MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s defense was down a starter for Saturday’s win over Kansas. Safety Toyous Avery, who started the first four games, sat out with an undisclosed injury.
Fortunately for the Mountaineers, his replacement performed even better than Avery has this season. West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson elected to move cornerback Derrek Pitts back to his old position, and it did not take long to see that the sophomore was confident to be there.
Pitts took down Kansas receiver Steven Sims for a 4-yard loss on the Jayhawks second play from scrimmage, the first of a career-high eight tackles. All of Pitts’ stops were solos, including three for loss and a sack. He was also credited with a quarterback hurry.
“He came in and made some plays,” said linebacker David Long. “I’m proud of Derrek.”
Pitts is the first WVU defensive back with multiple tackles for loss in a game this season.
Going into the week, Gibson was more than a little concerned about how things would pan out in the Mountaineers secondary. West Virginia was without starting cornerback Josh Norwood for the first half after last week’s targeting penalty against Texas Tech.
“This wasn’t a good week,” Gibson said. “It was a lot of stress, especially when I knew we were banged up.”
Favoring his depth at corner more than safety, Gibson elected to start Hakeem Bailey opposite Keith Washington on the outside while moving Pitts back to the position he played as a freshman. The gambit worked.
“I thought [Derrek] played his butt off, especially for not playing safety until Tuesday of this week,” Gibson said. “It looked like he was flying all over the field. He made tackles in the open field. I thought he did well in coverage.”
The Mountaineers expect Avery back for next week’s game at Iowa State, but Long likes what Pitts demonstrated about their depth on defense.
“I think we’ve got enough players on defense to back up anybody that goes down,” Long said. “I think we’ve prepared for that.”
Gibson was even more confident in Pitts and the rest of his defense after watching the Jayhawks score a touchdown on the final play of the game, then go for a 2-point conversion despite facing an 18-point deficit with no time left on the clock.
“We could have played until tomorrow morning and they wouldn’t have scored again on our 1s,” Gibson said. “And you can print that in big, bold [words].”