like two or three. So he really got on me that Sunday and throughout practice.”

Tonkery was fired up for an immediate shot at redemption against N.C. State. Of course, that chance never came due to Hurricane Florence, giving him another week to stew on a performance he wanted to put behind him.

“Everyone wanted to play N.C. State. That offense is good,” Tonkery said. “We were really looking forward to that game.”

Though the unscheduled bye was frustrating, Tonkery said it was also helpful. The Mountaineers got a couple extra days to prepare for the Wildcats, and any bumps and bruises accrued in the first two games of the season were gone by the time the teams hit the field Saturday.

“When I came out to play, I was like ‘I’ve really got to start making tackles and help the defense out,” Tonkery said.

He wasted no time.

Tonkery was credited with a tackle on Kansas State’s third play from scrimmage, stopping Wildcats quarterback Skylar Thompson after a 3-yard gain. It only got better from there against the dual-threat quarterback. Tonkery and the Mountaineers limited Thompson to 18 yards on 12 carries, and overall, the Wildcats gained only 91 rushing yards on 36 carries.

Gibson, who called Tonkery to the carpet after the Youngstown game, was perhaps the least surprised of all by the bounce-back.“He’s got West Virginia running all through him,” Gibson said of the Bridgeport native. “He’s proud to be here and he plays that way.”

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